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“Today, we have the capability to give every child the tools, materials, and context to achieve their potential, unencumbered by the limited imaginations of today’s education policy makers. There are multiple pathways to learning what we have always taught, and things to do that were unimaginable just a few years ago.”
– Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager, Invent to Learn

If you ask teachers why they teach, most will express a profound sense of purpose to connect with and inspire students to reach their potential; to give them the self-confidence and skills necessary to lead happy, successful lives. Teachers become teachers because they believe they can have an impact on the future of young people. Often, educators cite the impact of a teacher in their own lives as the key factor in their decision to join the profession. Clearly, teachers have noble goals for their professional careers. They want to inspire and, in turn, to be inspired.

Yet, in schools, all too often, the way we discuss learning and growth is mired in the language of certainty, measurability and accountability. We ask teachers to document learning, to implement curriculum standards, to analyse testing data. Where does this focus on certainty come from? As we prepare our students for an unknown future, we need to find ways to inspire creativity, encourage exploration, and embrace uncertainty. Teachers focused on strict unit and lesson planning protocols may find their own joy for learning constrained in the process. That is not to say that planning, goals and standards do not have their place in schools. However, if that is the dominant conversation we are having, do we not rob both our students and teachers of their potential, of the nobility of the learning process?

Granted, most schools have mission and vision statements that are intended to outline their overall purpose.  Yet many of those contain statements about “lifelong learners” and “global citizens” that are not clearly defined, and do not reflect the exciting opportunities emerging technologies offer for learners. In the past, vision statements were crafted to define a future direction. How is this possible in our current, rapidly changing world? How do we define the future of learning with certainty? Why must it be prescriptive?

As David Perkins noted in Futurewise: “What’s worth learning?” is an impossible question if we want the perfect answer. We are indeed educating for the unknown. But with some thoughtful criteria and a sense of mission, we can grope smart.”

Some people may crave certainty and clear direction, but this is the precise quality that can rob us of our creativity. Modern school leaders are challenged with the task of building a culture that leverages learning purpose in a manner that enables ambitious, noble teachers to leverage and harness the enormous potential of new technology tools. As leaders, we need to use language that captures the excitement of the dynamic changes happening in our world, language that encourages and inspires teachers to take risks.  We need to unleash teacher creativity so they can do the same for their students.  Ed Catmull, in Creativity Inc. sums up the leader’s role:

Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear. Doing all these things won’t necessarily make the job of managing a creative culture easier. But ease isn’t the goal; excellence is.

This is where the teacher’s career began. Isn’t excellence everyone’s goal?
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