Considering the Goose and Gander: The Striking Similarities Between Teacher and Student Experiences

Here’s one of the biggest challenges facing our current approach to education innovation: We are designing, to use the proverbial goose and gander proverb, two different sauces for teachers and students when they should be the same.

“Today’s students want to create and learn at the same time. They want to pull content into use immediately. They want it situated and actionable. This path bridges the gap between knowledge and knowing.” – John Seely Brown

“Feedback is the central problem with American education—we are starved of authentic feedback as teachers, and then powerless to follow through on what we learn and to make real changes based on the real young people in our classrooms. This needs to change.” — 6th grade language arts teacher, charter school, CO

GeeseIt’s an important insight because in separate, silo-like fashion, we are spending massive amounts of money to improve teacher and student experiences. More experiential learning for students! More entrepreneurial thinking by teachers! More personalized technology! More professional development! But are we asking the right questions? Are we solving the right problems?

For the past few years, the BIF Student Experience Lab has been conducting qualitative research to understand the experiences of students and teachers nationwide. In our efforts to help schools, colleges, universities and service providers design and test new models within education, we have been compiling a rich understanding related of how teachers and students consider, relate to, respond to, and engage with our current educational system. It’s from this research, I believe, that true system-level meaning making and model building takes place.

Insights to come out of our research reveals students consistently struggle to:

  1. Connect schoolwork or coursework to the real world.
  2. Understand the true value of education (or in the case of higher education, the true value of the degree).
  3. Articulate the skills and competencies they are earning through their education.
  4. Map their experiences to future pathways.
  5. Be mindful, planful and self-actualize their way toward reaching full potential.

And teachers consistently struggle to:

  1. Maintain a sense of autonomy and feeling of agency over their teaching efforts.
  2. Coordinate teaching and learning in a collaborative way amongst fellow teachers, advisors, support service providers and even students.
  3. Balance the external factors of a student’s life while providing a stable, safe place for students to learn.
  4. Find outlets of expression and feedback that are tied to self-assessment and growth.
  5. Take control of their professional growth.

For both student and teacher, shouldn't these struggles be non-existent in a strong educational system?

To solve for these challenges, we need to look at the problem differently; we need to shift our thinking about what teaching and learning means and what it should enable. And we need to tackle the elephant in the room: standardized testing.

In our studies, we see far too many students who fail to see the relevance of what they are learning and being tested on, who cannot articulate the skills or competencies they gain from school, and who feel detached or disconnected from their learning environment. On the other side of the fence, we hear from educators teaching to the test who are disengaged and disheartened in a system that stifles creativity and professional development in service of federal and district mandates (as opposed to student-centered achievement and growth). 

The biggest problem we see with test score pressure is that it fails to address larger educational goals of fostering engagement in learning, which is why so many entered the profession of teaching in the first place. In the current system these scores are meant to simultaneously signify both about the quality of teaching as well as the quality of a student’s thinking process. This system [or at least how it's configured today] manages to simultaneously disenfranchise both teacher and student.

If our call to action to improve student outcomes involves the creation of life-long learners who know how to ask and answer questions, see and solve problems, and engage with the world around, then we must instill the same call to action for our teachers. Yet, how can we possibly ask teachers to instill lifelong learning in our students when we neglect to do the same for them? How can we ask students to be curious, inquisitive and experimental when we do not ask the same of our teachers? How can we actively seek to create mindful, planful and self-reflective students when we do not seek the same from our teachers?

Thinking of students and teachers as part of the same system means that both need to find satisfaction in the system of which they are taking part. And the satisfaction each seeks is remarkably similar.

Next-Generation Teaching and Learning

Imagine, for a moment, a generative learning model in which both students and teachers go through interlocking cycles of learning, discovery, feedback, application and iterative. This suggests, perhaps, some of the greatest opportunities for innovation in education today.

Imagine, for a moment, that we:

  1. Design pathways that (finally!) replace the time-based system with a set of practices that propel students toward both mastery of college and career-ready skills, and, life-long learning.
  2. Develop solutions, approaches and tools to help students receive guidance on the kinds of learning that will serve them best.
  3. Create learning models that drive students far beyond knowledge and understanding and toward demonstrated transfer of content and skill.
  4. Create teaching models where teachers are facilitators helping students take control of their own learning.
  5. Supports the creation of new environments that connect learning to students’ passions and interests, helping students manage other aspects of their lives (i.e. independence and personal responsibility) which draws them toward deeper learning and real engagement.  
  6. Create a system of alternatives that embraces diversity, experimentation and productive inquiry (as educators, we SHOULD NOT have all the answers!).

Life-long learning - that elusive goal of ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated pursuits of knowledge - can not be instilled in our students if it’s not instilled in our teachers. We must design a system with this principle in mind. Only together, with goose and gander considered hand-in-hand, will we achieve the transformation we seek.

Photo Credit: sparth via Compfight cc

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