Going Beyond the “Cool” Factor

Years ago, I remembered walking into this redesigned library that was seemingly the stuff of dreams in education.  It was more like a media center and had spaces that were created for collaborative learning as well as spaces to work your own. Flexible seating accommodated the learning needs of many different learners, and it was a space, unlike anything I had seen in education before.

As I looked around, I noticed students working on a project together that was focused on starting an initiative to help seniors in their community, and they were doing some truly incredible work.  As I left the table, I noticed a librarian coming over to the students and “shushing” them, which immediately took me back to how I remember a library being used when I was a student in school.  You can be seen but not heard.

A couple of things. The students were not obnoxiously loud.  Also, this was a moment I just happened to notice, and I have no idea what was going on in that space or with the librarian that day, so I am not judging.

What that moment did make me realize though is that you can provide all of the technology in the world, you can create the most magnificent spaces, but if our thinking about school and learning stay the same, we have spent a lot of money to make an impact that is based more on cool aesthetics than actual learning.

I wrote about this in “The Innovator’s Mindset”:

A school with all the latest technology may well be a twenty- first-century school—modern in every way—and still not offer twenty-first-century learning. If we are only accessing the same information that previously existed in textbooks and handing in assignments with this technology, computers are no more than the equivalent of $1,000 pencils.

I have never been a big fan of the term “21st century” when dealing with education, and it has less to do with the fact that we are 20 years into the century and more because we have 80 years to go. We have no idea what those next 80 years are going to look like but we know that learners will always need to adjust. I love this quote from Peter Drucker:

The space I am referring to was something I saw years ago, and I have seen a massive shift in how spaces and technology are being used. One of the reasons I even thought about this was because I was recently in a district that had not only these fantastic spaces but was revamping professional learning in a way to utilize these spaces to mirror what they want happening in their classroom. It was incredible to watch. I have also noticed that there are a lot of places that are providing innovative and compelling learning experiences in spaces that would be deemed “traditional.”  How we think and act upon those ideas is what matters most.

The “stuff” definitely can help create opportunities, but if we don’t think differently about teaching and learning and shift our mindset in how to empower our learners truly, these things look impressive from a distance but add little value.

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