Teachers as designers

What is the role of today’s teachers?


Are they like commercial radio DJ’s who are given a prescribed playlist and are left to try to innovate within those limitations or are they able to design their own show?


John Dewey in The Child and the Curriculum (1902) suggested that there might be at least two alternate schools of thought within state-directed education. One school, he says “fixes its attention upon the importance of the subject matter of the curriculum as compared with the contents of the child’s own experience.” Thus he suggests that, “Subject matter furnishes the end, and it determines method. The child is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is the superficial being who is being deepened; his narrow experience which is to be widened. It is his to receive, to accept. His part is fulfilled when he is ductile and docile.”


The other school Dewey suggests is where “The child is the starting-point, the centre, and the end.” He continues, “To the growth of the child all studies are subservient; they are instruments valued as they serve the needs of growth. Personality, character is more than subject-matter. Not knowledge or information, but self-realisation is the goal.”


More than 100 years later these arguments are still being debated as successive policy makers and educators lurch from one side to the other.


I spent a day at High Tech High in San Diego, who are a case study in my book, Learning {Re}imagined, and I left inspired by what I saw. The school is built around the Dewey traditions of project based learning where subject material and disciplines are taught within their application and across disciplines rather than the subject silos that are so typically of our high schools throughout the world. I met with their founder and CEO, Larry Rosenstock, who is a force of nature if ever there was one. His full interview and discussion of High Tech High will be published in the book but here is an excerpt from my interview with Larry where he discusses teachers as designers.


Larry tells me:


So the idea of teacher as designer means that the teacher has control over what they’re basically doing. There’s nothing canned about it. And it has not only teacher voice and choice but student voice and choice. What I want to see kids doing is creating new knowledge and I want teachers creating new knowledge and doing so means that basically the teacher is the designer



gbm-faceGraham Brown-Martin is the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live. His book, Learning {Re}imagined was recently published by Bloomsbury/WISE and is available now.