Inspiration

The Purpose of Education ... Inspiring Stories!

Sean Slade
The Purpose of Education ... Inspiring Stories!

Discussing my role models in the space of creativity in education and what it is about their endeavours that are inspiring, it is more important to focus on what makes these three individuals’ actions and behaviours inspiring. This group of educators, though coming from varied backgrounds and influencing different audiences, all have one thing in common – they ask first what the purpose of education is and then set about changing their educational landscapes to fit that answer. Rather than follow what was assumed or what has been done before they are seeking to make education relevant – currently and into the future. All of us have an audience whether it be students in our classrooms, schools in which we have input, or policies that we help craft.

Russ Quaglia is the founder and executive director of the Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations, and himself an inspiring speaker and author. However, he is probably better known and cited here because of his work in advocating for the role of student voice and empowerment in their education. Students – as a key (one could say core) stakeholder in education – must have input into not only what they are learning but also how they are learning it. Making students accept the responsibility of owning their education is often as difficult as having adults relinquish ownership and control. And rather than assuming that they know what they want, teachers must work with students to progressively develop their understanding of options, their preferred learning styles, and help them to become more comfortable and eventually fluent in advocating for their own education.

As long as our education system is grounded in testing and accountability, the effort to move the needle on student engagement will not increase until we move to a system of trust and accountability … Listen to student voices. … What do they have to say? Why are they telling us that? And then resist the urge to rush to create an action plan.” —Russell Quaglia

Joe Fatheree is a teacher at Effingham High School, Illinois. He was also a top 10 Finalist for the 2016 Global Teacher Prize and the Illinois Teacher of the Year 2007. While Joe is a technically a science teacher, he has become adept at deciphering what needs to be taught – or rather what needs to be learnt by his students – and adapts his curriculum and classroom instruction to achieve those goals. He is constantly looking to adapt and improve his teaching to suit his students and their needs as opposed to being constrained by the mandates or requirements. It should also be noted that he plays out what Russ Quaglia preaches – that students must have a seat and a voice at the education table.

He works at engaging his students whether that be by bringing music, drama, arts, project-based learning, community service projects into his teaching. But really those are just the tools he brings in – these tools on their own don’t make education meaningful. These tools are used to complement the goals that he and his students have jointly determined are important. As that mentor and educational guide, he and his students grow and develop not just as academic students but as people. Joe is currently leading an effort across the US to make our schools safer places for learning via the National Coalition for Safe Schools.

One of the hardest things I ever had to do as a teacher was to take a look in the mirror and realise I was the reason my students were struggling. The lessons I learned in my second year of teaching have stuck with me my entire career. I am constantly searching for new ways to engage my students and make them vested partners in the learning process. Along the way, I have learned how important it is to create a culture that connects the curriculum to the real world in order to assist students in overcoming the fear of failure. Today, my classroom is an innovation ‘think tank’ where we challenge students daily to push the limits of creativity. – Joe Fatheree

Andreas Schleicher may not be a name that everyone knows but his work certainly is. As Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, he leads the Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA, which every three years compares 15-year-old students from all over the world in reading, mathematics, science, and more recently in collaborative problem solving and global competence.

But it’s not Andreas’ work with PISA that inspires me but rather this leadership with another project called the Future of Education & Skills 2030. This project has changed the standard playbook at the OECD and also the standard policy recommendations we are used to seeing at a national or global level. Too often educational policy has been an anchor on systems change and improvement, yet this project, and the way it is building and garnering support, is a progressive change for the future.

The OECD 2030 project aims to help education systems determine the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values students need to thrive in and shape their future, and Andreas’ first call to action was to gather experts from around the world to determine a very basic question – what is the purpose of education and what should be the goal of our educational systems.

How can we prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, to tackle societal challenges that we can’t yet imagine, and to use technologies that have not yet been invented? How can we equip them to thrive in an interconnected world where they need to understand and appreciate different perspectives and world views, interact respectfully with others, and take responsible action towards sustainability and collective well-being?

The answer, or north star, for this project became not academic attainment nor economic growth, but rather individual and collective wellbeing. Individual and collective wellbeing is not a term or a focus that is typically bandied around in education policy-speak, yet here we have a leading educational policy organisation declaring wellbeing as the goal of educational systems.

Education used to be about teaching people something. Now, it’s about helping students develop a reliable compass and the navigation skills to find their own way through an increasingly uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world…  education is also increasingly about the social and emotional skills that help people live and work together. Think about courage, integrity, curiosity, leadership, resilience or empathy. – Andreas Schleicher

Andreas is forging ahead in making this influential global policy organisation target not the traditional measurements of success but rather plan out educational growth in an ambiguous, volatile and unpredictable world by focusing on the competencies and transformative competencies that make us human and help our communities thrive.

Late last year they released a summary of stage 1 of the project titled the Learning Compass 2030, and core to the model and framework is the role of students in navigating their own education, via ever expanding educational ecosystems, guided by educational professionals, towards the north start of wellbeing.

These three educators are inspiring but I’m sure they would also agree that it’s not them per se but rather what they are aiming to do which is inspiring and making a difference.

It is, asking the fundamental question about the purpose of education; focusing on their audiences and sphere of influences; and, promoting the role of youth in their own education.

About the author:

Sean Slade is Senior Director of Global Outreach at ASCD (www.ascd.org), a global mission-driven education association

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