Keynote at #FETC: Sir Ken Robinson

I’d like to point out that I’ve never met a ‘Sir’ anyone, so it was very exciting to meet Sir Ken Robinson. I also got to experience his keynote address from the front row (thank you, FETC Champions program). There were so many great parts to this keynote (and I’m not typically a big fan of keynotes), but when it comes down to it, he lets you know that he’s been in education since the 1970s and he’s interested in education globally being the best that it can be. Sir Ken Robinson was a pretty amazing keynote speaker. If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to him, he’s funny- like seriously funny, and yet he’s also extremely intelligent and insightful, which I connected with. Ultimately, my takeaway was all centered around:

So often we hear about the ‘problems’ with education- and there are absolutely areas for growth in all of our schools and districts. What has been resonating with me is knowing what the goal of the work we do is and what the problems surrounding that goal might be. Rather than simply lamenting about the state of education, what if we thought about moving it forward? Here’s a (seemingly) simple recipe:

  1. Know the problem

  2. What’s your vision of an alternative?

How might we you from one to two?

The societal situation seems prime for a drastic change in education. So much of what we hear is focused on making changes to the way we ask kids to learn and ‘do’ school. He spoke about the history of education- that it began during the Industrial Revolution and 2018-01-25_09-16-40continues to churn toward an increasingly irrelevant industrial goal. Students are moved through grades based on their age, rather than their learning level. I’ve been reflecting a great deal on our outsized focus on sending all students to college lately, and it’s something Sir Ken Robinson spoke about, as well. If we’re training our students to understand their ultimate goal and their outward show of achieving success as attending college, we’re setting so many for failure. Even in very successful districts, we see the bloated rates of students who might get into college and attend a college or university but are unable to finish for a variety of reasons.  Students might not have the funding to complete a four-year degree, may not have the academic skills to do it, or most importantly, might not be interested in it. We could be doing so much more with giving our students options for their lives and empower them to make the choice that’s best for them. How many of our students are empowered to make these decisions? Much of our education system is focused on the 3 Cs (the bad ones):

Conformity, Competition, Compliance

which is what someone might want if your goal is training people to work in a factory. Increasingly, those factory jobs aren’t available to our students, so again- what’s our goal in education?  The human mind is extremely creative- and creativity doesn’t simply show up in visual and performing arts. Think about how creative you might need to be to solve or create new math problems, or consider the impetus for the decisions of characters (in literature or history). We want our students to be creative in building solutions to the problems that face our world today and in the future, which should be leading the work they do to prepare them for life…not only college. Why aren’t our schools focused more on creativity and collaboration? Our testing culture pits students, teachers, and schools against one another. I know that in my professional work, I am expected to work WITH people, rather than against them. Aside from my work, if I think about my life, I collaborate with people constantly. I’m guessing collaboration is a large part of your life too…so why aren’t we teaching this?

“Every human life is different, distinct, and unrepeatable”
– Sir Ken Robinson

I couldn’t help but see so many lessons of Montessori-focused education in what he spoke about; focusing on the emotional needs of children, seeing them as valuable people, making connections, and meeting their needs. My friend Amy Treneff is an expert at Montessori (she’s my go-to for all things Montessori and she’s just plain smart), and many of the things Sir Ken Robinson spoke about are the same things I’ve heard Amy share. When it comes down to it, kids love to learn…I LOVE to learn, you likely do too. Why don’t we like school? It can be challenging when you make the realization that Learning ≠ School. So how do we make moves to help support all of us as learners? Sir Ken Robinson finished the address with a talk about culture and its parallels to img_0425.jpgagriculture. In farming, the yield is what important (as it should be), but if we only attempt to increase it by dumping fertilizer into the ground and using pesticides, we’ll eventually render the soil useless. We’re doing the same in education by not supporting these students (and teachers). We can increase our educational yield by expanding our view to include Students as Teachers, and Teachers as Learners. When it comes down to it, aren’t we all in the game of learning? I want to learn, you want to learn, and I’d wager that in most cases, our students do, too.


The world is changing, and it’s changing faster than most of us in education can keep up. We can’t wait on government entities to make the changes for us. The environment is ripe for a change and it has to come from the grassroots. We can be the change. We ARE the change. A possible solution that Sir Ken Robinson shared was to personalize for students and customize it to reflect their community…and why not? Think about how much in our lives are customized and targeted just for us. Education is so critical- we need to make the change. But, before we do, consider my takeaway: What’s YOUR goal in Education? You have to know what you’re trying to get it out of it before you get started. Perhaps you use backward planning in your instruction…we can use the same technique here. We can do this, and it’s not about devices, or throwing money at the problem. We have a lot of resources in Education. Consider this:


We need to take a look at our resources and our goal and move our resources to support what we want to get out of Education. Unless your goal is to create highly skilled test-taking factory workers, I’m not sure we’re where we want to be. I think we can get there- we need to work together and get into the business of caring about each other.

One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.
– Maria Montessori

What’s do you see as a problem with education & what’s your vision of an alternative?