Destinationitis is the tendency to focus more on where you are going than where you are. You will frequently see groups of trekkers suffering from destinationitis. So focused are they on making it to the end of the trek or the next rest stop that they storm through the wilderness oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them. Destinationitis similarly afflicts educators but here the consequences are borne by the students.
In education destinationitis occurs whenever we think about the next phase in our students learning and how we may adjust their current setting so it best prepares them for where they are headed. In many ways it is a noble mission but in practice it can miss the mark. This goal of preparing our students for the next phase in their learning too often results in efforts to make their current setting more like what they are moving to. But should this be our path?
Consider the traveller who has just arrived in Paris. Their next destination is Rome. Applying the logic of the destinationitis obsessed teacher they will spend their time in Paris speaking Italian, seeking out Italian dining experiences and reading about Italian culture. They arrive in Rome fully prepared but have experienced nothing of Parisian life. Rather than a life enriched by their experiences and embiggened by their time in the “now” they move forward untouched and unchanged by the opportunities of where they are.
This is the danger of destinationitis for the educator. We look ahead beyond the next transition point to the challenges the student will face and then bring those experiences into their current learning environment. High school students must be organised, use a diary, write a TEEL paragraph, manage multiple classrooms and multiple teachers. Primary schools must prepare students for this world and so we see Primary Schools adopting the structures and methods of High School. University students are required to engage in great quantities of academic writing and will master the APA style and thus it is not surprising to see High School students learning such methods. The world of work beyond school requires a particular set of skills and so it is only logical according to destinationitis that these skills are introduced in schools.
Extend this logic downwards and we very quickly see Kindergarten students who are required to complete requisition forms for crayons to ensure they are workplace ready. Take this logic the other way and High School ultimately becomes preparation for a happy and fulfilling retirement.
What our students need is the very best experience of learning where they are. When we value the ‘now’ more than the ‘next' we are able to plan and deliver experiences that are exactly what our students need now. We start with a knowledge of where our students are, we take the time to know them as learners, we connect them with their passions and we deliver learning experiences that are spectacularly engaging and challenging.
When our students do finally move on to the next phase in their learning journey they carry forward their experiences and build on those as they confront new challenges. They move forward with a growing sense of themselves as learners and as navigators of their learning journeys. They believe in their ability to learn and have had positive experiences of learning and of learning to learn. They have maintained their sense of curiosity and are adept at asking questions. They are not motivated by external measures nor do they see learning as preparation for something in their future but instead value it as a natural part of their life now and always.
As educators we owe it to our students perhaps more than ever to avoid destinationitis. The students we teach to learn today more than anything else will need to be lifelong learners who understand that learning is not something you do with tomorrow in mind but to make today brighter.
By Nigel Coutts