Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Creating Future TEDsters

I returned to New York City, to my life post-TED, with the modest goal of creating future TEDsters. Inspired by the all-pervasive love for learning that brings together this exceptional group of thinkers and doers from across the disciplines, I left the conference committed to spreading the love. I'm a teacher, and at the end of the day my job is about inspiring the kind of curiosity that creates life-long learners.

TEDsters: a curious lot indeed. They'll rush the auditorium for optimal seating but (we presume) refrain from eating a single marshmallow if promised a second after a fifteen- minute wait. Their identification badges offer conversation starters because their job titles resist definition, residing instead at the borders between fields of play. They are genre-benders, inventors, innovators, and agents of change who come together to imagine possibilities – the operative word being together. It seems to me that in an effort to catch inspiration by the tail, they reach out to each other as colleagues and collaborators no matter how disparate their fields. And this is what contributes to the tremendous synergy described by conference attendees.

Ken Robinson was right when he said, "If you ask people about their education, they'll pin you to the wall." I was pinned numerous times by TEDsters eager to tell me about the schools they attended and the type of education they received – models of public and private, progressive and traditional. I listened intently sure that the secret formula for creating a TEDster would be revealed to me. And I listened with a sense of urgency because my future TEDsters are, at this very moment, sleeping in back row of Life Science class, skipping third period Algebra, and lighting fires in the second floor bathroom. They are students for whom school is devoid of relevance, assignments lack purpose, and grades fail to motivate. Students who slide by or fail out develop a preservational mode called I don't care – an especially effective meme prevalent in under-served urban schools.

Passive compliance is rewarded in the kind of drills and skills instruction driven by high stakes tests. My future TEDsters need instead to be active participants co-creating their learning experiences around global issues that lend real-world relevance to their schooling. Technology is a critical facet of this interconnectedness and should be recognized and embraced as the paradigm shifter that it is. Just as the TEDsters who twitter and live-blog during TED Talks use their devices to share and synthesize information, my kids' devices need to be first permitted in the classroom, and then leveraged for all they're worth. Until educators learn to use tech tools to adapt their methods and provide greater individualized instruction, future TEDsters will continue to languish in schools inadequate in meeting their needs.

Inspiring a love of learning in a kid who's learned to quell curiosity is the challenge and mission of my work building public schools in New York City. Three new additions to the Asia Society's International Study School Network will open their doors in September of 2009 with the goal of instituting an action-oriented curriculum like that described by TED speaker and Bennington College President, Liz Coleman. Student-led inquiry will drive instruction, service-learning and foreign travel will be key components of a student's education plan, and narrative assessments will provide ongoing feedback in developing graduate portfolios. We are re-adjusting our education model to address the needs of the 21rst century and the possibilities for transformation within it.

Creating future TEDsters should be our collective mission because the world needs the contribution of these diverse voices and viewpoints. Support them by answering Dave Eggers call to get involved in public education in any way you can. And believe, as I do, that the kid lighting fires in the bathroom will someday take the TED stage to ignite our imaginations.

Posted via email from jlamontagne's posterous