Before getting into the nuts and bolts of our new approach, it is worth offering a brief outline of where we are headed. Individual student goals will inevitably differ. Some seek to prepare themselves for higher education. Others may want a solid grounding for entering the workforce, either as employees or as entrepreneurs, and many will want to shift away from academic education in their final years in favour of apprenticeship in a skilled trade. However, despite these different paths, every student should develop the skills needed to play an informed, active role in society and to be part of the solution to the challenges of the 21st century. Those skills include critical thinking, creativity and independence of thought, entrepreneurship, some historical perspective on their own society and others, cultural awareness, and the character traits needed to maintain robust social relationships.5
Two concepts are central to creating well-rounded, thriving individuals. One is the notion of the “T-Shaped Learner,” who is endowed with a balance of broad knowledge and skills (the horizontal arm of the T) and deep understanding and experience of a few subjects or disciplines (the riser of the T). Our thinking on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, laid out in the next few chapters, is developed with this in mind. Being T-Shaped is becoming a significant advantage in the workplace and living environment of the 21st century because it provides a combination of excellent communication and collaborative skills, real world experience and ability to innovate, learn and problem-solve.6
The second is the concept of Habits of Mind – ways of thinking that enable a learner to thrive throughout life. As Art Costa, Emeritus Professor of Education at California State University, Sacramento (and one of the originators of the concept) says, they are about “knowing how to behave intelligently when you don’t know the answer.” Establishing these Habits is, in many ways, the most fundamental goal of high school. These traits form the foundation of the education learners will need to prepare themselves for a rapidly changing world. Students who display these habits will be able to respond with confidence, vigor, and resiliency to whatever challenges the future throws at them. Learners should, for example, work on:
Persisting – knowing how to keep pressing on when your inclination is otherwise
Managing impulsivity – acquiring the patience to wait for the optimal moment for action or speech
Listening with understanding and empathy – handling conversation skillfully, getting the best out of others, and becoming a good person to have on the team
Thinking flexibly – knowing how to consider things from a perspective other than your own
Thinking about our thinking – being able to map out your own thought processes – and those of others
Striving for accuracy and precision – employing strategies for checking with others, for instance, to reduce the chances of error
Questioning and posing problems – knowing how to probe and question in order to make topics of study better understood, and learning more satisfying and resilient
Applying past knowledge to new situations – harnessing the lessons of experience, whether your own or that of others
Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision – avoiding vagueness and generalization to enhance impact of thought, speech and writing
Gathering data through all senses – using every source at your disposal
Creating, imagining and innovating – thinking in new ways, maybe about new things, with as few boundaries as possible
Responding with wonderment and awe – using personal passion to intensify learning experiences
Taking responsible risks – rejecting view of failure as a negative to be avoided and encouraging analysis of failure as a necessary step towards refined, improved processes and deeper understanding
Finding humor – using amusing situations as a shared experience for improved communication and the varied perspective of others
Thinking interdependently – deliberately aiming to co-create and share thoughts, programs and experiences with others so as to develop co-operative skills and enjoy group-life
Learning continuously – appreciating that learning happens anytime, anywhere, in any context
With these goals in place, we can lay out our vision for learning in 2030.
5. Tony Wagner, Co-Director of the Change Leadership group at Harvard Graduate School of Education, has laid out seven “survival skills” for the twenty- first century: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; Collaboration; Agility and Adaptability; Initiative and Entrepreneurialism; Oral and Written Communication; Accessing and Analyzing information; Curiosity and Imagination.
6. McMaster, R, 2012. “The T in STEM: The T-Shaped Professional.” ; see also: Hansen, M, 2010. “IDEO CEO Tim Brown: T-Shaped Stars: the Backbone of IDEO’s Collaborative Culture.” for an exploration of T-shaped professionals.
“Finnish education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, says the much lauded transformation of the Finnish education system came “at a reasonable cost.” So reasonable, in fact, that 98% of the cost of education at all levels is covered by government rather than by private sources.”