Much is being written today about how technology is changing the face of education and how it will continue to do so at an increasingly rapid rate. There are those who believe that within the decade, on-line learning and advanced educational software will push the current system to the tipping point, at which time a radical change in education will occur. In the book, Disrupting Class, the author compares this to what transistors did to vacuum tubes and what the personal computer did to the mainframe computer. Both innovations radically changed their industries. Is technology about to do the same in education? And if so, will education continue to require well-trained teachers (who require decent wages)?
There are those who would argue that the teacher will morph into a guide or an assistant who keeps students on track as the real learning takes place in front of a screen, where the learning will be more personalized and engaging. This will require fewer teachers, as the argument goes, for a job requiring less expertise. More children can be in the same space, further cutting personnel costs.
There was a time when experts believed television would radicalize education. The idea that the computer will replace the teacher is not new. However, even when the current system reaches that tipping point where on-line learning and advanced software radically change the face of education for the better, I am certain that, no matter the advances or changes, well-qualified, fairly compensated professional teachers will always be at the center of excellent schools.
Technology is a means to an end, not the end itself. It is a tool, one of many, that has the power to engage, influence and inspire learning in our children. No matter the tool or technique, behind it all will always be the teacher. I am a strong proponent for age-appropriate technology as a powerful tool for excellence in education. And I am an even stronger proponent for excellent teachers.
There is no substitute for the inspiring teacher. People of all ages crave meaningful and nurturing relationships. There is nothing that can replace the gentle encouragement of a teacher. The warm smile, the caring word, the sympathetic ear, and the clear expectations are the priceless ingredients necessary to forming relationships; relationships that supersede subject content and are crucial for social and emotional development. Social skills, values and citizenship are taught by people who model and act in ways that guide our children. The teacher is a mentor, coach, parental figure, therapist, actor, friend, and role model, often all at the same time.
No matter how far technology advances and no matter how intuitive and engaging software becomes in the learning process, it will never have the heart and soul that are required to teach the whole child.
How can you identify schools that foster excellence in teaching? Excellent teachers are nurtured and found at schools that dedicate a significant percentage of their budget to professional development and protect that line from cuts. Such schools encourage and even require teachers to attend professional conferences, take classes, collaborate together and participate in many other on-going professional growth opportunities. On any given day you will find teachers engaged in deep conversations about teaching and learning. They are actively involved in peer observation, going into each other’s classes and then engaging in directed conversations about what was observed. They are reflective practitioners always striving for excellence in order to provide an outstanding educational experience for our children. These schools are willing to take innovative risks, celebrate success and learn from mistakes.