Who are your wayfinders?

As the father to a 9 year old girl who loves Moana, I have come to appreciate the movie's deep wisdom.

Early in the story (don't worry, no spoilers here) a complex and confusing crisis afflicts Moana's island. In response, Moana’s father, the island's chief, turns to his tribe’s rules and rituals.

Moana, on the other hand, believes that she must seek a solution beyond the reef that marks the edge of the island. That journey will require her to become a wayfinder--a seafaring expeditionary who reads the constantly shifting signs of the ocean, wind, sky, and stars.

But how can she learn to navigate the unknown when her father prohibits her from traveling beyond the boundaries of what he knows?

I am invoking Moana and wayfinding because after I posted this "What if..." about the direction of the learning arrows in classrooms, I found Eric Hudson's "Teaching as Wayfinding."

The days of teaching like Moana's father are over. His mode of leadership--and teaching is, at its core, servant leadership--is a relic of the pre-Internet, "broadcast era."

Centralized Decentralized Distributed.jpg
  • In the "broadcast era," information and knowledge were centralized. The teacher needed to be the content / skills expert. As a result, instruction was traditional, with teachers playing the role of "sage on the stage."
  • The start of the Internet era decentralized information and knowledge. Savvy teachers framed problems for students without having to tell them what to do next. As a result, leading schools shifted instruction to project-based learning, with teachers playing the "guide on the side."
  • Now information and knowledge are distributed. In this new context, the most effective teachers are "wayfinders" helping students to learn the art of identifying problems before solving them. We might call this instructional model design-based learning, with teachers playing the role of "meddlers in the middle."

Today we must teach--and lead--in ways that enable learners like Moana to navigate the complex and the unknown. They don’t need us to broadcast information at them. They need us to create the conditions for them to grow into wayfinders.

  1. Who are the teachers in your school acting as wayfinders?
  2. By what methods are they forming student-wayfinders?
  3. How can you scale their impact?


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Christian Talbot