In the early hour morning of a Wednesday in October while on my way to work, I exited off of Interstate 41. I was deep in thought…about many things…and as I reached the bottom of the off ramp, I breezed through the first roundabout intersection. This particular route to work has me go through a series of intersections that are set up as roundabouts. Given that it was early in the morning, I went through each and every one of them without having to wait or even having to slow down much. Then as I got closer to school I came across my first traditional traffic light controlled intersection. Of course I hit a red light and sat there waiting, while no other cars used the “green light” coming from the other direction. I became impatient, felt like I was waiting there forever, became frustrated, etc., until I finally got the green light to “GO.”
As I pulled away I thought about how inefficient the traditional traffic light intersection
was and how much better the roundabout process was for me that morning. It was then…that it hit me…this situation is analogous to what is happening and must happen in education. Educational leaders now fully understand that the traditional, industrial-era model of education no longer best prepares our students for their current and future realities. That what we must do within education is not “reformation”, but “transformation.” (If you haven’t already read it, please read Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica’s book Creative Schools for more on this topic.) It is not a matter of improving the traffic lights in a traditional intersection – making the lights brighter, using LED lights, changing the location of the lights, etc. – is a matter of transforming the intersection completely – empowering the drivers (within general rules, expectations and structures) to make the decisions for themselves given the dynamics of the unique situation each of them experience when they approach the intersection.
For far too long students have experienced a “traffic light” learning experience. They were told when they can “go“, when they should “slow down“, and when they must “stop.” If a student was ready to “go“, but their learning light was red, they had to stop and wait even if there is no reason. OR If they weren’t ready to “go“, but their light turned green they had to move forward. Whether or not they wanted or needed to stay where they were at, they had to “go.” Furthermore all of the cars, regardless of the driver, the car, its condition, etc. are all directed in the same manner. There is little to no consideration of their individual abilities, needs, hopes or desires.
Roundabouts, however, give much greater choice and empowerment for the individual driver. Within the structure of the road and the roundabout and under the parameters of the rules of the road, drivers can use their judgement to make decisions about whether or not they should “go” or need to “stop.” It is through the lens of a roundabout that we should view learning and opportunities for our learners. Education/Educators still have a responsibility to lay the path and to design the process (loosely) and the students still have to follow the “rules of the road.” However through a roundabout mentality, our learners can be more empowered to drive their own learning (pun intended). They can be put in the position to make the decisions, to react to their needs, to follow others, to learn from others – to “go” or “stop.” Having a “roundabout mentality” does not mean a free for all where students can do whatever they want, but rather where there is purposeful, meaningful design and structure that enhances learning, not limits it. Where the power, decision-making and ownership of decisions, actions, and direction are much more in the hands of the learner/driver and less in the hands of teacher/administrator/police/city planner – or traffic light.