As reflective teacher practitioners or educational leaders, we need to maintain a critical eye over new ideas, models or teaching innovation. If we accept every new fad that comes along without being critically discriminating, our schools and classrooms will be permanently awash with potentially time wasting change, detracting from our main teaching visions and goals.
To put this in context, hands up if you were ever guilty of applying learning styles in your lesson planning? Or if you thought the idea of right brain left brain thinking was appealing? Or if growth mindset science has helped steer your edu action? Or if you’ve seen the light through the curtain into the chamber of mindfulness?
Now hands up if you’ve then felt a twinge of disappointment when you’ve read critical evaluations, debunking polemics or scathing rants against any of these or any other neatly packaged ideas?
I’m going to say that these and other such edu fads emerge through well intentioned thinking, conversation and action of teaching professionals who want to make an impact on their students, in their practice and in their schools and classrooms. I’m going to say that they become popular through obvious publishing channels such as books, papers, blogs, social media, conferences, and then find their way into practice and policy through a variety of routes. And I’m going to say their emergence demonstrates patterns of marketing such as early adoption of innovation loving practitioners, copy cat followers and disciples, then making it into the popularity of mainstream, before eventually even conservative types decide to follow suit, at which time the phenomena starts to dwindle in popularity while in the background another new fad emerges.
So how to spot a fad? I guess an edu fad might be anything in teaching and learning practice that extends beyond a teacher, a variant of a blackboard and chalk, student slates, and testing.
Do we mind? Edu critics thrive and become popular on the back of spotting the fads and ranting about them. For the rest of us perhaps they may in part be what keeps us going. We are only flesh and blood in need of motivation after all. And, not all edu fads are evil!
Perhaps our interest in and adoption of edu fads is like edutainment, buying a new item of fashionable clothing or reinvigorating our interest in life through the uptake of a new hobby or pursuing and examining a religious belief. Perhaps it’s like going on holiday in search of a refreshing change and coming back fresher and motivated to start a new. Perhaps this is symptomatic of our materialistic consumerism and pseudo fetishism, translated from a primitive urge to deify and worship to find spiritual satisfaction within a group or on an individual level. There are certainly those who like to convert and those who like to join.
So is there any harm in getting swept up in the wave of a new fad? On the downside there’s money involved that might be spent more wisely elsewhere. Rather than investing money, time, energy and opportunity on a fad, perhaps we could be just doing things well stripped bare of unnecessary bells and whistles. But would we be us and human if we did that? Can we all do that?
I mean, the same would be true of housing decor and clothing. We would save a lot of time, money, energy and opportunity if we all never went shopping again and just did away with worldly materialism. But would we enjoy life? Do most of us find some sort of satisfaction in the material fripperies? If we didn’t have them and our world was more ascetic would we be the same? Perhaps we don’t need fads to learn, but perhaps we look for them because we’re human.
As an educational leader, you might need to juggle all of the above coming into play in your school. But what’s your school’s vision? What about the values? Perhaps as someone in a leadership position you could have a checklist of criteria based on school values, vision and policy to allow staff to evaluate new tools, ideas and approaches against before they misdirect time and energy channeling their scheme of work and lesson planning into it.
At each stage of evaluation and reflection, it will be useful to ask, ‘why are we doing this?’ ‘Does it allow us to reach our end goal, or will it take us further away from it?’ ‘What tools, methods and approaches will bring us closer to our desired vision, values and goals?’ ‘How can we best use our time and resources?’
Questions for reflection: how could you coach (either as a peer or school leadership figure) a teaching colleague so that they can evaluate their own classroom methods to be in harmony with school vision, values and goals? If you have decided that a new approach is worthwhile, how might you implement change as a school leader so that all staff can see the value and adopt a consistent approach? Can you think of an example of an edu fad you may have seen used extensively in practice, which has since been discarded? What critical thinking would you now bring to bear on not having bought into it? Can you cite any sources from academic literature that put this into a stronger intellectual argument with evidence?