(This has been prepared to share as a resource for a talk I recently gave.)
The key to change is developing strategy by asking three simple questions…
- Where are we now?
- Where do we need to be?
- How do we get there?
When I was in school it was like this:
- One teacher for each class
- Everyone facing the front
- Students grouped according to chronological age
- School day chunked into 40 minute slots
- Bells and schedules to organise the day
- Teacher and textbooks knowledge authority
- Command and control to maintain order
- Stand and deliver to impart content
- Limited computer access
But wait, isn’t that the experience of many children today?
It is true that for many young people their school experience is much the same as someone who finished school in 1978. This model of education was designed for the industrial era. Pragmatic thinking, preparing students for that ‘job for life’ with a finite set of skills. The 21stC is a different era altogether – it’s open, shared, collaborative, creative, entrepreneurial. The OECD report mentioned below says that the kinds of skills that are “the easiest to teach are also the easiest to automate, digitise and outsource”.
Changing the nature of an institution like school is the same as turning around an ocean liner, but if that vessel was headed for danger, no matter how difficult, how long it took, it’s worth turning it around for the sake of the passengers.
In the same way, turning around education is also worth it for the passengers – the future of our young people depends on it. The world has changed. Life outside of school in connected, it’s in real time and, while there are risks and concerns, there are also immense opportunities. If we can provide the optimal learning environment, if we can engage young minds in the joy of learning.
A new set of skills and rethinking the learning environment is necessary. Here’s what others say what is required:
- OECD Report: Schools for 21st C Learners: Strong leadership. capable and confident teachers, innovative learning environments
- Future Work Skills 2020: Including: Social intelligence, adaptive thinking, design mindset, cross cultural competency
- Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future: The five minds the fast-paced future will demand – Disciplined, Synthesizing, Creating, Respectful, Ethical
None of this underplays the need for a rigorous curriculum and an emphasis on literacy and numeracy remain a priority. It is not so much the ‘what’ but the ‘how’. Engaged learners are hungry to acquire skills and seek out the resources they need, especially when the learning coincides with their passions.
What we do need to focus on, as Sir Ken Robinson has pointed out in his most recent book Creative Schools: Revolutionising Education from the Ground Up, we need to focus on the art of teaching and identify what is worth knowing (not just for the test). He also outlines eight competencies: curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure, citizenship.
At Northern Beaches Christian School we have embarked on this journey, under the visionary leadership of Stephen Harris. We are seeking to create a learning environment that is relevant to a changing context. Like many schools around the world, we see the need to radically disrupt the existing paradigm. We think about school as three spaces: cultural, physical and virtual.
What is normally associated with “school” is put under the microscope to determine its relevant in a changing world. Not everything goes out the window, after all, we still need to prepare our students for an external 3 hour handwritten exam. The basics of education matter. NBCS has 1300 students and the academic achievement of the 2015 final year students has exceeded our expectations.
At NBCS the disruption includes:
- Rethinking the school day – 4x 75minute learning sessions
- Shared learning spaces – about 80% across the school
- Shared staff and staff-student spaces. Even the principal shares “an office” with 10 others
- Cross-curricula learning
- No bells
- Non-typical school design and furniture
- Focus on quality relationships – everywhere!
- Professional-like spaces for creative subjects
Where to start? One simple thing is to start to change mindsets. Stop saying I have taught. Instead change the focus, ask…
Have they learnt?