Wednesday, August 30, 2017

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel... or do we?

As teachers, we are sometimes a bit like magpies. You see something shiny, you pick it up and take it back to the nest. Or to be precise, you see a good resource, a teaching tool, a strategy, and you take it back to your classroom. Over the years, many of us have stockpiled many great resources. In fact, we are such magpies, that there are entire websites devoted to our magpie tendencies. Teachers Pay Teachers has seen numerous educators around the world make a pretty penny by sharing their resources for other teachers to buy. Sites like TES have banks of great resources, both free and paid for to also indulge our collection of shiny objects. Here in New Zealand, N4L’s Pond is attempting to do the same. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the copious resources that are being shared through social media.

With so many resources around, I have heard many educator say that there is “no need to reinvent the wheel”. I’ve heard this said across a number of contexts, and by numerous people. And perhaps because we are now well into term three, the coldest and darkest of the New Zealand school terms, I’m hearing this more. Perhaps term three is when we are most reminded that we have to manage our teaching workload more carefully, and hence, a good resource that saves some preparation time feels likes a win. By now we also know that there is plenty of research that shows that we need sleep for more effective problem solving and even creativity. So perhaps, our need not to reinvent the wheel, stems from the recognition that we are tired and don’t necessarily have the mental energy to do so. It is a fairly well researched fact that sleep deprivation affects our ability to solve problems.

Recently, I also blogged about how busy we are as teachers. Between reports, planning, meetings, parent demands, marking, professional learning and leadership responsibilities, there never seems to be enough time. It makes sense then, that we adopt some time saver tips such as our magpie approach. It’s a time saver when we do not reinvent the wheel!

While I hear this phrase more and more, I have all of a sudden become sceptical. (It might also be the “How might I be wrong?” postit stuck to my screen). You see, when this phrase is bandied around in a meeting, we often nod our heads in agreement. Or, we retweet it on Twitter, because yes, we agree that we shouldn’t reinvent the wheel. But what if we are wrong? What if we SHOULD reinvent the wheel? In fact, you might find that the wheel has been reinvented many times over, and thank goodness for that! You wouldn’t want a wooden spoke wheel on your brand-new Tesla, would you? Whilst technology marches on, and has brought virtual reality, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, the blockchain and home genetics kits knocking on our doors, schools are still saying that there is “no need to reinvent the wheel”. Is it just me, or does that seem like a pretty fatal flow in our thinking?

No need to reinvent the wheel” is making me increasingly and incredibly uncomfortable. If we do not reinvent the wheel, doesn’t that put us at risk of becoming obsolete as a profession? Or for privatisation to capitalise on our lack of reinvention in the public school system? But more importantly, does that mean we are frequently accepting the outdated, old fashioned, ineffective, unproductive wooden spoke wheels in education?

Watson the super computer is diagnosing lung cancer better than experienced doctors, Tesla can send push updates to your car to improve it remotely, my smartphone has technology that would have cost $5 trillion dollars in 1984, and an artificially intelligent teaching assistant helped students online for an entire semester and nobody noticed. I have thought about it a little more, I’ve actually decided that we do not need to reinvent the wheel. It’s time we start building the education equivalents of hovercrafts.

I’ve adopted a new lens to use in my leadership and my everyday practice. This means rather than assuming that I do not need to reinvent the wheel, I should instead evaluate whether a wheel is still appropriate. Perhaps I am in the territory of hovercrafts, self-driving cars and the hyperloop. I for one, will definitely no longer accept not reinventing the wheel.


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