Everyone has had a student like Clint a boy who seems to live on his own planet and who rarely follows directions. Richard Gerver, Wednesday’s keynote speaker at NSBA’s T+L Conference, met this boy when he was principal of a troubled U.K. elementary school.
Gerver was observing the boy’s class write a poem imagining what it was like to be a turtle the completion of a lesson on empathy. The teacher was excellent, said Gerver, but she was frustrated with Clint because his poem instead voiced concern about war and ecological disaster in the future that would affect turtles and also the rest of the world.
Clint had clearly understood the concept of empathy, said Gerver, but his teacher was “under pressure to produce outcomes.” Much of Clint’s understanding of the world came from outside school through the Internet and social media. “But in school, he was being called a failure because he couldn’t concentrate on one set outcome.”
Gerver, co-founder of the International Curriculum Foundation and former education adviser to Tony Blair, told the general session audience that many educators he’s encountered are passionate and committed to their jobs, but they’ve been trained to deliver systems.
“People had grown to resent the system, because they felt no real sense of empowerment,” Gerver said of the teachers at his former elementary school. “They knew what their students needed, but when they felt they had space to do something, it was taken away by another top down initiative.”
Governments and societies see education as a conveyer belt system, he said. Everyone joins the journey at the same stage. All are expected to be at the same stage, regardless of background, and have to come out at the same stage. Meanwhile, the government is telling you to be more creative.
“It’s like working in a factory that makes lemon meringue pie,” Gerver said. “The pie has to be the same the ingredients are different, like children are different, but you must produce the same lemon meringue pie.”
Educators face challenges with using digital media, he said, which is designed around the essence of empowerment, because the education system works against empowerment. “We are working so hard to keep up new technologies just get added to what we do.”
Digital technology can be a tool to boost the creativity of both adults and students, said Gerver, because it allows people to take risks.
How educators perceive risk is important, he said. “The greatest inhibitor is the perception of risk and how we avoid it as we get older. We close down our own possibilities. As we get older, we teach our children that’s the realm they have to live in, too.”
But in a digital world, students are taking risks all the time. When they die in a video game, they just start over, having learned something about the game, too. “You learn nothing new from getting something right,” he said. “You learn from mistakes — realization that you don’t know something.”
Gerver asked the audience: “How can we use technology to turn our children and educators into risk takers?”
NSBA’s Executive Director Anne L. Bryant, who introduced Gerver, welcomed the early morning crowd in Phoenix: “It’s great to see so many school leaders who are interested in learning how technology can help their districts do more with less.”
She continued: “Over the past year, I’ve spoken with many of your colleagues across the country and they have shared their challenges with me. Today’s public educators are expected to raise student achievement, reduce the achievement gap, prepare students for the global economy, and engage their students and communities, all with smaller budgets.”
The conference continues through today.