Creating “Educational Outliers” out of Covid19 (part 2)

In my previous blog post, “Creating ‘Educational Outliers’ out of Covid19 (part 1), I discussed the issues that Covid19 has created with regards to schooling, back to schooling or unschooling and homeschooling. I briefly mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” and I questioned whether the pandemic is going to force us to re-think how our teachers teach and our children learn.
There are three pieces to Gladwell’s theory of the outlier that apply to education and shed light on the ways in which online learning could promote “Outlierism”:
anomalous circumstances,
mitigating intellectual differences, and
the 10,000-hour rule.
Let’s put these 3 pieces into our Covid19 situation that we now find ourselves in.

Anomalous circumstances
What could be more anomalous than a global pandemic that has forced all of us out of our comfort zones, not to mention our children? Those who never baked anything in their lives are baking banana bread and sourdough paninis, people who have never attended a webinar before are now setting up their own Zoom meetings and people who didn’t usually exercise, are running marathons around their gardens!
Any student who is able to jump to online learning ahead of their peers may be gaining advantages in both their content learning and their technological abilities. These are advantages that will multiply as the student continues to advance in the world of online learning and college education.

Mitigating intellectual differences
Given the right set of circumstances, any student can learn and excel in their education. Online education provides a medium and a platform in which any student can find the circumstances that will allow them to excel.
There is a type of learning available online to suit everyone. This freedom can help those who would not excel in a traditional classroom, because they don’t subscribe to the normative definition of “intelligence,” to find a niche where they can thrive by pursuing their learning in alternative ways. Consider the student with severe reading challenges, suddenly the thick textbook with the unappealing font becomes a screen with a colourful and creative powerpoint presentation including videos and voice overs that can be replayed as often as necessary, or that could include a live lesson with an engaging educator. All of a sudden, school isn’t so bad, is it?
More important than intelligence in Gladwell’s view is perseverance and the sheer amount of time that is dedicated to learning – Thus the 10,000 hour rule.

10 000 hour rule
In addition to being “smart enough,” Gladwell also believes, based on data collected by expert researchers, that there is a threshold of 10,000 hours of practice/participation in a field required to become an expert. you need a certain degree of “fanaticism” in order to become great at something.
Traditionally, our formal education system has inspired the very little fanatical pursuit of learning in those pushed through it. The contrast with virtual learning is that students are largely free to pursue what interests them, rather than some standardized curricular prescribed, rote memorization which has limited real-world relevance.
Online learning not only supports the type of fanatical interest in a subject – It can also inspire them. The opportunity to pursue any possible learning path and area of interest widens the possibility of creating outliers in ways in which traditional classroom learning can’t. The curriculum content is just far too broad, too rigid, too old-fashioned and teachers simply do not have the time to nurture their students the way that I know they would like to if they could. Consider the value of getting to know your students on a field trip or school camp, as opposed to just seeing them behind a desk day in and day out.
This is exactly why Bill Gates dropped out of college. He could not pursue his fanatical obsession within the structure of a university, so he quit and created his own structure, narrowly focused on what he wanted to learn. Virtual education inherently supports the type of individual pursuits that previously caused the most successful individuals to opt-out of the education system.

Can teachers be outliers too?
Of course, they can. Awesome teachers…always question, “Is there a better way?” Teachers who question, push, and disrupt normal……make all the difference.
They don’t wait for research to tell them what to do, outlier teachers study and understand the research, but they also innovate beyond it. They seek better ways to reach students…not just implement best practices. Outlier teachers pursue the process. There is a relentless obsession with creating solutions that reach students. Average teachers pursue a finish line. They seek an endpoint and stop when they arrive. None of these finish lines are the end game for outlier teachers. They pursue more. Sometimes it is difficult to keep this pursuit in the flow and pressure of central tendency.
Outlier teachers are often accused of:
reinventing the wheel,
questioning too much,
going it alone,
and other criticisms that focus on the teaching and not on student results.
It’s the process that’s outliers are relentless about. They constantly push and challenge. They plug into their students’ needs and disrupt anything that stands in the way of meeting those needs.

How to be an outlier parent
Don’t be a sheeple. Think for yourself and encourage your child to be an individual with their own thoughts and ideas. Question the status quo, do your own research about things, and make up your own mind about what you want for your family.
Your child is a unique and intricately created human being that deserves to be nurtured in that same way. There is no “one size fits all” approach to education.
Beth Feldman suggests 10 tips to being an outlier parent:
Find their Passion – When your child is around five years old, start signing them up for 1-2 things that they might enjoy – whether it’s sports, performance, or art.
Watch for the Signs – Within 2-3 years, you will start to see what your child is starting to excel in. If they love what they are doing, foster that love. Sign up for classes, clinics or just spend time with them doing the things they love.
Let your child quit – If they complain of a stomach ache every single week that they are supposed to attend karate or chess, they probably don’t want to do it.
Encourage your kids to volunteer – It’s important to raise a child who is respectful, humble and grateful.
Get a job – Do not let your child have everything they want. They need to learn that they have to earn things in life too.
Travel as much as possible – There is nothing better than making priceless memories every single year with your kids when you go away together as a family. Expose your kids to all kinds of experiences and cultures. The more you do, the more they will thank you for it when they’re older.
Let them fail – As much as we hate to see our kids get rejected, you have to let it happen. And once they do fail, make sure they get back up, dust themselves off and continue if they want to.
Be there to Listen – Sometimes they just want to tell you how they feel if they are struggling academically or socially. Don’t lecture, listen.
Ask Questions – They may not tell you how they feel and you’re going to have to act like an investigative journalist to find out what’s going on in their head. And don’t give up when they give you one-word answers. You can sometimes get them to talk while they are doing the things they love.
Tell them You Love Them…often – Every single day. Without fail. Even if you’ve had a fight. Say I love you, hug them and make sure that no matter what, you will always be there for them.
From a young age, we are taught not to deviate from the rest of the group, to think the same way and to believe what we are told – and not question anything. Fitting in with others, we believe, is the key to success. But what if I told you that being different could actually bring you more success than fitting in ever could?

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story Of Success. New York: Back Bay Books, 2011. Print

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