Educating Our Youth for a Changing World

“We live in a time of extraordinary change and challenge for our society and for the broader world. We are faced with conflicts ranging from extreme weather to global health, from diplomatic tensions to energy and conservation crises. As these conflicts grow more complex it is essential to find solutions that invariably exist in the spaces between traditional approaches or academic disciplines. This is the nature of the world that our children will inherit.”
David Perkins (50th Anniversary of Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education)

“We can overcome all our global challenges if we are willing to build and scale new models for lifelong learning.”
Andreas Schleicher (OECD)

What does it mean to educate in an era of unprecedented scientific, technological, environmental and social change? For those of us invested in education, this means having the courage to think differently. It means being aware of the many forces that impact our world and being open to learning and the findings of important educational and scientific research. We need to engage in robust debate with all of our stakeholders and build a shared understanding of the important knowledge, skills, dispositions and values that will prepare students for the world that they will inhabit. This means exploring what it really means to educate for life. To do what we have always done is no longer a viable option.

The challenges for educators lie in how we support students in making sense of the world and providing them with the tools they need to be able to tackle the challenges to which Perkins draws our attention. As a school whose founding principle and core vision is to provide “An education for life” we recognise this challenge as a fundamental moral responsibility.

Investment in high quality professional learning is one of our primary strategies for supporting staff to see the big picture and long-term goals of education. It gives us the confidence to guide our staff to reflect on and evaluate current beliefs, attitudes and practices. It promotes engagement in the rich discourse around what is learnable and the different entryways to good learning. It means rethinking our understanding of what it means to be smart and moving beyond the narrow definition of IQ to a more inclusive view of smart as “multiple, learnable and dispositional”. It gives us the confidence to interrogate existing beliefs and practices, some of which have not changed much since the industrial age, and shape the way we design more powerful and relevant learning opportunities for students. It is our reputation for providing access to high quality learning, and opportunities to work with the ideas of the great educational thinkers of our time, that continues to draw new staff, especially graduates, to our College.

Our commitment to staying at the forefront of educational thinking and practice is demonstrated by engaging and building partnerships with leading educational organisations from around the world and, in particular, the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr Ron Ritchhart, Associate Professor and Research Assistant at Project Zero, has been working with our teachers over the past four years to deepen their understanding of what it means to develop a culture of thinking and learning in classrooms and staffrooms. All staff members have had access to Ron’s beginners’ workshops and, as of 2018, every new staff member to the College is required to attend. Having completed the beginners’ training, staff then have the opportunity to access more advanced workshops so as to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the strategies and tools that can be used to transform classrooms and staffrooms into places where thinking and learning are visible, valued and actively promoted.

Over and above the work that we are doing with our teachers, another way in which we nurture this culture of thinking and deep learning is through offering a series of seminars for interested members of our wider College community. Allowing all our stakeholders to understand what we are trying to achieve and to reach a shared understanding of what needs to be done will be key to our ongoing success. Beginning in 2018, we ran a parent seminar entitled The Future of Learning. Presented by Dr Ron Ritchhart, attendees were invited to consider some of the significant findings about intelligence, thinking and learning that have been the result of extensive research at Project Zero over the past 50 years. In 2019, we were delighted to offer a second parent seminar, again led by Ron, in which he explored the challenges facing our children and the sort of education they need to manage their way through these challenges. He presented a variety of practical strategies which can be used at home to put thinking at the centre of discussions about learning and addressed the importance of taking our focus off grades so that we can put a much stronger emphasis on the processes of thinking and deep learning.

It is by embracing our shared responsibilities that we can begin to make a real and valuable difference to the lives of your children and our students. By learning more about how science and technology are changing what we know and understand about the human brain and how children learn, by understanding the nature of the changes that are taking place locally and globally, by opening up our minds to learn from leading educational thinkers and researchers, then perhaps we can come close to achieving that elusive promise of education which, as Perkins suggests, is “to fully develop the human potential for a good society”.

Jacqui Coker, Director of Teacher Professional Learning