Our MEd program is in the area of Transformational Education. This title captures our goal of creating change through embracing adaptive challenges in the classrooms where we work. Briefly, adaptive challenges are problems for which we do not presently know the answer. All unsolved problems in a school or classroom are at the core adaptive challenges, since at some point a change in behavior will be required to enact the necessary changes, and the solutions are not currently known at all levels.
Unfortunately, we persist in treating adaptive challenges like technical challenges. An article from the Harvard Business Review identifies some of the reasons for this tendency.
Technical challenges are:
• Easy to identify
• Lend themselves to quick, cut-and-dried solutions
• Can be solved by the authority figure or expert
• Require minimal change that is usually contained within organizational boundaries
• Most people are receptive to technical solutions
• Solutions can be implemented quickly – even by edict
As you look through this list you can see that most traditional assignments are technical in nature.
Another concept that lends itself to technical solutions is something we call rigor. As nearly as I can tell, rigor represents workload – a long research paper will result in a certain number of hours of effort by the student. A reading will do the same thing. At all levels we assess ourselves (and are assessed by others) in terms of work hours; faculty are required to provide a certain number of seat-hours for their students, who are in turn required to complete a battery of known requirements that are set up in advance of the class. Within this model, the most accurate way to ensure a proper level of rigor is to create, in advance, assignments and standards that hit a desired benchmark in terms of work hours. Hit that level and rigor is achieved. This is only possible with a technical approach.
In short, rigor as we define it does not lend itself to adaptive challenges. Going back to the chart above, Adaptive Challenges:
• Require changes in values, beliefs, roles, relationships and approaches to work
• The people with the problem do the work of solving it
• Require change in numerous places; usually cross organizational boundaries
• People often resist even acknowledging adaptive challenges
• Solutions require experiments and new discoveries; they can take a long time to implement and cannot be implemented by edict.
The final bullet point is the most important in terms of rigor. We cannot control all aspects of adaptive challenges, and cannot determine in advance that the actual number of hours spent working, i.e. amount of rigor, will align itself with our semester by semester expectations.
It is for this reason that we must modify our traditional focus on rigor. In our program we choose to focus on change. Students hit their benchmarks when they make progress towards solving the adaptive challenges they have undertaken as their projects. Faculty hit their benchmarks when they support students in this area. Because they are adaptive challenges, we cannot predict at any point what the students’ workloads will be for a class period, day, week, month or semester. The best we can do is to work with the students in selecting a project that will require significant change and create meaningful improvement in peoples’ lives. At best this is an inexact science; we must be willing to accept a wide variety of experiences as our students encounter surprising successes and unexpected roadblocks.
If we are worried about somehow hitting or not hitting the benchmark of graduate level work we can take comfort that adaptive challenges are more difficult to solve than technical challenges by several magnitudes. The “rigor” involved in solving an adaptive challenge in education is clear; one just needs to look at the projects our students are undertaking to grasp the amount of work they are putting into their graduate educations.
Therefore, my hope is that we can abandon the traditional concept of rigor in this program and replace it a broader view of facilitating change in the form of a meaningful adaptive challenge.
I have had some interesting conversations lately about teachers and what they want from their own educations. Some of it applies directly to our M.Ed. program and its philosophies, and caused me to do a fair bit of critical reflection. It seems to me that a powerful motivator for teachers who seek graduate education is career advancement and salary increase, and this makes a lot of sense. But would teachers say that this is THE reason for continuing an education, and should our programs be crafted around the benefits that accrue for the teacher personally, with everything else being relegated to the margins? In other words, should our main focus and our reason for offering our program be to allow teachers to increase the number of extrinsic rewards they receive for teaching? I believe, when it comes right down to it, the answer to this question is no, and believe that most teachers feel the same way. I think most teachers are truly in it for the kids. What many teachers really want (and only rarely get) is the freedom, power, and support they need to help the kids they serve live better lives. Certifications and financial rewards are wonderful things, and we should pursue them when we can. But we should never allow those rewards to become THE reason behind our actions, and we should put the kids first, above all things.
Mr. Eric Hoops,who is both a 4th grade teacher and a high school football coach, is one of our best students. His project involves connecting at risk elementary students with high school athletes who can serve as friends and mentors, with the goal of creating positive change on both sides. The biggest struggle he has had in our program was finding the right expert who could assist him in developing the particular curriculum for his project, someone who shared his love for the kids he works with.
In our program students create their own electives based on actual needs. Because the projects are individualized, it often happens that subject experts and advocates from outside the program must be found and brought on board. Of all my advisees, Eric has struggled the most to find the right person to assist him, until we met yesterday evening with Kelli Johnson, the Suicide Prevention Program Manager for the 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command in Wichita.
Within five minutes of meeting, Eric and Kelli knew that they wanted to work together on Eric’s project, and that, as Eric said later, each shared a similar vision of what education should do. In one meeting, Eric went from stuck to having all sorts of new ideas available to explore that stand a good chance of transforming his teaching. It was great to see the process work so well.
One of the signature aspects of this program that has emerged is team teaching. It has never really made sense to me that we would teach subjects in complete isolation from the other learning we are offering to our students. Doesn’t that just lead to a scattered educational experience that lacks an overriding purpose? [ Read more... ]
P3 initiative: Recently I was contacted by two McPherson Middle School employees about developing a mentor project between our very best students and emotionally disturbed students at the Middle School. I am thrilled with the way the McPherson College community has embraced this opportunity, with a special shout out given to our Director of Service Projects Tom Hurst, who has taken a very appropriate and appreciated leadership role in this initiative. [ Read more... ]