I've written several times now about the need for innovative approaches to education that recognize and embrace the information revolution. There are certainly teachers that are meeting this challenge. There is a growing movement of educators adopting "flipped classrooms" in which traditional classroom lessons and traditional homework assignments are inverted: homework consists of watching lectures or reading explanations at home, and classroom time is spent practicing what was learned at home in problem-solving sessions. The inverted classroom approach takes advantage of technological innovations such as widespread internet access and online video, makes increased use of teacher expertise in helping students work through material at their own pace, and more closely mirrors the new kinds of job skills students will need once they graduate.
Of course, this isn't the only approach that can work. Right here in our own district Brian Svencer-- a 4th grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary-- has written a book about his high-energy approach to the classroom that engages students by integrating traditional curricular content into new media and forms of entertainment students already enjoy and are comfortable with. He will be discussing his approach on The Breaking Free Show this Monday (October 21st) at 1pm if you want to learn more (or call into the show: 919-518-9773).
Both of these examples of teaching innovation rely on the creativity and professionalism of teachers. Ultimately, no one "method" will be right for every teacher, or every student, or every classroom. What we need most is highly intelligent, motivated teachers who can adapt and excel in a changing educational environment.
And as much as I am grateful for the many excellent teachers we have in our district (my own children have had several), I also know we can do even better. Dr. Mehta, at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, has commented on the ways in which improved teacher training and professionalization will translate into improved public education (full disclosure: Dr. Mehta and I were colleagues in graduate school). He notes that teachers in some of the world's best public school systems-- in places like Japan, Finland, and Canada-- are drawn primarily from the top third of their college classes. By contrast, most teachers in the United States come from the bottom 60 percent. And there is no rigorous professional licensing system for teachers in this country akin to that in fields like medicine, law, engineering, and architecture.
Transforming public education to meet the demands of the information revolution will depend, in part, on our ability to transform teacher education, as well as our willingness to treat teachers (and have teachers respond) as the full professionals that they are.
We need to raise the bar.