If I asked you, “What is the goal of education?” how might you answer?
Would you say you feel the the goal of education is to help students be all they can be? Or, might you explain that it’s really about providing students the foundational skills to ensure they have what they need to be college and career ready? Or, would you suggest that the true goal of education is to enrich a democratic society, foster equality, equity, and a brilliant civilized world.
What are your hunches about the similarities or differences between what you think and what your educational colleagues think? And, that of your superiors – or your students’ families – or your students themselves?
Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston, authors of, Cognitive Coaching: a Foundation for Renaissance Schools, categorize how a person answers that question into five Educational Belief Systems.
- The Cognitive Processor believes the goal of education is to develop student’s ability to think clearly, use intellectual reasoning to solve problems, and make rational decisions.
- The Self-Actualizer believes that education should nurture the individual child’s unique potential to allow full development of his or her creativity and sensitivity, and encourage personal integrity, love of learning, and self-fulfillment.
- The Technologist believes the purpose of education is to diagnose the learner’s needs and abilities, and design instructional strategies that develop skills and competencies in a step-by-step sequential manner.
- The Academic Rationalist believes education should transmit to young people the basic knowledge, skills, traditions, academic concepts and values necessary to interpret, participate in, and further heritage and traditions of our country.
- The Social Reconstructivist believes the purpose of education is to create an intense awareness of the critical social, global, and environmental issues and develop a consciousness of responsibility and reform to ensure the survival of society.
Educational belief systems are highlighted during Cognitive Coaching Foundation Training to help educators uncover their own particular viewpoints that may create bias and distract from effective listening. Educators who understand these belief systems are also able to use this understanding to listen for themes that indicate identity, values, and as well as core beliefs. Paraphrasing these beliefs may cause cognitive shift through consciousness raising. Questioning through the lens of these five educational belief systems can support those being coached by increasing their flexibility in thinking.
As a director of curriculum and instruction I have found success in conducting mini-lessons around these educational belief systems with educators:
- to develop and increase trust among staff, students and families
- to activate readiness and a positive mindset for ensuing change and/or reform whether mandated or site initiated
- to build stronger collaborative practices among teams of educators
A recent example has been teaching teacher leaders about these educational belief systems, and then prompting them to read the Overview of State Standards Changes provided by the Colorado Department of Education on the development, design, and intended outcomes of the new state standards. After the reading, I lead one small group into thinking about how an educator with a cognitive processor belief system might find value in the new state standards, and then another small group thinking through the same prompt from a self-actualizer perspective, and another using the technologist viewpoint, and so forth with the academic rationalist and the social reconstructivist viewpoints. We have found that there is much to value about the new standards from each of the educational belief systems lenses. As a large group we remixed and shared our thinking about how this knowledge might shape our introduction of the new standards with educators across our district.
Another example was as a presenter at the Tointon Institute for Educational Change, where I recently led 12 school leadership teams to think through an upcoming initiative or change through the lens of each educational belief system. We found that each of the schools, who had very different initiatives and projects underway, was able to successfully use these belief systems to enhance their individual perspectives on the reform and hypothesize their positive and/or negative connections to it. The school teams were eager to share their new thinking about educational belief systems with their building colleagues with the idea that this knowledge would enhance their ability as a system to 1) understand each other’s personal perspectives and viewpoints which would, 2) lead them to more effectively implement change.