Almost a decade ago Ken Robinson was touting the idea of transforming education. Marketer and author, Seth Godin says transformation falls into the most difficult and most precious project category. Transformation in education is mercurial – ask ten different people and you’ll get ten different responses. I don’t necessarily think this is a negative but it illustrates that we’re not close to a universal understanding or definition of transformation in education. The idea generates angst for teachers and leaders because it challenges school practices and mindsets.
In his delivery of the William Walker Oration, Professor David Hopkins of University College London and the University of Nottingham talks about transformation and the importance of students developing a critical knowing that allows each student to direct their own lives. Much of the improvement of schools agenda has maintained control over who learns what, when, how and with whom. Professor Hopkins cites Aoki (2004) who explains transformation in education as authentic student learning, intervention and empowerment. Similarly Ken Robinson talks of transformation as personalised learning in which each child is able to develop their individual strengths within a stimulating and engaging learning environment.
While we all want this for students, the difficulty is that transformation requires total not incremental change. It challenges us to move from a top-down approach where students are ‘ruled by knowledge’ to one in which they are ‘served by it’ (Stenhouse, 1975 as cited in Hopkins’ address). It requires teachers and leaders to develop a whole new set of assumptions on which to drive change. In this sense, we need to move as Scharmer (2007) outlined in Theory U from an open will to an open mind, from suspension (of the old) to embodiment (of the new) and from letting go to letting come. While it moves us out of our comfort zones, it is also truly liberating when it happens.