A sophomore recently told me that today’s technology meant that eighth graders had it so much easier than he had it when he was a kid. While his tone may seem hyperbolic, the reality underpinning his statement is anything but. The pace of change led him to think of students just three years younger as if they were from another generation. He might not be far off. We all know that change is ubiquitous, but few of us realize just how fast change manifests itself – especially when it comes to education.

Given the implications of frenetic change on the careers of the future (with many scholars suggesting that we are headed for a jobocalypse) it is crazier than ever to think that we should hold fast to a model of education that was built for an industrial economy. The industrial model of education was designed to be boring and repetitive because industrial work was boring and repetitive.

It’s a system that made sense in 1920. In 2020, it does not.

Sitting in rows performing rote tasks is now the purview of robots, and even higher order thinking will soon be the work of artificial intelligence if it is not already. Fortunately, innovative schools looking to combat the established order and prepare students for the future of work are following a new playbook – one that includes a wide variety of methodologies, but several common themes.

A.J. Juliani, author of Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning recognized five themes innovative schools have embraced as they attempt to bring a 21st-century approach to education.

In his article, “5 Things Innovative Schools Do Differently,” he writes that “innovative schools aren’t afraid of change; they embrace it.” These schools continually pilot new programs and curriculum in an attempt to match the pace of change. Not all of these work, but innovative schools are also not afraid to make mistakes because mistakes are a powerful educational tool.

Learning often begins when one realizes that something is not working and another approach is needed. Why then should schools be afraid of modeling the very behavior it teaches its students? A school should be a place where mistakes are constantly being made and learned from in a process of continual iteration embraced by faculty and students.

But if a school is going to be fearless and embrace mistakes, it must also be transparent. All of its stakeholders: students, parents, faculty, and administration must be involved in the process of innovation. Constant communication means that all of this change is happening out in the open and assures that everyone knows exactly what they are investing in.

The Redesigning School project is doing just this by writing blog posts and creating videos and podcasts that let everyone in on the philosophy that guides the school. We are not hiding our pedagogy as if it were some kind of secret sauce; we are putting it out in the open for anyone to question or copy. This isn’t just a school; it’s a movement based on years of research and best practices in education.

Hawken School has been a testing lab for progressive education and classroom innovation for years. The massive successes we have seen, the amazing learning outcomes in project and problem-based learning, and the recent availability of technology to make personalized learning a reality all indicate that the time has come to redesign school for the people who matter the most: students.

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While many believe that to innovate schools just add more technology, truly innovative schools know how to leverage technology in the right way by thoughtfully integrating it into the curriculum – encouraging students to research, collaborate, and create, rather than just consume content. Technology that brings people together to solve problems must be embraced over technology that serves to drive people apart because human connection is critical to the future of education.

Juliani also believes that innovative schools are connected. “You can’t be innovative while living in a bubble. Sure, you can do some great work, but if it is not shared with the world, and if you are not actively learning from the world…then you’ll reach just the tip of the iceberg.” Redesigning School is actively connecting with all of the potential stakeholders. You’ll hear them on the podcast and read them here on this collective blog.

To truly be innovative, students, parents, faculty, and administrators must create a culture of connecting and working together to build an education system that serves students’ love of learning rather than crushes it.

The Mastery School of Hawken is based on the idea that learning happens everywhere, not just in a classroom. The connections students make cannot just be to teachers because truly innovative schools require a community, not a building.

The cost of inaction has never been higher. The good news is that we not only know what works, but we have a roadmap that can get us where we need to go. We can invest in project/problem-based student-driven inquiry and teach what students need to learn rather than what faculty want to teach. We can tailor and design unique personalized learning experiences for the future of work, not the jobs of the past. That means constant feedback and the ability to adjust to the needs of students in the moment.

Right now students need a school based on mastering skills not amassing grades. We will never solve the problems of the future living in the schools of the past. Innovative schools like The Mastery School of Hawken are bringing education into the 21st century and we are going to let you in on the process every step of the way.

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Rennie Greenfield

Rennie Greenfield

My parents are professors and always told me I was going to be a teacher myself someday. I resisted. While I had seen some wonderful teaching, I also experienced a slew of terrible educational practices I did not want to perpetuate. I tried several other career paths, and then I realized I wanted nothing more than to devote my professional energy to education – not to teaching, but real mind-expanding, student-focused education. I agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes’ assertion that “one's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” I believe we live in a complex moment in history and the problems we face require a new generation of problem-solving students equipped for the task. I want to help students stretch their minds to new dimensions in order to meet this moment. I have studied history, philosophy, religion, English, and library science at Westminster College and Kent State University. I am currently a teacher, librarian, and instruction technologist at Hawken Upper School where we have already begun this work. Now that I have learned how to learn, I enjoy nothing more than applying that skill to redesigning school.

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