What happens when the solution may be the problem?

In the past, psychology focused on what’s wrong with people in the same way that traditional education focuses on the idea of what’s missing in students. Today, the field of positive psychology also looks at the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive, what Martin Seligman calls “optimal human functioning.”

In education, we have been so focused on trying to make people into something we are not even sure of, rather than helping them become more of who they already are.

What would happen if we balanced our gaze from what needs “fixing” to what needs drawing out or enhancing? That, of course, requires a much clearer understanding of the unique jagged profile of each student.

“I can’t do that. I have way too much content to cover to learn about and somehow cater to the unique needs of each individual student. Please, I have enough to do already.”

A design thinking mindset suggests we start with empathy. We can observe and ask students when they thrive in school. I think we already know many of the answers. We also know what makes them not thrive. Yet we seem to have a mixture of the principle of social proof (I’m doing what most other teachers are doing, so it must be okay) and the bystander effect (with all these people around, someone will help those in need).

Are we teaching well if the students tell us they are disengaged and bored, and don’t remember the content they “learned” a despairingly short time later?

At the end of your course do you want to be satisfied with the content you covered, or the growth in your students’ learning? What data will you collect to know the difference?

How much of course curriculum is a solution looking for a problem?

Grab some paper or a digital device and take this challenge:

Five years or more from now, write down what you want your students to remember and keep from the time they spent in your class.

Now, grab your course syllabus. Identify those things identified on your syllabus that will lead to those things that you want to last.

John Dewey said curriculum should emerge from experience. And it does. That means we need to plan carefully for the experiences we design. Rather than focusing on what needs fixing, we can focus on what needs fostering: curiosity, a sense of belonging and belief that each has something to offer the world.

“What we know matters, but who we are matters more.” Brené Brown

professional learner, university instructor

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