What do you see in the forest?

There is an idiomatic expression “can’t see the forest for the trees” that is defined by wiktionary.org as:

To discern an overall pattern from a mass of detail; to see the big picture, or the broader, more general situation.

I am not sure if it just a coincidence that I have heard this expression several times lately, but it seems oddly appropriate for an observation I have made.

I am extremely interested in creating opportunities for students to make their learning personal.  Personalized Learning has become a main topic of many professional development sessions over the past year.  One of the things I hear consistently is that the idea behind this educational approach is brilliant BUT…after this comes a series of reasons why it is difficult for us to create opportunities for students to personalize their learning.

I have heard how we need to change before we can create a system that allows students these opportunities.  Other things I have heard include: A systemic change from the Ministry level down.  Change the way post-secondary institutions admit students.  Change the way teachers view their roles.  Change the way we organize classes.  Change the way parents see education.

When I hear how many people believe in the importance of creating personalized learning opportunities, I am stumped at how many see the obstacles to achieving what is perceived as a good thing for students.  I have heard educational leaders, whom I respect as fantastic teachers and leaders espouse the same objections to these challenges.  In many settings with many people, I have heard comments and observations that focus on the challenges to implementing these changes.

I agree that much needs to change, but isn’t that our role, to promote positive change, especially in the face of adversity?  We could easily be mired in details, but I see it as my role to push the envelope when it means a positive, better outcome for our students is possible.  I believe that making learning personal to each student is important to help each of them be successful.  Therefore, I believe I need to create an environment where this can happen.

I have heard many say that it is okay for students to be wrong, to fail at certain tasks in order to discover how to be right, how to find the answer.  In this instance, even if I am wrong about how to personalize learning, I think it is my job to try something, anything to give them a chance.

We cannot ignore the details, but it is important to keep our eye on the big picture.  We need to try new and different ways for students to achieve personal success. I have tried to achieve this by creating opportunities for students to get credit for pursuing what they are passionate in.  When you see the forest, what do you see?

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4 thoughts on “What do you see in the forest?

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  3. Hi Ian
    Great observations and thank you for pointing out what I should have. Yes there is a great deal of good “things” happening in schools everywhere. I think in the case of discussions that explore learning in the 21st century and personalized learning, the call is often for transformation. I think you are right, this call may be better received as a call for growth. I also think with evolution there is inevitably change. Thank you for your observations they have led me to reflect on my own thinking, pushing those thoughts forward…evolving!

  4. i enjoy this phrase, and often use it when I am trying to locate something on my desk.

    It is interesting to use it within the context you have mentioned. So very many teachers, schools, and districts do a lot of good things. Sometimes that can get lost in the Personalized Learning discussion – or in any discussion that merges theory and practice. When we listen, sometimes all we may hear is “change, change, change”. It may be important to recognize what we are already doing really well, and how do we turn that into great. The call isn’t actually to change, it’s to grow.

    Perhaps we don’t see the trees that are growing, because of the forest?

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