Q and A: Visionary Educator Will Richardson

Critical Care


Will Richardson, co-founder of the innovation website, is a leading voice for “reimagining classrooms for the modern world.” A former public school English teacher, Richardson has written six books, most recently From Master Teacher to Master Learner and Freedom to Learn. In April, he spoke at the Education Technology Leadership luncheon at NSBA’s annual conference in San Antonio.

Richardson spoke to ASBJ Associate Editor Michelle Healy about the importance of providing more modern contexts for deep learning and student engagement.

Where do we begin when reimagining education for today’s students?

When I meet with educators, I often ask about the conditions needed for learning to happen. They list passion, interest, challenge, self-direction, not being constrained by time, fun. But when you look at most classrooms, they are still very teacher-directed. Kids are sitting in rows; they’re motivated by grades; they have little choice or agency over what they learn. We basically script the whole process. When you compare what we know in our heart is required for deep learning to happen and what we do in most classrooms, there’s a big gap between those two things. That’s our biggest problem right now: In many ways, we are not doing what is required for good learning to happen.

What’s technology’s role in this vision?

Technology amplifies our ability to learn, to create, to get connected, and it helps us create more powerful conditions for learning to happen, but it’s not required. I don’t think you need to have access to technology to learn deeply about something, but it helps. Most technology that gets implemented in schools is really used in the service of teaching, not learning. Students are using them basically to hand in homework or to do research or to do basic functions. Not to create, to solve problems, to connect to other people, to do things that they couldn’t do without technology.

Isn't funding a hurdle in creating this kind of learning?

To think about learning and to create conditions for learning in ways that we know are best suited for kids to learn deeply about things they care about doesn’t require any more money, and it doesn’t require technology either. It does require clear articulation of a belief system of how that happens and then a commitment to bringing those conditions into classrooms so all kids can pursue things that matter to them. And that includes kids with disabilities, kids who are struggling on some level with language, or whatever else.

What’s the goal of the online community Change.School?

We started last year and now have about 250 people from around the world enrolled and are helping them put together a process that can really change what’s happening in their schools; helping them understand that it’s an eight- to 10-year commitment, and it takes a long time to build capacity. It’s hard for people to wrap their brains around the scale of what we’re talking about. This is not giving everyone an iPad and calling it a day.


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