The first step in education reform

Effective education begins with understanding the individual needs of students and designing programming and approach to suit those needs. 

Even in its most basic context, the English word “education” is derived from the Latin word “educare” which means “to bring forth”. Since its earliest days, “education” meant “to educe” or “draw out” knowledge from the individual.

For the educator, their role is one of listening, learning, and empathizing – not solely discourse and dictation. One could argue that for a teacher to truly excel in their service to their students, they must be willing to connect with each individual. This requires that the educator has a strong sense of self – confidence, courage, and awareness. As award winning education theorist Parker J Palmer put it, “Good teachers join self and subject and student in the fabric of life.”  

It is through this lens that the need for reform in our education systems becomes clear. 

Many publicly funding Colleges and Universities struggle with honouring this crucial relationship between teacher and student in their undergraduate programming specifically. To facilitate academic prowess at a post-graduate level and to stimulate research output, faculty are rightfully valued based on knowledge, expertise, and accomplishments. However, for students that enter larger class structures in their earliest academic years, this hiring protocol reduces the teacher-student relations to one of theory and technique. Interpersonal traits like compassion, empathy and courage fall by the wayside. Listening, synthesis and skills for expression are of less concern. The lecture hall environment fails to dictate otherwise.

Private career colleges come a step closer. Smaller classrooms allow for individual support from teacher to student. By nature, it is less of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to subject matter. 

At Computek College, we put critical emphasis into fostering safety and security. This is done through smaller classes and a flexible approach to curriculum among other operational strategies. It is also generated from the relationships we strive to establish among like-minded students and instructors that share a greater breadth of personal traits and backgrounds.  I often argue that one of the schools must valuable assets is its Toronto location. We boast a multicultural and diverse student body however most of these students are recent immigrants. In that respect, there is already an established connection in their shared identity within the context of Canadian culture that unifies the whole beyond lesson plans and instruction. In fact, more than often our students already have the technique or knowledge – Computek helps them align that knowledge with their new environment, in the context of their individual realities. It is perhaps one of our most valuable offerings as a school. 

There is still a long road ahead for this sense of individuality and personal connection to return to our education systems. In the face of COVID-19, our ability to gather and physically engage has been taken away. For how much forward thought on the relationship between student, instructor and subject will undoubtedly come out of this pandemic, I also fear that we risk greater disconnectedness. 

I would like to offer a few insights on how educators can continue to improve and contribute to this reformation:

Remember that your sense of self plays a vital role in the relationship between student, subject and instructor. Teaching is a daily exercise in risk, challenge, vulnerability, empathy, and learning. To be an effective teacher, you must hone your interpersonal skills.

To truly understand students requires a genuine connection. At Computek College, connection goes beyond the classroom environment. We break bread with our students, we meet their families, we learn about their origins and their lineage. We connect on common ground and mutual interest. By no means, a prerequisite to the typical teacher-student relationship.

Lastly, never lose sight of the importance of psychological safety in any classroom. And I would challenge you to consider that a “classroom” may not have desks, tables, smart boards and four walls. A classroom is really any space where formal or informal learning takes place. When people are comfortable in their environment and feel secure enough to open their minds, the potential for knowledge sharing, creativity, and innovation soars. It is the role of the teacher to create these conditions as it is the employer, the mentor, the parent.

If you have children, you may understand this better than most. If not, consider the typical kindergarten teacher and how they are perceived by their students. Young children do not care about the qualifications of their instructors, their credentials or what they have published. All that matters is their ability to connect and listen. Children care about authenticity, trust, and security in their teachers. While there are obvious differences between young children and professionals pursuing new skills and knowledge through a formal education, there is still a fundamental lesson here in human cognition that I believe is worth remembering:

To teach effectively, we must uncover how each student learns best. This requires us to look inward at our most basic capabilities as individuals. When we see the importance of self-reflection in education, we open and ignite pathways for true connectivity. 

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