I am so embarrassed. Just after the WAB-hosted FOEN (Future of Education Now) conference IN NOVEMBER, I wrote this blog. Unfortunately, because it wasn’t up to standard (not fully edited, not the right pictures, blah, blah, blah)… I didn’t publish. Mea culpa to @WABlive for not following through with my promise to share, promote (and gloat) about the amazing discussions.
But… better late than never.
“We teach history, but we don’t teach the future.” If my notes are correct, Brett Schilke said this.
When moving to WAB last year, Rob and I were so excited that our son could apply for the Capstone Project at the school. In very simple terms, it’s a student-directed learning program that allows children to follow their passions as an alternative pathway to graduation. It is offered in grades 11 and 12.
Alas, our offspring wasn’t interested. Despite our coaxing, prodding, and cajoling, his response was, “If I do it, I won’t be able to get in to college. If I don’t go to college I won’t be able to get a good job.” Our daughter, though two years younger, doesn’t feel much different. Despite being a brilliant musician and creative artist, she is ambiguous about a future that is art driven because, “You can’t make money in art.”
I don’t get it. The two of them have followed our family tagline: “be a creator, not a consumer” which loosely translates to: “share your passions with the world.” And they do. They both have intermittent blogs, YouTube channels, and Instagram pages where they share their creative passions. And yet… they have been convinced that there is only one road to their future. The college route.
What have we done wrong? How has the message been so misunderstood from our mouths to their brains? Have Rob and I screwed up? Or has society been a controlling factor in our children’s decision making process? Are the vortex of school and societal pressures too strong a fight to win?
I know the answer to these question. YES!
World 1. Parents 0.
Our kids, and their peers, are just a tad too early. Though we’re on the cusp of an educational revolution, we’re not (all) there yet.
Our kids are part of a system that is changing but the pull is just not strong enough (yet) to compel colleges and universities to change completely. The building blocks of the system are changing. But not fast enough for our kids to forego ideas of IB, college, and a singular career.
Hopefully your child’s path will be different.
But after spending three awe-inspiring, thought-provoking, and impassioned days at the Future of Education Now conference at WAB, I know, for sure, the tide is turning. Though education has often operated in a top down organizational flow (meaning college takes the lead and school paths are created to funnel into college), we may just be shaking the shit up so much that we’re changing education from its foundational core.
Most educational conferences are attended by academic professionals: educators, administrators, educational consultants, etc. But not FOEN. In an effort to learn from all stake holders the FOEN event included parents, students, as well as environmentalists, mentoring experts, and educational disrupters. It was “a truly immersive, global conference about dynamic change, delivered by a school going through dynamic change.” -FOEN participant.
Nowhere were people talking about curriculum and state standards. Nobody recounted the education of yesteryear as a place of great reverence and one that we should endeavor to replicate. And I didn’t come across one educator saying, “I think we’re doing enough.”
On the contrary. Most discussions I participated in included thoughts on disrupting the system and creating learning environments that are hubs of divergent thinking, chaos, risk-taking, optimization, and flow.
What FOEN means for education
21st century learning is so 2019.
It seems passe to talk about classroom configurations, memorization, tech integration, and group tasks. Schools on the cusp are talking about the future of learning (now!) as learning spaces that are open to different students’ needs: “watering holes” where they can congregate for collaboration, “campfires” where they can explore through hands-on activities, and “cave spaces” where students can immerse themselves in self-directed tasks. (For more on this, check out Rosan Bosch’s keynote.)
Schools leading the charge are restructuring timetables to ensure that students can move through the day with self-directed schedules and in fluid learning communities that are not arbitrarily created by a child’s birth date but by their ability.
Schools taking risks are looking for educators who are willing to forego “my classroom” with “my stuff.” Educators and students are working in classroom-less schools where all stake holders move freely to learn and teach at the student’s pace through open-ended, comprehensive, transdisciplinary tasks that require thinking and learning from various subject areas.
Schools in pole position are going beyond memorization, standards, and tick-boxes. Their focus is on holistic education inclusive of mentoring programs, ethical practices, ecological awareness, and partnerships with local organizations and global enterprises.
Schools that are willing to take risks reflect regularly. They work with students, parents, Boards, and consultants, open to change who are willing to say, “Nope! This didn’t work. Let’s try something else” until things begin to gel. These schools listen to, respect, honor, encourage, and allow student voice and choice. From giving feedback to being the educator–students are expected to lead the change.
Our future looks bright.
At the end of our FOEN conference, a group of students (my 2 kids included), presented their thoughts, take-aways, and the future of education from their perspective. You can see their entire keynote address online or read on for my highlights:
- Just like us, the kids are excited, nervous, curious, worried… repeat.
- They are focused. They have ideas. They may not do what we want them to do or what we think they should do, but they have interesting ideas worthy of support.
- The kids think schools should focus more on ATL (approaches to learning) skills rather than content. They believe that if they can develop as thinkers, communicators, and self-managers with the ability to communicate and research effectively, they will be be more successful in life. Are they wrong?
- Students are eager to help make change in school. They are open to the challenges of change and really appreciate the opportunity to participate in the conversation.
- The students also want us to be mindful that they are human too and they may not be able to handle all the demands that school presents. Build relationships, hear them out, and care.
- Give students the autonomy over their learning path.
- Encourage more project-based activities as they often connect learning to the real world, are more engaging, and encourage students to use divergent thinking skills.
- Encourage autonomy through self-directed learning and flexible timetabling.
And my three favorite quotes from the mouths of babes:
- “We’re not as dumb as we look. We can guide our own learning because we know what works best for us. Think about the student. Not the students. We are all individuals.”
- “We love being at school. You need to help us find our passion and help unlock our love of learning.”
- “We are thankful and grateful that you choose this career.”
In retrospect, I think it’s a good idea that I took this long to wrap up this blog topic. Not only did it give me time to relive three inspirational days but because just tonight my son asked, “Do you think it’s OK if I apply to do the Capstone Project in addition to my full IB load?”
Maybe FOEN and our (loving and sometimes pushy) support has nudged him over the edge!