Roderick Benns recently interviewed Dr. Simon Breakspear, an internationally-known, Australian-based education leader on learning innovation and system reform. He is the founder and CEO of LearnLabs, a global learning research and design agency.
Benns: How can we ensure quality teaching continues in the face of powerful digital trends? What might it look like?
Breakspear: Whilst the digitisation of educational resources will enable more and more content to be accessible online, the most powerful elements of learning have always been deeply human. Whilst overcoming the digital divide will ensure access to content for a greater number of people, the greatest challenges we face in education concern the motivational divide. Quality teachers will increasingly need to develop the capacity to be activators and designers of learning. These roles will only become more important, not less as digitisation continues.
Benns: Like all bureaucracies, school systems are notoriously slow to change. How can they adapt to a more lithe and nimble mindset to help move students toward a future that is relevant for them?
Breakspear: It’s time to stop talking about the ‘why’ for educational change, and focus on the ‘how’. New forms of agile leadership will be crucial for supporting sustainable and contextually appropriate change at the level of the local school. Leaders need to adopt an evolutionary mind set which seeks to build on the best of the past, but relentlessly design for the future of learning.
Large scale change is best achieved by local level leaders starting small, learning fast, and be willing to fail well. As local innovators generate promising new pedagogical practices, these must be spread across networks of schools to ensure their benefits reach all young people. The role of system leaders must shift from driving top down agendas for change towards becoming enablers of local innovation.
Benns: In a world of increasing diversity, is it good educational leadership to emphasize character and civics in the classroom? Why?
Breakspear: Absolutely! The point of education is to build a vibrant democratic society. Through my own research analysis I have critiqued the dangers of following narrow test based definitions of the ends of our education system. Education has always traditionally sought to achieve social and democratic ends above and beyond cognitive development. As our cities become enriched by increasing diversity, and the borders between countries become increasingly permeable, young people must be given the opportunity to develop their capacities to be active and engaged local and global citizens.