Noticing the Unusual in Education
A new path to learn and grow
Posted Nov 10, 2011
Everyone is talking about the issues going on in schools these days: Students are not learning properly, classes are overcrowded, and test scores are at all-time lows. It seems the way our country has dealt with these issues is by making things more difficult: Teachers are expected to have even more credentials, schools are forced to "aim higher" even without proper training, and already impoverished areas are losing extra curricular activities and arts.
In my line of work, I've consulted with many Fortune 500 companies who, believe it or not, suffered some of the same problems: lack of funds, training and employee retention, and motivation. Many businesses, much like schools, had old ideas and values and tried desperately to place them on the here and now, creating "old" thinking in a "new" industry. Of course, these ideals were outdated and no longer had value, and thus could not truly work. What they needed was something more updated, more balanced, and more efficient.
We've discussed the idea that in order to make holistic decisions, we need to take in all aspects of decision-making — not just our "usual", but also exploring the new, the unknown, and the unusual.
Well let's look at a company like Netflix as an example. The ability to notice the unusual also explains how a company like Blockbuster missed the opportunity that Netflix seized and used to build a multimillion-dollar business. It took a curious and imaginative mind to see how the Internet could reshape the video rental industry. Netflix built a recommendation system that learns what you like and tailors film suggestions to your tastes. It beat out the competition by bringing simplified home delivery to the movie watcher. But the ardent fan base developed because Netflix facilitated a two-way dialogue where the user was at the center and could easily make personal referrals. And interestingly enough, statistics show that through this approach Netflix stimulated an interest in classics, training people to watch more than what was new. Netflix viewers are offered home delivery with no late fees and the ability to browse the company's extensive library. Viewers' movie knowledge grows as they can easily find great movies they otherwise might never have heard of. It's simple, fun, and hassle free.
So what if we took this concept and applied it to our children and their education?
Let's say one teacher has a class of 25 students. What if, in the first month of teaching those students, that teacher took the time to have them fill out a survey of things they liked and disliked about school, about home, about anything?
If that teacher then took the time to make a list of all of the students and their needs, both personal and academic, and made it his or her goal to meet those needs without thinking about test scores or grading, would the students' ability to learn improve?
And if that's the case, what if each student was allowed to give feedback on tests and lessons in a safe environment without judgment?
What if every teacher kept a box in his or her classroom, which gave students the opportunity to share things — from issues with other classmates to issues at home or academically, without shame?
These ideas are deemed unusual and unconventional, and yet it is easy to see that with them a child's self-esteem is raised, respect is clearly given. With that in place, a thriving place to learn and grow emerges.