Thursday, June 21, 2012

Educational reform; like building a plane - in flight!

I love this clip. To me it is a wonderful metaphor for educational reform.

One of the major issues with educational reform is that schools have to be operational while education is transformed. We can’t simply shut down the schools and learn new and more effective educational techniques. We need to test and trial our learning when and where it matters - in the classroom with our students. We need to learn new skills while we teach via established methods. There are those who suggest that teachers can learn new approaches when students are on vacation - and to some extent this is true. However, the important aspects of classroom teaching can only be learnt through implementation in the real world - and that means while the students are present. There is a time when a trainee pilot needs to land a plane in real life and not in a simulator.

There are obvious issues with this. Our students are not guinea pigs or lab rats. We should not experiment with them. On the other hand, we need to continually improve our practice - and that means we need to be constantly trialling new approaches or trying to refine and enhance established ones. This balance can be difficult to achieve - perhaps this explains the almost glacial pace of school reform.

Clearly there are risks involved in any educational reform - if any innovation is ineffective then students suffer in comparison to what they may have achieved with another approach. However, there are more risks involved in educational stagnation and ignoring new possibilities and potentials.

So how do we build an educational plane in flight? We start by being clear about what we want to do and why. We acknowledge that established techniques may not be appropriate in this operational environment. We try to anticipate any likely issues and develop responses in advance - or at least be observant and flexible to respond to issues as they arise. We clarify our roles - who does what, when and to what standard? Who checks and assists? How do we know when we have succeeded? We accept that the task may be difficult - but, if we are clear about our objectives, it should be worthwhile.

And then we take a deep breath and build our plane.


Credits: EDS commercial via youtube @

Original idea to link to education: Thanks to a long forgotten presenter at a SPERA conference in Darwin who used this clip in his session.

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