Rocketing Beyond

Can I start with an addendum to last week’s note?  From my long list of weekend accomplishments I omitted one.  The Major Minors, our nationally recognized A Capella group, went on tour as they do every year. This year their destination was North Carolina. They performed for and with students at Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State. This is very impressive and a wonderful way to learn, share, and grow outside the normal confines of school. Look for their upcoming concerts.

You may have sensed a “theme” in some of my recent letters. The concept of going “beyond expectations” is evident in the successes we see daily with our “AHA!” moments.  It is also how we are looking ahead in the education of our students. In fact, thinking back to the program I attended in early November, presented by the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, one of the things that resonated with me had to do with their urging that schools create a new mindset about education.  We need to re-imagine what education needs to look like for the future.  When I list all of our accomplishments at school, I realize that we truly have re-imagined what school can be.  It is far more than just going to some place to sit in a classroom. It has become a way of life and a chance to learn and celebrate with friends and mentors, families and the greater community, and world around us.  It is much more of a “network” of relationships than just a “hierarchy” of teachers and students. The rapidly changing and interconnected world is demanding more and more, and we have an obligation to meet those demands head on.

As I listened to David Perkins and the Harvard team, they focused on six major trends that they see coming.  I am glad to report that they were all areas that we have already been discussing at various levels here. The trends that they feel should guide some of our thinking are:

  1. Beyond content.  The content is growing exponentially by the day almost in every subject. We need to be willing to look beyond the content alone. We need to analyze and synthesize it, so we can apply it to everyday life.  We recognize that content is critical, but clearly, we have to be considering new and improved ways to balance the volume that confronts all of us.
  2. Beyond local.  Our children are growing up in a true global world. With the use of technology we can now reach out to different places in a matter of seconds. For example, on Saturday morning – from a coffee shop – we were able to FaceTime with our son who lives in Tokyo while he was in a restaurant. Our kids will go into their careers where they will need to have an appreciation of languages and cultures in more personal ways than we may ever have imagined before.  They need to have a comfort with that and an expertise with those new relationships.
  3. Beyond topics.  Our emphasis on projects and collaborative efforts has us looking at various topics and then going even further. We need to use the content we learn as a tool.  We need to begin to explore, share, challenge, and understand all that needs to be understood for the future. We are looking for our young scholars to be thinking, reflecting, collaborating…and then taking action.
  4. Beyond traditional disciplines. We need an “extended vision of the disciplines,” says David Perkins. How do you begin to do multidisciplinary studies? How do you begin to teach things like engineering at the high school level? This year we initiated a Department of Innovation to help challenge ourselves in these areas. In businesses they may have a Research Design Department to find out what are the new ideas out there in their industry. Here at Flint Hill, we use the same concept to find new ways to bring students, faculty and staff, and parents into the fold to look at innovative and creative ways to solve problems and to explore the future.
  5. Beyond discreet disciplines. This gets into the interconnectedness of all that we do.  Each area needs to build on itself, but also inter-relate with other areas of study.  More and more, universities are following the example modeled years ago by Washington University in Saint Louis. They allow their students to create their own majors and to put together various disciplines into one area of study.  Clearly, as we look at education at a secondary level we have to consider ways to be more flexible, more open, and to consider avenues that maybe don’t fit in the traditional curriculum.  We need to be courageous enough to offer classes like Design Thinking, entrepreneurship, engineering classes, Makers classes, STEM clusters, etc. Such options may challenge colleges to understand how and why we are doing it, but they will quickly grasp these rigors and expansive modes of learning.  We need to consider online learning and the growing role it is playing in college education.  Would you be surprised to know that a recent MIT online MOCC (Massive Online College Courses) had over 54,000 students registered?  Or that all math classes at Virginia Tech under the 300-level are now required to be online?
  6. Beyond prescribed studies.  This is that personalized and individualized approach to education.  For a student to have options and choices at all levels is important.  Special projects, STEM clusters, and independent studies provide opportunities for outside the classroom experience in very direct ways.  The creation of our Field Studies Program years ago, where we respected the fact that tremendous learning can happen sitting in a canoe or a kayak, climbing a mountain, or staring up at stars at a camp site, can truly make the difference in a young person’s life and in their ability to recognize that learning is an aspect of every minute of our lives.

There are so many things that can fall under those “beyond’s.”  Teaching and learning is not as simple and linear as we may have thought years ago. It is an exciting, explosive and motivating opportunity for everyone.  But our focus must always be on the “learner” – our students.  They are why we are here and why we do what we do.  We need to realize that besides our specific departments and daily challenges of learning, we need to consider the big questions of how people think and why we need to learn what we learn. Add to those challenges, how students develop a work ethic, empathy, ethics, study skills, time management, priority setting, and the list can go and on.  This is what we say that this is the most exciting time ever to be in education!

To share an example where all this talk shows up in real life, a father recently shared with me that his son and a friend are taking our Design Thinking class and they love it. Last week, they were encouraged to attend a Design Thinking Club event in Arlington for adult professionals from many different aspects of the business world. This is what he shared with me: “Everyone was shocked to see high school students attending such an event and to hear that this NEW idea is being targeted in high school when many in the business world have not even heard of the concept is tremendous!”

All in all, the challenge that the folks at Harvard presented to me and the other schools have me thinking that we are on the right track. We are looking beyond in ways that will become more apparent. This knowledge gives me the confidence that we provide an educational experience that is the basis of their lifelong learning.

Thanks to our great teachers and coaches for leading the way in these efforts.  They are living and breathing these concepts each day. Have a super Thanksgiving!