My wife and my youngest son, Joshua, headed off today for a five year old birthday party leaving me at home with our eldest son and a pile of report writing to do. We decided to head out for some lunch as a bit of a break, driving off to a Subway near our house. Now these things have sprouted throughout suburban Adelaide like mushrooms over the past few years to the stage where we have three of these outlets within five minutes of our house, two of them located in petrol stations. We went to one of those on Tapleys Hill Road, went in, ordered our food and sat in the small tabled section set up as a mini-restaurant. While we ate, I looked around and thought how the petrol station had evolved from the place where you just filled up the fuel tank and bought a Coke or choccy bar.
Some things haven't changed like the obligatory racks of cigarettes behind the counter (although it's getting pretty expensive down under to continue this sort of habit) but everything else is nothing like the petrol station of yesteryear. As well as the restaurant area, there's a pretty comprehensive mini-supermarket, an ATM and gourmet coffees complete with muffins and other cakes for a longer pitstop. Add in Top 40 music playing through a quality sound system and ambient lighting and it's obvious that this modern hybrid doesn't just want you to pay for your petrol and go.
I read a lot about how school is stuck in the industrial age and that teachers from the 50's would be able to work and operate in today's classroom because things haven't changed that much. But I'm not sure I buy that line of thought entirely. Sure, school buildings have been around for a while but the way my classroom has changed is a little bit like the modern petrol station. The technology does make a difference - the interactive whiteboard, the laptops, the wireless connection. There are other differences over my teaching career as well - the shift to inquiry learning as a focus, student voice coming to the fore, the popularity of open space classrooms, team teaching, the decline of open space classrooms, a greater focus on students creating and sharing their own learning, a constructivist curriculum framework that's lasted more than three years, co-planning units of work, the introduction of standardised testing and the re-introduction of A-E grades. So the classroom, like the modern petrol station, is being asked to do much more than in the past.
I think that having the right facilities does help pave the way towards improved outcomes. The petrol stations decided that the way to improve services was to form partnerships with other franchises, sell a wider variety of products, allow punters easy access to their money and generally create an environment where people willingly part with their money because that environment is right. The modern classroom is reacting to the changes that society is inflicting and imposing and effective teachers are modifying what they offer in order to create the right learning environment. But they operate within financial and facility-based restraints. That means many classrooms might appear at a glance to be throwbacks to an older era but the teacher has to be like the service station proprietor where many services have to be offered to keep the learning moving along.
Anyway, not sure if this metaphor will fly. Feel free to shoot it down or compare and contrast to the classroom you know or have to operate in.