The Whizzing Staircase

Technology allows us to talk to so many people with so many ideas, and though this is fantastic, it can also be intimidating and overwhelming, like being on a moving staircase that is whizzing faster and faster…all linked to that same technology which changes day by day so that just as you are comfortable with one thing, there is something new and exciting that everyone is talking about.

Easy to feel left behind and out of touch. This is not helped by some of the advocates of one side or another. Give everyone credit for being passionate about their ideas, but sometimes that passion can come across as arrogance or condescension. That’s not particularly helpful.

I have children in school…grades 5, 7, and 8…and so am extremely interested in education at the public school level in Ontario and Canada, as well as in higher education, and follow educational ideas and developments quite closely. I know what is happening in Alberta around the Math curriculum and “zero-grade”controversies. I empathize with Nova Scotia parents who are just being introduced to the idea of child-led parent interviews, something I have experienced for years and still have some skepticism about.

Our K-12 system feeds into post-secondary, so I think it is wise to understand what it looks like. I’ve been talking to some Ontario educators interested in a k-20 approach to learning so that we can work together for ultimate success. Immersed as I am in this, I am often torn between different ideas of what effective education looks like, and it sometimes seems like education is warring against itself.


The reality is that there is no one way to teach. It’s not about old ways versus new ways (though it is sometimes framed like that), or about 19th century educational structures needing to be replaced with new dynamic 21st century concepts…something which I hear often and question the validity of (for reasons which I will save for another post). We are not going to solve any of the world’s problems with either discovery math or the back-to-basics approach….and I think its time we stopped with the all-or-nothing rhetoric.

The truth as I see it is much simpler. Yes, there are some great new ideas regarding curriculum and pedagogy. Some of them are old “new” ideas which thanks to our connected culture are finding a foothold. And some of the old ideas still have validity, so we certainly don’t want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

Our job as educators is to be open to ideas, but we can’t afford to get so bogged down in all of them that it interferes with our teaching. We know what works, and we should build on that. That’s what the best educators do anyway. Sometimes it’s time to stop the whizzing staircase and take stock of the tools we have to work with. Our tried and true methods. Something new and innovative we want to try, or use differently. Something risky we have heard about and discussed but that might not work. In a balanced classroom, there should be room for failure….a colleague called it “Failing Forward” which I love….and that should not stop us from trying new things.

I’m at the point of pausing my own whizzing staircase. My head is jumbled with ideas and I need to process them, to identify what tools I have or have heard about that I want to work with next semester.

  • Tried and True: Lecture (chunking), digital assessment, collaborative and activity-based classrooms, multi-modal assessment, low-stakes grading, hybrid.
  • New and Innovative: Competency-based assessments (formative for now), differentiated learning, audio feedback, new technologies.
  • Risk-Taking:  Mozilla badges?

That’s not to say that I won’t be paying attention to other ideas or even trying them because they fit in with something I am doing in class. But right now, I need to focus on building a strong learning environment for my students. And I’m going to do that soundly, to ensure that my classes have the right tools, the right kinds of learning experiences, and the right mix of both fundamentals and innovation that I feel are crucial for student success.