As part of some reading for my current study, in late 2014 I was challenged with the question, “Can we simply ‘update’ things as we go, or is it time to complete rethink what schooling is?” I reflected that each school has its own context and some asked this question ten years ago whilst others are yet to ask the question.
As we know, the digital age has changed society and, very obviously, schools are a part of that society. The learning landscape for schools has changed with the onset of the digital world in which we live and this new earning landscape is brilliantly and articulately explained in A New Culture of Learning by Thomas and Brown (2011).
The authors argue learning environments must take into consideration the great changes that have occurred with digital technology. Thomas and Brown argue that we are obligated to do this because the world is changing faster than ever and our skill sets have a shorter life. This presents great challenges to schools and education systems working with students to develop skills that will prepare them for post school life. Thomas and Brown remind us the world is getting more connected than ever before and that the need for mentors is a priority. They regularly remind the reader that schools need to be innovative, a need which is sustained with a commitment to cultivate imagination which can be supported with creative use of social media and digital technologies. John Seely Brown’s Youtube clip The Global One School House continues the message. In this clip Seely Brown contests there is a need to completely rethink the learning landscape because working as individuals will not sustain learning. This prompts many questions for education leaders of today. To ask the right questions is necessary in providing schooling which is relevant and supportive of student learning growth; learning growth that must address the skills of communication, collaboration, connectivity and critical thinking through formative assessment and not just (or should I write “rather than”) scores and grades for a summative report. The longer a school, system, state or country takes to ask those disturbing questions, the longer it will be before schooling provides an education which is relevant and pertinent for students who enter an ever changing world.
There have been ‘lead schools’ who have bravely asked questions and boldly taken on the exciting challenge of looking at new and better ways for schooling. Northern Beaches Christian School with its Sydney Centre for Innovation and Learning is the pacesetter when it comes to innovative approaches to learning characterised with greater relevance, interest and engagement for students. Northern Beaches is led by Stephen Harris who is ably supported with great communicators such as Anne Knock and innovators such as Steve Collis. First and foremost Stephen, Anne and Steve all see themselves as learners who ask curious “what if” questions which then prompts and ignites the imagination, creativity and innovation that flourishes at NBCS. Secondly, they share their insights, learning and questions through their blogs and Twitter. Thirdly, they generously open NBCS for others to visit, look and learn. Thirdly they ‘walk the talk’ by seeking, offering and encouraging communication, collaboration and critical thinking with other thoughts leaders within schools and outside education.
Other schools have developed innovative learning cultures which have improved and even transformed the learning landscape for students within their schools. Marrylands East Public School led by the innovative John Goh have early start and finish times. Parramatta Marist High School has adopted project based learning so successfully, it regularly receives much media attention. Mater Dei Catholic College, Wagga Wagga * implements TED in Year 7, teacher team based planning and team teaching in Religion, English and HSIE in Year 8, a compressed SOR 1 course in Year 11 (where students sit the SOR 1 HSC exam at the end of Year 11) and a 9-day timetable for Year 12 students. Also, as recently as Setepmber, 2014 Delaney College launched its new model of learning and has developed connections with Telstra to promote meaningful, real-life learning for their students. All schools were bold enough to ask critical questions and have achieved much progress in their aim to provide schooling which is relevant, engaging and challenging whilst also supporting students to develop skills for when they leave school. Their climate for learning allows students to exercise choice and pursue interests whilst still adhering to mandated curriculum requirements but moves away from the ‘one-size-fits-most’ approach to traditional curriculum delivery. Furthermore, there is a greater emphasis on, and explicit reference to, the skills of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.
All this has come from schools with leaders who adopted, and continue to adopt, a ‘complete rethink’ mindset rather than an ‘update’ approach. What other schools approach learning with a ‘complete rethink’ mindset and what can we learn from them? I would be interested in your thoughts and comments. Regards Greg Declaration of Interest – I declare that I was Principal of Mater Dei Catholic College, Wagga Wagga from 2008 to 2014 inclusive.