Why education is in need of a sandwich

I recently returned from a trip to Israel. It was a wakeup call to say the least. It is amazing to see how many people globally are actively making changes in the delivery of education for the better. And they do so with such passion. It was also refreshing to see how many people believe and share our thinking around the Steelcase Education Solution framework titled an Active Learning Ecosystem [ALES].

A Venn diagram with three intersecting circles depicts its holistic thinking. The top circle is pedagogy, or teaching methods. The circle on the bottom right is technology and the one just opposite is space. In the center is active learning leading to student success. OK. Sounds good. It is – in theory. But it takes a lot of work to realize the dream. If that dream is student success, then behavioral changes are required along with spatial changes for the learning environment. Currently, most campuses and districts have specialists in each of the areas, but rarely have decision-making teams that look at the intersection of these areas and work to realize the benefit of holistic thinking. This disconnect leaves many institutions in dysfunctional disarray and an inability to realize a new future.

So it got me thinking deeply while on my travels, what does it take to be truly innovative in educational change? The answer lies in the “sandwich effect,” which I took the liberty of coining.

The top part of the sandwich provides the vision and leadership to make decisions from a management perspective. Presidents, Provosts, Deans, Superintendents are often chosen for these leadership capabilities.  A recommendation to them is to get out of town and see what is happening in other parts of the world; be exposed to inventive thinking and thinkers. Often an outside view can influence an inside one. Know holistically what it takes to deliver on active learning from an ALES’s perspective and generate a point of view, and plan to implement inclusive of measurement tactics to ensure success. And, hurry up! One colleague suggested that given what we know about brain science and learning research it is unethical to continue delivering education the way we do now. Think about it.

Even if a grand vision is in place it has to be sustained. The lower half of the sandwich is the faculty membership. These individuals are the foundation for systemic change. Without their support, hard work in developing changing pedagogies and instructional design techniques, then systemic change is not possible. Professional development and technological support is critical. Also, it is important for these professionals to learn how to ‘work the room’ as new and inventive solutions are being developed for the ‘formal’ learning environment, or classrooms and these are not the same ‘ol same ‘ol. If IT, facilities and registrars/scheduling departments aren’t invested in understanding what is changing, why these changes are important and what it takes to support both the vision and systemic changes, then full success is at risk.

The center of the sandwich is student success. It takes a top and a bottom to be considered a sandwich. Therefore, it is critical to have leadership and faculty memberships aligned defining what student success looks like at their institution.

Every one of us is in some way interlinked with education and learning. Let’s not only start the conversation but begin to move the world to rethink education to support more effective learning and real student success.

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