Are our schools catering for the super heroes of the future?
We all have an idea in our heads about WHAT we currently get out of school and basically what we can expect to experience when we arrive be it as a learner, teacher, or parent. Some of us know HOW school works — the intricacies of the curriculum, timetable structures, year levels, etc.
But what about the ‘WHY’ of school?
Is this still the same as it’s always been? As a teacher, principal, or parent, is your understanding around the purpose of school and education (possibly two separate considerations, by the way) clear?
This is my boy Dānte.
He’s almost three. He currently goes to our local pre-school. It won’t be long until he’s off to primary school. Then secondary school … and possible tertiary (school). What is the purpose of each of these schools? To prepare him for the next one? Or something more? What is the real purpose for each individual involved, and for society? Depending on whom you ask, you’ll hear very different responses.
If teachers are no longer the holders of all the content knowledge (you can watch a Youtube video on anything from ‘How to tie a tie’, to ‘How to do quadratic equations’), and learners can access knowledge via instructional videos online from international experts in their fields (e.g., Khan Academy, TED Talks), then, is there still a place for teachers and physical schools?
“School is no longer where we learn. It is where we meet.” (Lichtman, 2014). While essentially agreeing with what Grant Lichtman is saying, I would like to offer an alternative to that statement:
School is no longer where we learn what we previously have. It is where we meet to grow.
In his book #EdJourney, Lichtman asked some high school students what they needed to be successful and happy in their futures. They quickly came up with the following list:
Now, while ‘Googling’ a definition of these concepts may be possible, you’ll have to agree that learning how to be or have any of the above skills and traits is not something you can develop solely from watching a YouTube video. These are qualities, skills, and traits that take time to nurture, cultivate, and practise. And they also, by no coincidence, all feature highly in any list of the most desirable qualities that employers are looking for in future employees (13 essential skills for today’s students).
As referenced in many reports and frameworks developed by employers and schools regarding the acquisition and development of “21st century skills”, these four areas are considered to be the most important or significant:
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Creativity and imagination
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
So why do we still need schools?
Because, they provide a place to come together to grow those collaboration and teamwork skills. They give face-to-face access to experienced mentors and coaches who can observe, facilitate, and provide critical feedback on how these skills are developing.
Schools are important because we know that human beings are social creatures. We are learning more every day about the social nature of learning and its importance in our cognitive and emotional development. Findings from the Dunedin Study also support the fact that people who are able to get along and work well with others have more successful, healthy, and happy lives. It is often in, or inspired by, the company of like-minded people or people of opposing opinions, that we access most of our creativity and imagination while practising skills like empathy and self-control.
We need schools because it is in these places that young people come together to challenge and grow each others’ minds, as well as their own. By testing out new knowledge, and practising and honing new skills, the other learning coaches (students and teachers alike) will provoke them to critically evaluate the knowledge sources they are accessing, as well as their own opinions of them.
It is one thing to know; it is another to be known.
Young people still need to come to school because it is a place where they and their whānau can be known by others, and grow to know themselves and their own abilities and potential. Harvesting knowledge alone, whether from books or multiple sources on the Internet, is all well and good, but, I feel, that it is in the act of sharing knowledge with others in meaningful contexts, building upon their ideas, challenging each other, and pushing at the boundaries of our own comfort zones where the most powerful learning happens.
This is why we still need schools.
All over New Zealand, schools are reimagining and redesigning their approach to learning experiences. Along with this, it is vital that the measures of success are also redesigned to align with these. This will generally involve re-examining the purpose for the learning, to ensure not only achievement outcomes are designed for, but also engagement and wellbeing. These days, kids don’t just come to school to take the test, they come to make it, or even break it!
I know that when I’m in my old age, in a rest home, or back packing around exotic locations (it’s important to be optimistic), I want to have confidence in the young people I worked with in schools who will by now be leaders, movers and shakers, in our country and the world. I will want to be confident that, when faced with a challenge, they have the grit and resilience to push on and through it, have the creativity and ingenuity to seek solutions in unexpected places, and effectively work with people outside their fields of expertise in order to reach the most robust and creative solution possible to the problems that may face us. No pressure!
I am very fortunate at the moment to be working alongside teachers in secondary schools who are looking to reimagine how schools and learning might look right now and in the future. These leaders in their fields understand that every aspect of every learning experience must start and stay with the learners in front of them; and what they need to thrive in this day and age, and into the future.
The educators I work with in the FFI (Future Focused Inquiry) programme are using change frameworks such as the Spiral of Inquiry and Design Thinking, underpinned by the 7 Principles of Learning, to ensure their practice, systems, environment and resources are all highly effective in supporting learners to reach high levels of engagement and wellbeing, as well as strong academic outcomes. They return regularly to two anchor questions: “what’s going on for our learners”, and “how do we know?”.
Image: Timperley, Kaser & Halbert, 2014
School is a place where we meet to grow.
We’ve moved beyond a time and educational system founded in orderliness, obedience, and compliance. We know we’re going to need innovators, creators, critical thinkers, team players.
Life doesn’t fall neatly into discrete subject areas.
Many secondary schools are responding to this by consciously breaking down the walls, or ‘silos’, between their subject areas, and are modelling the collaborative practice that we know is going to be so vital to the success of our current learners. Partnerships between subjects are resulting in high levels of originality, innovation, creativity as well as problem solving, skill transference, and deeper subject knowledge due to being able to work in more authentic contexts on ‘real-life learning’ rather than in contrived test situations.
(3D printed poetry — Cambridge High School Writers’ Master Class)
Undertaking inquiry (both individual and collaborative) with a firm focus on the future for learners, as an ongoing means of building evaluative capability and adaptive expertise, is where it’s at. There are educators out there right now who are ensuring school is still a very worthwhile, important, and exciting place to be!
I am excited to see what school will be like for Dānte in the coming years. As with all children, he has a natural inquiry mind frame, a hunger for knowledge, and a drive for discovery. I am confident that these will not diminish, but be developed as he travels through school.
I believe we will always need schools because we will always need superheroes. We are only going to have more wicked problems to solve in the future. Where else will other kids like Dānte be able to nurture, grow, take risks, and test their superpowers before the world calls on them? This is why I believe in school. What about you?
Timperley, H., Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014, April). A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry. Centre for Strategic Education, Seminar Series Paper No. 234.