Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Lesson from a Soldier

In the spring of 2012, I had the opportunity to tour Fort Lee in Prince George County.  The tour was led by Colonel Loren Schriner, who commanded the ordnance division.  The purpose of my visit was to learn more about the U.S. Army’s approach to handling logistics in order to assist me with planning a new CTE course on logistics and supply chain management. 

What became more interesting to me during my visit was the Army’s approach to education.  They used the phrase “blended learning,” as well as stressed the importance of critical thinking skills and hands-on application.  I asked what precipitated this new direction since it was very similar to the approach taken in PK-12 education.  One of the instructors explained to me that the Army’s old approach to teaching was to simply yell at soldiers until they “understood” a new concept.  The Army also previously stressed making soldiers adept in one or two very particular skills, which could be performed repetitively and quickly.  However, the Army came to realize that this approach did not fit the needs of the world’s most modern fighting force, so their teaching techniques had to change.

At this point, Col. Schriner interjected and explained that in a battle situation, nothing ever goes according to plan.  The Army simply could not afford to have soldiers who were only good at doing one thing and did not know what to do when something they had not trained for occurred in the field under hostile conditions.  Instead, by letting soldiers “discover” solutions and work on critical thinking skills, they were better equipped to adapt to the inevitable problems they would encounter in battle.  With this in mind, the Army reformed their entire approach to education.  They focused upon helping soldiers overcome whatever obstacles might be thrown at them through problem solving and critical thinking.

Both then and now, I find this a wonderful testament to the importance of updating our teaching techniques to ensure we provide our students with the most relevant education possible.  Just as the Army combats the enemy, they also combat ineffective education techniques.  Similarly, I believe we should embrace the dismissal of  outdated adult-centric approaches and replace them with critical thinking skills, problem solving techniques, collaboration, innovation and a holistic approach to education.  In a world where it will be impossible to predict the future professions or problems, we need to take a page from the U.S. Army and focus on preparing students to think critically to solve any problem through a well-rounded, student-centered approach in the classroom. 

During my visit, I was convinced that the soldiers I observed would run through a wall for Col. Schriner.  I was even more convinced that Col. Schriner would prefer that they, instead, use their skills to find a more useful way of clearing the wall without injury.  Let’s help our students discover 20 ways to clear the wall rather than a single way to run through it.

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