The case for changing the term “Teacher” to “Enabler”
BiteSize Thought by Dr. Constantine 'Dino' Kiritsis
My good friend and colleague Tim Kemp, an amazing trainer/facilitator gave me his insight a couple of years ago on the term “enabling”. Tim’s argument was basically that the term management can – and should be - easily replaced with “Enablement”. After all, isn’t that what managers have to do? Their job is to organize, administer and – above all – enable their teams and people to deliver. The more I thought about Tim’s argument these past years, it became clear that the term is much more powerful than I thought as I started testing it as a replacement not only for management but also for the word/term “Teacher”.
If one looks back in history, the term ‘teacher’ has been around in some form 6 thousand years back. During – and since - that time teachers were those who delivered knowledge, who ‘taught’ students facts and figures (mainly). The school system was (mostly) always about knowledge, facts and figures and not about facilitating students to learn and express their opinions (I know, there are a few exceptions), unless you were lucky and had a great educator in your classroom. Teaching was – for centuries – delivered in the same style, with the educator facing the children, mainly listening, freedom was limited and students had to remember chunks of information and facts so that they could reproduce them on tests and assessments. Even when reading poems and quotes from famous authors and poets, students were – in many places around the world – forced to comply with the views of the educator as ‘freedom of speech” was limited and/or students were afraid to be disruptive as standing out could get them in trouble. Again, if you were lucky, you could have met a teacher like Samuel Pickering (the real inspiration behind the protagonist in the movie Dead Poets Society, a professor from my Alma Mater University of Connecticut), played by Robin Williams. For thousands of years, the “teacher centric” view was logical as it made sense to get educated from ‘experts’ with University degrees doing the reading for us as they were the ones having access to books, most of the resources and research findings which were so valuable at the time.
The teacher in the 21st century
The 21st century is totally different. Books have been partly replaced by the internet, knowledge has been replaced with ‘synthesis’ of information, patterns of data through data analytics, artificial intelligence, disruptive innovation, competency frameworks, project based learning, crowdsourcing and the list goes on. Companies are employing high school graduates without a degree but with programming skills (i.e. IBM, Microsoft and others) while educators need to ‘up their game’ on a constant basis to be employable, use technology, follow fast moving data and trends and be ‘up to date”. Students have access to almost ANY book available in digital form, analysis by educators can virtually be found for free on youtube through videos, free courses from Udemy or Edex and on-line degrees and certificates from prestigious institutions. Within this framework, is the teacher still a teacher?
The context has changed. Therefore, if the context has changed, isn’t it right to assume that the teacher needs to change with it? The tools have changed but are teachers ready to ‘teach’ in such a context? It seems to me that educators need a completely new skill set. It is not only about ‘knowing’ facts. It is not only about presenting a session. It is understanding HOW to use the new tools, teaching students skills like what is valid and reliable on the internet, how to manage time in a big data era, how to embrace change, how to share ideas, how to be entrepreneurial and innovative and how to do all these things in a such a way that it is not imposing. This is why innovators like Sal Khan of Khan Academy are “flipping the classroom” (learning online at home and doing homework at school) and making educators become mentors or “facilitators” while institutions are changing their business models and giving away knowledge and content for free thus making the topic of content and the way it is structured extremely important.
From Teachers to Enablers
If we agree with the fact that schools have not changed as fast as other institutions and industries while the education industry may be considered as the slowest changing industry in the world, is it probably because the focus should be on the people who educate and not the system (at least in this order)? Shouldn’t we get the ‘buy in’ from the educators before changing the context itself? Isn’t there a new skill set requirement evolving? Can Universities (which are also not changing fast) help with new curriculums which can groom the new “Enabler”? Don’t we need enablers rather than teachers in our era? We need to ask ourselves what other skills or “extra skills” does an enabler need in the 21st century not only to teach and facilitate, but also to inspire and make use of all the new tools, the overwhelming amount of information and data that both student and educator are receiving and how to update, upgrade and be open to the inevitable change that is bound to happen faster and faster. It may make some educators obsolete. It may make them require to study more than their students to be up to date as the ‘distance’ between student and educator has closed. If you add on the real mission of an educator which is inspiring, it may complicate things even more. As Maya Angelou stated “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If we want to make our students feel inspired, ready, adaptable and able to embrace the new era and if we agree that teaching is giving students a compass and teaching them how to use it, let’s make sure we know how to use the compass ourselves before we start using it…