What business are you in?
My answer was always teaching, or puberty management when fishing for a laugh.
This answer is true because it focusses on daily activity, which makes sense if you equate your business to your work.
Yet, there is a growing sense of dissonance with this answer. Lately I’ve worked hard to rethink, reimagine and reframe it to declare that the business I’m in is learning.
The original response is based in the reasonable view that teaching is what the work actually looks like. It springs from my thinking, knowledge and expertise, framed by my values, beliefs and principles gathered over twenty years or so.
In essence, it is my job – where I trade my labour for money.
In the teaching business, I am in charge. Everything filters through me and the choices I make, albeit guided by school culture and curriculum. The knowledge I hold is curated and passed over by me.
Yet success for students in this model hinges on the extent to which we turn up, and how much we have to give when we do. Physically, emotionally, this is a tough ask and places a lot of pressure on the ‘heroic’ teacher.
If we shift focus to say we are in the learning business, the board opens right up. All of a sudden, our position as keystone or capstone to the learning process is challenged. We enter the field of play, we take part, rather than coach from the sidelines.
This opens a Pandora’s box for everyone involved in education, often seen in the tension between views of teaching as job, career, or calling.
This is a place of great vulnerability. It requires an admission that you don’t hold all the answers and much touted excellence and perfection is elusive. As many educators and schools embody Guy Claxton’s ‘low risk, high shame’ culture, this tension is even more problematic and wicked.
Then we throw in the context of a return to remote learning as, in Melbourne, we change direction and go back for at least six weeks. To bastardise Shakespeare, we left remote learning like schoolboys from their books. But we return to remote learning reluctantly, with dirty looks.
There is a sudden urgency to reflect on what we took away from the experience. Perhaps what hurts most is the fact we’d fallen for the belief that it was over and we might return to some normality.
This time, there won’t be the shiny tinge of novelty to help the medicine go down.
If we stick with the principle of concentrating on the essential, perhaps the bias should be towards learning, not teaching.
We cannot simply focus on getting through again, setting a course for the other side of this situation and sunnier climes.
The path requires keeping simplicity in mind when it comes to effective and successful learning. What makes learning work in any context? What makes for sustainable momentum?
In my humble view, it lies in doing less, but better. It is creating routines and structures that provide a framework for deep thinking well beyond simple consumption driven, task based education.
We must control the controllable, assuming that students are doing their best. When they don’t, we should point and call that and encourage and cajole. We must make it desirable to attend class for as many students as possible.
Experience tells me that students working in a blended environment, where analogue and digital activities coexist, fuelled by time and space to connect and get feedback leads to some strong learning, even from the couch, kitchen table or bedroom.
It also tells me that we will have little joy in providing endless Sisyphean consumption of worksheets and learning tasks, and engagement will plummet.
It tells me that all the innovation and shiny apps and programs won’t make for impactful learning either, as whatever is going on behind the scenes on other devices is no doubt more engaging than what we can provide.
Of course, I’m more than willing to be proven wrong. You can’t learn anything if you think you know everything.
Which is why going back for a second helping of remote education must be about the learning, not the teaching.