One of my favorite descriptions of education of late, comes from a recent EdWeek blog post by Tom VanderArk in which he says, “Learning occurs as a series of experiences but an education is more than a series of cumulative transactions, it is a personal journey that becomes a public good; individuals and the larger society benefit from the contributions that emerge from development of knowledge, skills, and dispositions.”
If we allow ourselves to imagine the best possible, common future to which our current students will contribute, what knowledge, skills and dispositions do we imagine they will need to possess? In our dynamic and complex world, surely the answer is much broader than the narrow confines of academic knowledge.
In looking for new responses to this question, it is exciting to see that after years of unimaginative and narrow aims for public education resulting from high stakes testing, the conversation is expanding to include answers which take into account social and emotional competencies critical to robust personal learning journeys for students that maximize potential for college and career success, and contribute to the common good beyond this personal success.
Examples of innovation to inspire an expanded view of education and learning at the system and local level include:
Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning competencies outline a set of knowledge, learning and beliefs critical to student success that includes nonlinear thinking, persistence and working collaboratively. Central to the “Academic Mindset” of Deeper Learning is students developing positive attitudes and beliefs about themselves as learners and gaining persistence in searching for solutions to overcome obstacles.
Valor Collegiate Academy, a public charter school in Nashville, is committed to a “big goal” of graduating all students to be purposeful, kind, and passionate contributors to their community. To do this, among other things, the school includes a focus on joy, kindness, relationships, social justice, valor and a growth mindset.
Danville Schools is a public school district in Danville, Kentucky that has created a promise to students through the Danville Diploma to intentionally deliver, among other things: skills to persevere when faced with challenges; ability to value and exercise creativity; be a functioning member of a team; understand the importance of taking initiative; learn about various aspects of leadership and develop those skills; manage time and create a plan for accomplishing a task or goal; and develop a sense of what it means to be a reasonable citizen with a deep sense of connection to the Danville community.
These innovators and, so many others, are beginning to gain traction toward what I hope will be what Andy Calkins, Deputy Director for Next Gen Learning, describes as, “the new normal where the whole continuum of “hard” and “soft” skills are deliberately integrated across students’ entire learning experience.” With this exciting possibility, Andy wisely cautions us that “separateness” of Agency must be baked in, not bolted on:
“It’s just too distressingly easy to imagine policies in coming years (crafted, again, with the best of intentions) that require x percent of each child’s school day be devoted to development of their “Non-Cogs.”
However, when an expanded approach is thoughtfully designed, grounded in research (more on this in future posts), and integrated into the classroom and school culture, extraordinary things happen for learners. It changes their experience but it holds the potential to change their future prospects as well. How valuable would it be for a student to be able to share a digital portfolio (see Google Sites, Pathbrite as examples) with a potential employer that includes artifacts of accomplishment that represent not only their academic skill but also their self and social understanding, ability to function effectively in a team, and capacity to persevere with challenges? According to a recent Forbes article, it would be very valuable indeed as these competencies top the list in determining employability.
Things might get even more interesting at the intersection of innovations inside education such as those above and the rapidly expanding interest in the quantified self which is making it increasingly easy to track and change individual knowledge, skills, dispositions and behaviors such as those described in an expanded education model in a just-in-time manner. (Happify and FitBit are examples)
When students have the opportunity to build social and emotional competencies such as those identified above and then learn how to leverage those competencies in the larger community within and beyond school in a positive and empowering way, they bring new possibilities to everything they do. In fact, at a recent Kennedy Forum Report, The Race to Inner Space resulting from a March 2015 convening of experts, identified SEL as one of the “most accessible and direct routes” to “revitalizing grade school learning and American Society.”
And that is how we can collectively shape the best possible common future for us all.