The 21st Century Workplace Model of Education

There’s a new “study” out (which will soon be pointed to by various reformers and edu-pundits as “research shows” in their various diatribes) that purports to instruct teachers how to make their classrooms happier. In fact it is called “How to Create Higher Performing, Happier Classrooms in Seven Moves: A Playbook for Teachers”

The playbook/study explores why companies such as Zappos, Geico, and Google
are ranked among the best places to work in terms of happiness and success. It extrapolates what the Googles of the world are doing to what teachers should be doing in classrooms.  This is all done to “improve their students’ happiness and performance, not to mention their graduates’ readiness to work in America’s top organizations someday.”

I’ll save you the time of reading this “study” about how classrooms should look more like Google and just give you the bare bones version of it.  One hallmark of one of the many sub-classes of ed reformers is that they believe that the traditional model of education worked only for the industrial age to prepare students for mind-numbing work in factories and to be cooperative unquestioning workers. This is sometimes called the “factory model” of education.  Even though the traditional mode of teaching predates the industrial revolution, this particular narrative has gained momentum and proves the adage that if you repeat nonsense long enough, it is taken as truth.  Those who dispute it are often categorized as naysayers (or in modern parlance, “trolls”).

The study states at the outset that:

“[T]here’s a growing sense that classrooms aren’t cutting it for all students, not just those in fragile circumstances. Too many graduates can’t find work, and employers can’t find the right people to hire. Teachers can see that their schools are not consistently producing the types of graduates that today’s workplaces can readily employ. That’s why in this past decade teachers have voiced increasing concern about the need to move beyond basic reading, writing, and math and help students develop high-order skills like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication—the so-called “21st-century skills” that a knowledge economy demands.”

Thus, in the modern incarnation of how schools should be run, the factory model of education has been replaced by the 21st century workplace model. As stated in the study, “Many students will one day look for jobs in workplaces that embrace these management principles. Classrooms would do well to prepare students by resembling future workplaces more intentionally.” And what better protege of a 21st century workplace is there than Google and companies like unto it?

What this paper does is then lay out how schools should be run, modeled on companies like Google.  You’ll find the old familiar refrains of “working in teams”, “collaboration”, “creativity” and of course “critical thinking”.  Teachers shouldn’t micromanage, but rather facilitate students to find out what they need to know on their own, using online resources. In other words, teachers shouldn’t teach, but should manage their classrooms the way good CEOs manage their companies.  And here is their prescription for what teachers should be doing in that vein:  (Comments in italics are mine and are my rather biased opinions. Ignore them if they bother you.)

1. Teach mindsets. Develop the mindsets of agency, creativity, growth mindset, and passion for learning. (And what better way than to use things like Google docs, Google Classroom, anything Google, anything internet, anything online, and nothing like a textbook or direct instruction?)

2. Release control. Provide content and resources that students are free to access without your direct instruction. This control gives them ownership, develops their agency, and frees up your time.  (Frees up your time to check your email, and search for more fulfilling work–like a tutor at Mathnasium, or Sylvan, Kumon, or Huntington.)

3. Encourage teaming. Foster peer-to-peer learning and dynamic, team-based collaboration.  (Because everyone knows that students learn better from each other than from a teacher at the front of the room. Particularly if your peers have benefitted from after school hours at Mathnasium, Sylvan, Kumon, or Huntington.  Hey, isn’t your tutor at Huntington someone who used to work at this Google-school? (See no. 2 above).  )

4. Give feedback. Create a culture of feedback so that students receive personal, frequent, and actionable feedback in the moment, in small groups, and in one-on-ones.  (I am assuming that such feedback does not include things like “You need to learn your times tables” and “Please do problems 1-15 odd on page 360 to get some practice with this procedure”.  Actually that last one couldn’t possibly exist because there would be no textbooks in this 21st century classroom.)

5. Build relationships of trust. Show interest and concern in students as individuals and trust in their ability to drive their own learning, given the right structures are in place. (And what might those “right structures” be? Actual instruction perhaps?)

6. Help students hold themselves accountable. Give them tools to set goals, track their progress,and follow through.  (Of course this would not include things like homework assignments, or tests would they?)

7. Hold yourself accountable. Use reflection time, peers, student surveys, and self-assessments to make sure that you are on track personally.  (See item 2 regarding working on your resume during reflection time.  Oh, and who puts together the questions for the student surveys of teacher performance?  Just asking.)

Education models have been toyed with since John Dewey.  With this report, it appears there’s no end to it.  It will be interesting to see if the Kumons, Sylvans, Huntingtons, and Mathnasiums follow suit.


5 thoughts on “The 21st Century Workplace Model of Education

  1. Do you remember how we had to do things the Japanese way, not so long ago, because their companies led the world?

    These people see what is hot and trendy now, and assume it is the truth.

    What about all those companies that make tons of money that use traditional structures, with rigid hierarchies? Why do they get excluded? Ah, because they make evil money, efficiently. They don’t make their employees “happy”.

    Incidentally, did they include the number of hours that the people at Google and the like work? Because we could really raise student achievement if we got to have them 50 weeks a year for 50 hours a week.


  2. There is a big difference between creating the people Google wants and offering benefits that get them to sign up. However, as Chester says, the benefits hide the fact that those jobs require working results on deadline. That requires whatever it takes – not something taught or pushed in modern education. Educators think they can achieve those results naturally while we parents do the hidden pushing and tracking at home. They see only what they want to see, and that leads to silly papers like this.

    One programming job I had ages ago required me to work 70 hour weeks (I’m not exaggerating) to achieve the 6 month deadline – with no extra pay, of course. How were my skills created? Using individual (not group!!!) programming assignments that had to be done correctly using the test suite that came with the assignment. This required whatever it took. I remember many late nights in the Computing Center ( I started in the keypunch/cards day) to get the work done. I think Barry remembers NUBS at the University of Michigan before it moved to North Campus. Forget everything else. Students have to have external deadlines, mastered skills, and motivation to do this work.

    The author says this:

    “6. Help students hold themselves accountable. Give them tools to set goals, track their progress, and follow through. ”

    Lah-di-dah, woof, woof. Blah, blah. Why not ask those Google workers how their skills were created?

    I used to teach college math and computer science. No matter how warm and fuzzy I was, deadlines and hard work were the keys to learning and success. I tried to motivate and sometimes stretched the deadlines, but the assignments had to be completed and done individually. Students could consult with each other, but their programs had to be individual. I could always tell.

    A modern educational meme is that life as a high-tech employee is some sort of ideal. Let’s teach all kids to code. Can you say “no home life?” I remember driving through a fancy neighborhood once and a friend called them “dog houses.” There was nobody around. They were all working and the only ones there were the dogs. These high tech proponents also don’t talk about the issues of changing technology and how easy it is to become legacy technology and laid off when you are 45. Companies really only care about current skills and not all that blather about critical thinking and even some sort of general experience. If you are a Unix guru, you better hope that you are near retirement.


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