Sunday, May 22, 2011

Yesterday, Today, and/or Tomorrow

     Anyone with a role in education today knows that we don't work in a static environment. Despite that I still hear colleagues that appear to be trapped in one of three places - yesterday, today, or tomorrow. I'd like to suggest that our work (and more importantly the success of our students) demands that we spend time in all three.
     There are those who focus only on the past and long for "the good old days". These folks long for the "Leave it to Beaver" family unit where school was the law and parents and students never questioned a decision rendered. This notion might work if all of the other factors associated with those bygone days were also still in vogue.  Pick any aspect of life today and ask yourself if it is the same as it was during your parents' time. Technology is a favorite topic of folks following this blog. Remember the first computer you saw? Compare that with today where I have a Blackberry that has more computing power than the lunar lander had. Other aspects like the social fabric are also considerably different.  The great Satchel Paige once commented, "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." He may not have realized he was giving advice to educators but it certainly fits and serves as a good reminder that our work, while learning from the past, requires us to face the challenges we see today.
     Paige's advice may seem to indicate that today is the most relevant place to devote our energy and I do think that is where I spend much of my time. I've also come to realize that it's not enough when I think about preparing students for what lies ahead. Today is significant in that we need to assist kids and each other with all that is fluid in our world and that appears to change daily. Arming students with a different set of three "R"s - research, resiliency, and responsibility - may connect more with the realities they face than to stick with our traditional areas of focus. The concern with focussing only on today is that it precludes us having an eye on what's coming next. The thoughts of former Secretary of Education Richard Riley that the top ten jobs in 2010 didn't exist in 2004 serve as a reminder that "today" is very transient and needs to include an eye towards the future.
     Before we rush headlong into what's next, it is important to realize that focussing only on the future is a never ending game akin to a dog chasing its' tail. The reality of the future is that it never arrives! We need to assist our students to be able to take on all that might come their way and to empower them with a sense of hope. Fullan talks about hope not as a naive, sunny view of life but instead the capacity to not panic in tight situations and to find ways and means to address challenges. This is the future facing the majority of our students. While we may help them by arming them (or familiarizing them) with some tools, it is ultimately up to them to take what we have placed before them and run with it.
     A recent conversation with my son David gave an excellent summary of this topic. He said, "I look at the past with great humor and the future with great's the present that is wearing me down!" The balance needed to walk in all three views is a challenge but it is essential as we continue in our various roles as educators.


  1. I really like this post as it sums up a tension I've been feeling for some time now. For example, as we look to make sense of "21st Century learning" and "personalized learning" I cannot help but wonder about some very "traditional" and foundational skills that are becoming more important today - namely literacy and all its associated competencies. As we continue to have these conversations in my school, am left wondering if, in fact, literacy should become the single most important skill we need to equip our children with for the 21st century? Great post and would like to get your thoughts on this.

  2. Thanks Johnny. You have struck a chord with me and hit on an area that inspired some of my thinking. I know as a parent that the best thing my wife and I did for our three kids was to focus on their literacy skills at an early age. They all read lots and wrote proficiently. As a result (I believe) they were all high achievers in school and continue to utilize those skills in their adult lives. It's what makes for lively conversations when we get together. I fear that the rush to embrace "PL21" and a technology view will leave behind the most critical skill/tool we can give all learners - literacy.