Barnett Berry on Teachers as Partners—Not Targets—of Innovation


Editor’s Note: ‘Tis the season of giving, eating and reflecting, a time to look back on 2016 and to make bold predictions about what next year may hold. In our fourth year-end personal statement roundup, we’ve again asked thought leaders to share their outlooks on education, but with a twist. They have to frame their thoughts as a response to some of the finest college application essay prompts, inspired by the very same ones that high school seniors are feverishly working on now!

Here’s what Barnett Berry—founder and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality—had to say.

“Oh, The Places You'll Go” is one of the most popular books by Dr. Seuss. Where do you hope education technology will go in 2017? What aspects of curriculum or community might get us there? (Dartmouth College)

My friends at EdSurge asked me to speculate on where education technology can go in 2017, drawing on inspiration from Dr. Seuss and “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.” Let’s start with the findings from a recent national survey of teachers, examining what they want from the edtech sector. Too often there is a mismatch between what will work for teachers and the exploits of entrepreneurs who are trying to cash in on the big gold rush in the growing marketplace of digital instructional tools.

I’ve written before that edtech will only go so far without a bolder brand of teacher leadership—where classroom experts become partners with education entrepreneurs, co-developing new ideas and products. I painted a salubrious scenario of unique inside-out partnerships that could cultivate innovation from the classroom, while elevating the teaching profession in order to make good on the promise of public education for all.

However, the current political climate, including more full blown attacks on public education and teachers, challenges my optimism. Granted, many in the edtech sector hope to strengthen teaching and learning in our public schools and work tirelessly to do so. But others seem more interested in using innovation from outside the system to profit from public education, not helping it improve and flourish. Morale among teachers was already low—and it continues to sink as politicians strip public schools of funding. And as Dr. Seuss aptly noted:

And when you’re in a Slump,

you’re not in for much fun.

Un-slumping yourself

is not easily done.

But my forecast for edtech in 2017 gets a bit brighter if the ed tech world begins to see teachers as partners in innovation, not the targets of them. Polls continue to show that the public has high levels of confidence and trust in teachers.

Terrific examples of outside-in partnerships—between charters such as Summit Public Schools and district schools such as those in Milpitas, CA—show how the bifurcated world of reform can come together in ways that advance public education.

  • Imagine if a portion of a start-up’s capital investments supported teacherpreneurs, whereby classroom experts serve in hybrid roles as teachers and co-developers of innovative learning technologies.
  • Imagine if teachers and entrepreneurs worked together to personalize instruction and assessment practices inside of large, complex school districts—collaboratively solving some of the big problems of teaching and learning.
  • Imagine if a leading group of edtech companies, using its networking tools, helped more teachers spread their expertise and demonstrate their impact and the importance of public education.

Now that’s a recipe for transformation of public education. Oh, the places our public schools will go when teams of teachers from inside the system—and entrepreneurs from outside—capitalize on the large majority of parents who believe in and want to invest in and more deeply support their local public schools.

A reminder from the good doctor:

But on you will go

though the weather be foul.

On you will go

though your enemies prowl.

(And) You’ll get mixed up

with many strange birds as you go.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

Your mountain is waiting

So get on your way

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