With the ever-changing landscape of education, it is important not only for educators, but also those in the community to pay attention to the trends and forces that influence and impact schools and students. Whether it means adding innovation to the core curriculum, rearranging learning spaces, individualizing instruction and/or collaborating to solve problems, these trends influence how learning happens. And external forces – political, economic, environmental, global, social, or technological – affect the focus and mindset of teachers and students.
Four words come to mind to help us understand where education is headed, how teachers share information and encourage thinking, and what students may need to do to ensure they are preparing for the future. These words are TIME, PLACE, PATH, and SPACE, as detailed in a recent issue of the Independent School Magazine. Many questions arise when considering these words within the context of the future of education. Do class periods have to be 45 minutes long? What is the appropriate length for a school year? What should schools look like? Where else can learning occur and still be considered school? How should a curriculum be shaped in order to be truly valuable?
To help answer these questions, Saint Stephen’s hosted an educational summit we called ALIVE: Assembling Leaders for an Innovative Vision of Education. The objective was to gather local thought leaders and harvest their ideas about what education could be. We felt that not only would SSES glean valuable information to influence its strategic thinking, but those attending would be able to take back the outcomes of these discussions to share within their communities.
We invited 18 leaders affiliated with area colleges, universities and schools, along with CEOs of businesses, experts in economics, child psychology, social advocacy, the arts, and researchers in science and technology. It was our hope that by bringing together people from a broad variety of disciplines, the discussion would be robust and approach key questions from different angles.
Although many were meeting for the first time, there was a common thread binding the group – everyone truly cares about children. The participants answered an array of questions in an effort to uncover the emerging forces/trends that our young people will face and how education can best be designed to help them thrive. The answers came without hesitation in an hour-long back and forth.
Participants were then asked to create the school of the future using simple props including popsicle sticks, straws, markers, cotton balls and glue. Through this activity, a variety of ways to present education, construct schools, and encourage student learning emerged.
The outcomes of the Q&A and design sessions uncovered a number of major themes. It is apparent that most feel education has never been in a greater state of change than it is today. Navigating different pathways of learning to meet individual needs is important and the structure of a program influences how much students gain from the experience. It is also clear that technology is a huge influence on how students learn. With so much knowledge at one’s fingertips, it is imperative that students are taught skills over content, that environments are created where students learn to problem solve, think critically and globally, and can navigate their own learning rather than just being receivers of information. The classroom should exist beyond the four walls of the school building.
There was much discussion about students being able to develop keen emotional intelligence to help them learn to be more adaptable in accepting and including others. Education must become more experiential with a hands-on approach that allows for exploration, and educators need to create a culture of constant creation and re-creation that allows students to collaborate with others, yet be grounded in who they are and what matters to them.
The time the group spent together went quickly, but the conversations were truly ALIVE! In capturing this “blue-sky” thinking about the future of education, we set forth on a path that we hope will eventually lead to a new blueprint for learning.