But why is it that more teachers and students don't have the same optimism and mindset as the Ian Taylors of the world? In part, I blame the over-testing of our youth for in reality, so little gain. In the New Zealand of 2016, every student from Year 1 to 8 is assessed on reading, writing and mathematics twice a year. Yikes! Sure as a parent myself, I want to know how my boys are doing academically but I'm not sure this level and frequency of testing is going to help either of my boys learn more or be more affirming in their mindset. In contrast and in my personal and professional experience, I'd argue that the more we test, the less our students learn and the less prominent their optimism and growth mindset becomes.
At Aorere College in my role of Deputy Principal (Assessment & Reporting), I have deliberately seeked to reduce the quantity of assessment in both the junior and senior levels while increasing the quality of said assessments. In my Year 11 English, I like to think that I'm displaying a "don't see why not" theory and practice through giving my students ownership in terms of where they sit in the classroom, what they sit on, what they learn and the composition of their assessments. In doing so, I feel my learning space has vastly improved in terms of the growth climate and in terms of the levels of collaboration and sharing amongst all constituents. Overall I feel that my classroom is also achieving more through the learning being fun and where possible the assessments (yes) also being as fun and as authentic as possible.
One of the reasons why I don't think we see enough of the "don't see why not" philosophy in schools is that we are forever adding things into the classrooms yet rarely if ever taking anything out. In stark contrast, in Ian Taylor's learning space, they often have to start from scratch in design and planning for each new project, thus allowing a refreshing and reminding of the most effective mindset for growth and success. What if all teachers thought from scratch and blue-sky down rather than merely modifying or tinkering existing practices? In many cases, it's often far easier and quicker starting from a blank canvas but full imagination than from manipulating current pedagogies-in-play. What if every teacher co-constructed units with their students. This includes the assessments too by the way! In doing so, the "don't see why not" mindset gives a sense of responsibility and ownership to the students involved and as a result, creates greater life learning experiences alongside content and context learnings. In my Year 11 English experience, certainly in 2016, the almost complete co-construction of the learning and assessment has led to almost 100% assessment completions and a cohort of students and teachers prepared to learn through fun and importantly together. After all, even though I'm paid to be in the classroom and to some extent the students need to be, to have viable futures, we may as well have some enjoyment while moving forward together. I certainly "don't see why not".
When I talked to Ian Taylor about a number of his successful projects, he conversely had great delight in highlighting just how many failures it took to get one success. a success often appearing in a form not necessarily envisaged or originally planned. Ian's delight in failures reminds me of one of my university professors regaling us with the fact that Colonel Sanders of KFC fame apparently had to go to over 1000 restaurants before one accepted his herbs and spices idea. Ian and his colleagues see failure as essential and almost an enjoyable experience and more often than not, a key step towards eventual success. In the classroom setting, I love the fact that many teachers in our schools are now using digital technologies across the curriculum despite the students and indeed often more so the teachers, having limited technical aptitudes. Where there's a will, there's a way certainly resonates here! In my particular case, I love the fact that I and the students took hours to find the best Chromebook videoing platform for our assessments. I love the fact that one student nailed her speech assessment despite due to illness not physically attending class for the best part of two weeks.
When teachers, students and the Ian Taylors of the world have a "don't see why not" mindshift, it is almost as if through persistence or just believing that success will happen, success does happen eventually, just maybe not when or how we planned. In this instance, I like to imagine Sir Edmund Hillary's attitude before he successfully summitted Mount Everest. For those unaware of the lead-up to the successful climb, Hillary was never seen as a frontrunner to be the one to climb to the top of the world. As the ascent got closer, something in Hillary must have led him to believe that a New Zealander from the bottom of the world could have been the first to climb to the top of the world. If Hillary didn't see "don't see why not" in terms of him being the one, there is no way he would have ever forced himself into contention and ultimately been the first to reach the top of Everest. On a much smaller but relevant level, last year at the fine age of 40, I too finally said "don't see why not" in terms of me undertaking my dream trek to Everest Base Camp. In reality, the hardest part of the trek was actually saying "let's finally do it"- in this instance the mental decision to live the dream was far harder than anything physical I experienced during the tramp. Here I thought, if Hillary from my neck of the woods in New Zealand can get to the top, this one (me) can at the very least get to the bottom!
Now obviously it is pointless going "don't see why not" to any and everything. That's not what I'm saying or recommending. What I will say however is that a waterfall starts with one drop of water and once we're on our way collectively, momentum is truly our friend and a wonderful invention of nature! Start small in the classroom but start now. At the very least, your students will appreciate the effort and once they see what you're trying to achieve, then the only limits are imagination. Please don't have "would've, should've, could've" in your classrooms and in your students. Have "don't see why not" and hang on for the ride. Thanks Ian Taylor for the inspiration. See you in the stars!