“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” - Aristotle
The publication of A Nation at Risk (U.S. Department of Education, 1983) resulted in the creation of a number of school-wide reform initiatives, including comprehensive school reform at the local, state and national levels in an attempt to increase outcomes for all children. Despite the reform initiatives, the persistence of an achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is evident in the national public school system.
Educators have advanced educational arguments supporting competitive approaches in the field of reading research, literacy and education. Proponents of proficient readers’ research such as Lucy McCormic Calkins, founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project support the theory of Balanced Literacy, a skills-based approach to literacy development embraced by the NYC DOE. Balanced Literacy has prevailed in the instructional programs in primary school education. However, E.D. Hirsch(2006) attributed the failure of NYC public school students to a lack of factual knowledge found in books. Hirsch developed a specified curriculum, the Core Knowledge curriculum to create academic success.
As educators continued to debate school reform, ideological differences and discuss best practices to close the achievement gap, the whole educational world was shocked with the sudden closing of schools due to COVID -19 pandemic. Educators in 2021 are facing a fundamental schism: the period before COVID -19 and the new normal that will emerge post COVID-19. The convergence of technology and the new development of cognitive science has forced us to rethink education. Technology has changed our relationship to knowledge.
Content and knowledge is now readily available, but not always reliable, through devices such as smart phones, iPads, and laptops. Schools now need to focus their energy on defining digital strategies to keep track of a changing workforce and updated technologies. Educational communities have to rethink curriculum. We see the evolution of curriculum. The old curriculum was based on content, reading, writing and arithmetic. However, technology has shifted curriculum towards process, which relies on relationships, resilience, and reflection. Our teachers and students need to think in terms of communities, receive instant feedback without judgment, and reflect to rethink the assumptions of what we already know. Education now needs to be viewed as a design construct, rather than as a tool for students to acquire information because information is already readily available. In the words of Jose Bowen, “…our focus as teachers is to make ourselves obsolete by thinking, ‘How do I design a system in which you do the work?’ In this design content matters, but I as the teacher, need to teach you how to do this so that you can learn how to change yourself without me. My role as a teacher is to watch you think.”
Teachers in the “New Dawn” are the curators, motivators, designers, and role models for students. They are required to be the cognitive coaches who make the students intellectually sweat. Teaching is about change. Teaching is about reflecting on assumptions about what you have learned. One of the hardest things to do being a teacher is to model for students what being a “smart person” looks like.
That raises the question: How do school leaders develop cognitive coaches who make students intellectually sweat?
The way leaders can achieve these goals is by evolving to embrace the “New Dawn” to shape how education is designed in 2021. This requires empowering school communities to complete work remotely from any location, enabling teachers and students to have a great experience regardless of the channel of engagement, modernizing technology, applying data analytics to better understand practices and most importantly modeling what a “smart person” looks like by demonstrating an ability to change your mind.