Knowledge is Power
I have always been a natural “learner” and read a lot (professionally) so it comes as no surprise that I would embark on a journey to become a doctoral candidate. What is surprising or exciting, however, is to find a program that is action oriented and honors and nurtures professional creativity while simultaneously enlightening one’s knowledge and understanding of the world in so many dimensions. The Creativity and Generative Design in Education Learning Community at the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus is defined as a “program of study that will nurture professional creativity towards revolutionizing the systems, structure, and cultures that form our current educational landscape. The emphasis will be on utilizing the wisdom of the learning sciences and art and design to develop thoughtful and intentional educational leaders who seek to explore and create innovative solutions to existing educational challenges.
Central to the program of study is a focus on the processes and structures leading to the design, prototyping, and testing of various models that create, re-design or radically alter the ways we construct learning environments, whether they are in schools, in communities, in hospitals, in government or corporations. “ While I have only been a part of this program for seven weeks, I am beyond excited about what this program promises to bring to my professional and personal life!
How I got to now…
Bounce, written by Matthew Syed, and Purposeful Practice
No matter the profession you are in, Bounce is a critical read. On page 5, About the Book, Syed writes, “The simple and rather seductive idea (is) that excellence is reserved for a select group of individuals-winners in a genetic lottery that passed the rest of us by. This book…is written as a direct challenge to this perspective.”
Some important concepts discussed in Bounce are purposeful practice, the power of long experiences and deep knowledge, failure, feedback, the amazing capacity of our brain to change, the power of Mindset as researched by Carol Dweck, the power of beliefs, the power of positive thinking and imagery, the differences between experts and novices, and the role environment can play in “talent”. Two key concepts that are resonating with me at this moment are purposeful practice and the power of knowledge. Purposeful practice can be described in the following ways:
- Challenging – striving for targets just out of reach
- Considerable, specific, and sustained effort to do something well that you couldn’t before
- Pushing yourself longer and harder
- Quality of practice (deliberate practice), training smarter
- Being pushed beyond existing limits
- Constant repetition and deep concentration
When learning about purposeful practice, as Syed described and defined, I could not help myself from connecting this to school learning. If teachers could be more deliberate about the instruction they deliver, have more time to think deeply in order to plan, be more responsive to students’ needs, not worry about following a program with “fidelity”, or the outcomes of standardized tests, would our students’ performance increase? I believe it would with deep, thoughtful purposeful (instruction) and practice delivered by creative teachers.
We then learned about Responsive Design. RD is an empathetic approach to creating prototypes of practice through the process of exploring, envisioning, and enacting. This fairly simple process of creativity is perfect for educators, professional who are in the business of people, and for whom time is often an obstacle.
Working in the role of reading specialist I get wrapped up in data, research, and fidelity. What this program has done for me is allowed me to use the “book knowledge” I have from all the professional reading I have done in my 20 years of education to prototype or design practices that meet the needs of individual students. I see it as taking the best practices I know to create a program with specific kids in mind. I am envisioning “prototyping” programs for all of the groups of children I see using the 3E’s process outlined in Responsive Design. On page 94 Syed writes, “We have seen that in any complex task (and I believe teaching and instruction would qualify as a complex task) it is knowledge, above all, that determines excellence; the kind of knowledge built through deep experience and encoded in the brain and central nervous system.”
A Call to Action
Teachers, it is time to take action and as UMSL’s program description states, use the wisdom of the learning sciences and art and design to develop thoughtful and intentional educational leaders who seek to explore and create innovative solutions to existing educational challenges. We are professionals who think deeply and care deeply about our students and their success. We CAN make a difference.