This post is by Joey Hunziker, who is currently serving as the Interim Director of Partnerships for the Innovation Lab Network at CCSSO.
Four months ago, I had never listened to a podcast. I always felt like I was too busy to listen and that the podcasts would be boring or useless. But then I downloaded one at the prompting of a friend and was struck by how powerful a medium this podcast was for telling human stories. I’ve since become an avid listener of story-focused podcasts, which led me to download and play a new podcast called S*Town.
Have you listened to “S*Town”? If so, please email or tweet me so we can discuss it. S*Town centers on a small town in rural Alabama, and delves into the life of a colorful, brilliant, and, at times, quite profane horologist named John B. McLemore. I won’t spoil the podcast, or focus on the vivid imagery and language used in it (though, if there are any students reading this, you might note that horologist seems like a pretty good word that might show up on the SAT). But as I listened to the podcast, I couldn’t help but reflect on one of the central themes that emerged: time. I found myself engaging in deep reflection, experiencing a range of emotions from guilt about my own use of time, to contemplation about how time factors into educational transformation, to hope for the opportunities and energy that exist in the world of education at this moment in time.
First, I considered my own time use: I work for an organization that supports state education agencies; I am balancing a heavy travel schedule, several meetings, internal strategic planning that requires a significant investment of time and cognitive capacity, and a so-called “social life” of friends and family spread across the country. Upon further reflection, I realize I’m not “balancing” as much as I think I am. My time use reminds me of a book I read a few years ago by a Washington Post journalist, called Overwhelmed, which focused on the writer’s search for meaning and balance in her own time use. Brigid Schulte, the author, felt overwhelmed by the number and variety of tasks she needed to carry out in any given day, and wanted to know how others spend their time. Her research shows that people in the U.S. report more scattered and disrupted uses of time, balance more time-heavy tasks, and feel more imbalanced than those in other countries. The data behind this research points to a culprit: our constant drive to improve and to do more professionally.
This really resonates with me. I like to think of myself as someone who always says yes to new projects and takes on multiple tasks, but ultimately, I find myself doing a lot of things rushed or last minute. (Except this blog post, of course.) My experiences are, I imagine, not unlike yours, and, not unlike the experiences of many students sitting in classrooms across the country today.
Thinking about my own experience as a student, I often felt like I had to spend more time and energy planning ahead and scheduling my time to do work, than actually doing the work itself. Some might call those “soft skills” or “dispositions,” or, if we’re thinking of the deeper learning competencies, this would likely fall under the domains of “learning how to learn” and “developing academic mindsets.” Ultimately, time use and management are major contributing factors to a student’s ability to be successful in school, just as my own time use is a determining factor in how well I do my job helping state education agencies. As we in the education world work to expand the practices of student-centered, deeper learning, we also should be cognizant of the additional responsibility and expectations we place on students to be better planners of their time and leaders of their learning.
Second, my experience with time use pales in comparison to the experiences of those teachers and principals I speak with today who are implementing student-centered, deeper learning. Back when I taught, I had a relatively small number of competing initiatives for my time. Today, teachers and principals are handling an increasing number of initiatives, instructional strategies, and management practices on a daily basis. The move to student-centered learning environments, in which students are engaged in deeper learning, requires a different conception and management of time. Moving toward a student-centered environment that prioritizes deeper learning requires a deeper level of commitment of time and energy. Teachers I’ve talked with almost always describe the shift in teaching practice in relation to time: needing time to let student-centered learning (whether that be project-based learning or other strategies) breathe and grow organically, or finding new ways to use time to support student learning without being rigid or controlling.
This reflection was particularly evident in two schools I recently visited in South Carolina on a joint trip with several Innovation Lab Network states, American Youth Policy Forum, and New Tech Network. On those visits, I heard from teachers who praised their leaders for allowing them plenty of time to work through implementing project-based learning, alongside their New Tech Network partners, without overwhelming pressures or deadlines. The teachers also praised their leaders for making changes to the school/class schedule to allow for not just shared planning time but deep collaboration and reflection on student work. (For more on that trip, please read my colleague Loretta Goodwin’s post on the AYPF blog). It’s clear that when time is removed as a superficial barrier, and teachers are encouraged to use time differently, they are able to implement new initiatives and strategies with thoughtfulness and deep collaboration, ultimately setting the work up for success.
My third and final reflection is that time is not just defined by hours or minutes–often of which we continually want more of–but also by significant moments in history. I believe one of those is before us today. This was exceptionally clear at the recent Deeper Learning conference at High Tech High, where I engaged with colleagues who are committed to deeper learning and seeing it expand across the country. Deeper Learning, once a term used by a small group of individuals to identify the complex set of skills, knowledge, and competencies that students need in their professional and academic lives, has become a full-fledged movement. One argument for why the movement took off so rapidly is that we’ve never had a greater need for deeper learning than now at this time in our society and world. The complexities of modern life require more from our students, from being able to decipher the qualities of good news and journalism, to having the mindsets and skills to be a lifelong learner. As cheesy as it may sound, the time is right for deeper learning.
After leaving the sun-drenched oasis of San Diego and the conference spaces of High Tech High, I realized that our work–as students, educators, administrators, researchers, and system leaders–is important for this unique period of time. We are preparing not just our students but our communities and nation for the uncertainties that lay ahead, equipping each other with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and creative problem solvers, who will (hopefully) create a more just world. What better time to be alive and working in education, right?
And, if you have the time, please reach out and recommend other podcasts I should download.