In this TEDx talk, Pat Bassett outlines a vision for schools of the future, which feature process, collaboration, and creativity, among other skills. Like many other presentations on this topic, the purpose of the talk is largely inspirational. Bassett shares examples to demonstrate that a new paradigm for schooling is emerging and implies that you should get on board! Little time is given to how a school makes fundamental changes to its instructional program. What may we take from this talk to inform the process of school change?
First, let’s take a closer look at Bassett’s examples. Where do they exist within the instructional program?
An international school: a robotics program in third and fourth grades
Falmouth Academy robotics program: submersible robot
St. Mark’s School: inflatable donut grenade launcher
Snowball grenade launcher competition, 6th grade school community event
St. George’s School Da Vinci summer camp: wedgie-proof underwear
Dan Meyer, throw away the textbook
Watershed School (Colorado): grade 6-12 expeditionary learning
Lamplighter School (Tennessee), grades PK-4: fourth grade egg business,
Rio Grande School (New Mexico), grades PK-6: sixth grade forensics
Teton Science Schools: the park as the subject, three- to seven-day programs for school groups
Moving the Classroom Outdoors: book on outdoor learning
Nueva School (California), grades PK-8: design thinking
NAIS Challenge 20/20: pairs U.S. with schools in other countries to work on 20 global problems
Montessori School of Denver (Denver), PK-6: malaria solution
ISENet: PLCs and crowdsourcing lessons and curriculum, Buckley Othello curriculum
FoldIt: computer game to contribute to research by solving protein structure problems
What did you notice? Elementary and middle schools? Ancillary, co-curricular programs? High schools, particularly the core instructional program, are notably absent. What else did you find?
Why do we tend to see more instructional innovation in the earlier grades? Perhaps teachers and parents see a broader purpose for education in the early years, to develop in children not only basic competencies but also a love for learning and understanding of how to succeed in school. Perhaps grade level teams are strong in the life of the elementary or middle school teacher, whereas the high school teacher primarily works within a subject area department.
In high schools, why do co-curricular programs such as robotics exemplify the qualities of creativity, communication, and collaboration, and core classes do not? Does the pressure of preparing students for the college admission process cause teachers to narrow curricula and teaching methods? Do schools overly recruit teachers who have acquired advanced degrees in the traditional six academic disciplines?
What, therefore, can one do to encourage greater innovation in high school programs? Here are some ideas that I have seen schools begin to implement.
Strengthen grade-level teams in the high school. What faculty meetings and other opportunities may we create for teachers to coordinate content and teaching methods within each grade level? May we adopt an organizing theme for each year of study?
Design collaborations between innovative co-curricular programs and subject area teachers. Robotics and other experiential programs have experience creating learning environments outside of traditional subject areas and college prep expectations. What lessons can discipline-based teachers learn from co-curricular programs and integrate into their programs. What outright collaborations between co-curricular leaders and subject area teachers may we facilitate?
Broaden the definition of the academic discipline. In college, architecture, philosophy, economics, and environmental science are disciplines, too. Why should high schools restrict themselves to science, history, art, English, languages, and math?
Network with other teachers and schools. Join a consortium of schools attempting to innovate in similar ways. Encourage teachers to get off-campus and visit other schools and organizations. Encourage the development of a broader conception of the purpose of education in the high school.
Visit colleges. Let’s update our understanding of college prep. What are colleges doing today, and how has instruction changed from when we attended college?
Reward risk-taking. Fund new curriculum initiatives. Build risk-taking and experimentation into professional evaluation criteria. Avoid denigrating experiments that fail.
Celebrate alumni accomplishments. What have our alumni accomplished in their adult lives? What high school experiences were most helpful to them in college and beyond? Let’s identify what qualities of our school programs our alumni most value. Let’s also notice what they fail to mention.
Read and explore together. Encourage a culture of common reading and investigation of new educational methods in one’s faculty. Fund professional development, and set aside time for exploration of the purpose and execution of teaching.
Develop common purpose. Reductionist as they may be, catch phrases such as “experiential education,” “life prep,” and “design thinking” serve as a common rallying cry for faculty, students, and parents, strengthening our core purpose and reminding us of what the institution stands for.
What other methods do you use to encourage innovation in your school? What has worked, and what has not worked?