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More school, less classroom

Teaching faces a new era of rapid and permanent change. Centers need to be organized differently to suit

Innovating is the adaptive response to a changing environment, in a broad and elemental sense. Castells often says that we are not living in a time of change, but rather a change of time, that is, towards an entirely different future (partly here, but poorly distributed, Gibson dixit). I see another turn of the screw: not only is it a change of era, but we are entering an era of change; We are not going to a new stable equilibrium, but to a transformational era, one of accelerated, permanent and multidirectional change, with profound implications for education.

In the school world this is manifested in how the public and the environment of a center and the center itself change in a few years; in how the centers are therefore diversified, even though in principle they are equal (in particular the public ones), even neighboring, both among themselves and internally; in how the ecosystem of the information, communication and learning media that concur and compete with teaching changes.

This boiling context supposes that the educator cannot simply transfer what was learned in his initial training, what was observed in another context or what was practiced before to the current practice, but rather needs to innovate, although this basically consists of recombining elements of their professional background, their own and other people’s experience and non-school environments. Educating today is, and will be increasingly, innovating on the ground, not to be confused with inventing from scratch in the niche or with the long-awaited reform from above.

But innovation, in addition to being possible and necessary, must seem so, and almost everything conspires so that it does not do so. Unlike the big press that loses readers, companies that fight for their clientele or parties that see their voters drop out, the school has a captive audience, retained by the obligation and, before and beyond it, by the delegation family custody and job market credentialing. In other words, there is hardly any feedback, nothing to indicate to the institution and the profession how little audience they would have if it only depended on their effectiveness or attractiveness.

Add to this the meager training of the teacher and non-specific training of the secondary school teacher, the rancidity of the faculties of Education, the isolation of classroom work, the opacity of the centers and the suffocating paleopolitical load of the educational debate, and you will understand both conservatism and so much inertia despite the urgency and importance of change. But change will come: the question is how, from where, at what cost (social, cultural and institutional, rather than economic) and when (for how many cohorts it will be late). A provocative John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, the least fearful of the future, said: “A tsunami is coming. I cannot say exactly how it will explode, but my intention is to try to navigate it, not wait for it standing there.

Without a doubt, what knocks the loudest at the doors of the school is technology. Children, adolescents and youth already live with it on a daily basis, the jobs they await and those to come require digital skills, technology companies deploy their offer and school publishers renew theirs; Last but not least, a relevant portion of the teaching staff captures the need and the opportunity and is strongly committed to innovation.

They are not only devices and conduits (hardware), nor data and algorithms (software), but as much or more are the new communication and learning relationships that arise over them, opposed to the old school pedagogical relationships: overcoming space-time limits, adaptation to personal learning rhythms and styles, unrestricted cooperation among equals, interactivity incorporated into devices and applications, immediate feedback of data and analytics on the learning itself … A bustling and fascinating environment that makes the school appear, paraphrasing Marx, as “ the tradition of all the dead generations [that] oppresses like a nightmare the brain of the living ”.

It will not be easy, because innovating in school is not like doing it in agriculture or industry. Teaching involves a large portion of the kind of knowledge that Polanyi called tacit and Hippel sticky. Tacit, or very difficult to formalize, which prevents transmitting it in a faculty or with a book (such as riding a bicycle, something that everyone knows how to do but cannot explain, that everyone learns without anyone studying). Sticky because it is difficult to separate it from the terrain in which it is created and applied and has to be transmitted and acquired in professional or teacher-apprentice collaboration. Therefore, even if the pressure comes from outside and actors such as universities, publishers, technology companies, administrations and others must and can contribute, the process will be one of distributed innovation and horizontal dissemination.

Distributed innovation means that each teacher, team, center or network of centers will do their own innovation, learning from each other and adjusting and modifying what they have learned, in no case importing, transferring or generalizing common formulas, call them good practices, successful practices, evidence-based education or any other euphemism. Note that not only are the contexts and moments different, but also the actors, as are the capacities and limitations of each teacher, team, faculty or community. It assumes that it will not come only from the teacher, nor from the management, but from both, as well as intermediate groups or other involved actors and collaborators present in the community and outside the professional nucleus.

As for horizontal diffusion, it requires conditions today very deteriorated. The first, a fluid and sufficient contact between educators, which does not happen from one classroom to another or in the short break. A mistaken vision of the profession has restricted the presence in the center to little more than teaching hours, making teaching a job that can be reduced by all and reduced by many to part-time (paid full-time) employment, and has eliminated the times and spaces for unplanned contact – dynamiting in the process the possibility of dedicating more time to students at risk. The solution is not complex, although it is complicated: the working day (schedule and calendar) must be spent in the center; yes, with the appropriate equipment and the necessary flexibility, regardless of whether the study load can be reduced.

It is important to consider that educating is no longer a matter of a teacher with a learning group, not even in primary school, where one third to half of the student’s time does not spend with their teacher-tutor, but with specialists, supports, monitors, caregivers and others, not counting on the fact that every year or every two he changes his main teacher, or with withdrawals and transfers. Outside of charismatic individuals, small variations and fleeting experiences, an effective education, a consistent project or an innovative process require the scale of the center. And sometimes more: networks of centers that allow to expand experiences, distribute experimentation and achieve economies of scale.

Also, within the center, you benefit from the clustering of classrooms and collaboration between teachers, such as in well-known interdisciplinary projects or in the merging of groups with a single teacher in larger groups with teams of two or three. In short, the center scale better protects individual innovation, by reducing (and accepting) the risk of error and intensifying feedback.

Every organization, as a stable structure serving an end, tends to be conservative; one more school center, due to its function of cultural reproduction, its basis in compulsory conscription, the uncertainty of its results and the asymmetry between profession and public (in the middle of the last century, P. Mort estimated 25 years of delay for the typical school in the adoption of established good practices). Innovation needs the impulse and leadership of the management and the cooperation of teachers, but in public schools (two thirds of the students), the first has few competencies other than administrative, the faculty lives atomized and the official can ignore everything . These problems do not exist in private centers, which,

It is precisely the organization that has to change. What counts is not the content but the relationships: between students and with teachers, with content and materials, with the environment, the organization of space and time … If it were content, it would be solved with good books or good videos. The problem is that the centers are little more than piles of stacked classrooms and, while these lack a future (they are the residue of the school-factory and the teacher-tap), those that will continue and grow because there is no better place outside of the family for the minors, they cannot reinvent theirs. But that’s the way: more school and less classroom.

Source: Mariano Fernández-Enguita is a sociologist, professor at the Complutense University of Madrid, where he coordinates the Doctorate in Education. He is the author of Education at the Crossroads (Fundación Santillana).

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