March 11, 2015
Each February, I have the pleasure of attending the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference. This year’s three-day event was titled Design the Revolution: Blended Learning, Leading, and Innovation, and was filled with inspiring and innovative speakers and workshops. I am a self-proclaimed “conference geek” with incredible stamina who can’t get enough of the presentations. Each year, I return to Windward, my head spinning with new ideas, books and articles I want to read, people I want to connect with, excitement about the possibilities, and panic about where to even begin. This year, as the conference was in Boston, I also had the pleasure of joining the illustrious team from the CTL and The Windward Institute on a day of university research visits to Harvard’s Innovation Lab and MIT’s Edgerton Center and Office of Experiential Learning.
These visits and a panel discussion on The Future of Education with college presidents from Wellesley, University of Denver, Princeton, Swarthmore, and Southern New Hampshire University have had me thinking about trends in education and how we can best prepare our students for college and life. While a few things hold true from the days that we attended college many moons ago, much has changed. One President boldly stated that “we are poised at the edge of a new eco-system” and all the others nodded in agreement. Two themes stood out to me that I would like to discuss in this post today - the first about the key trends in student engagement and the second about intentional community.
All five panelists agreed that the ways that students learn and interact are shifting dramatically to a collaborative interdisciplinary model where students are coming together to build knowledge. They understand that in today’s digital world, the days of solely mastering content are over, as information is readily at every student’s fingertips or at least in his/her pockets. They spoke about the need for high impact learning as today’s learners want to feel that their learning and their work matters and can make a difference in the world. Harvard’s ILab and MIT’s Edgerton Center were created to provide students with opportunities to collaborate, create, discover, and understand. I see these same shifts in learning and engagement from our Windward students - they engage deeply and wholeheartedly in work and in learning that they believe in and that matters to them. They ask great questions and want to understand how history and global studies link to science and math. They are highly social beings who enjoy engaging with each other in person and online to problem solve. While of course, there is lots of foundational work still to be done with our young students, they are also ready to take on big challenges, real challenges under the guidance of skilled mentors. I strongly believe, as these Presidents suggested, that we must continue to engage our students in a variety of ways; through project based learning, real world problem solving, hands on active learning, design thinking, deep research and writing, thoughtful discussion and inquiry, service learning, and reflection.
The second important and compelling topic of discussion by the University Presidents was the importance of creating what they called “intentional community”. They spoke at length about how important it is for today’s young people to be able to interact effectively in communities of difference. They believe that the most important question today on college campuses and in the workplace is how to get people to live together in communities and work together in organizations. Sadly, we have so many tragic examples in our own country of what happens when we are unable to communicate openly and to live and work together productively. The panelists begged us to ensure that our students, when we send them off to college, have the emotional intelligence and maturity to make good decisions and to prioritize. We must prepare them for the diversity of ideas, the independence and the choices that await them in college and beyond. Creating community is at the core of what we do at Windward and is part of Windward’s DNA. From the moment Shirley Windward founded Windward to today, we have committed to “a nurturing community” where students feel supported, included, and heard. Our recent efforts by our amazing deans Ernie and Jennie, our Inclusivity Coordinator Geraldine, and our Faculty Lead Advisors Jessica, Tyrone, David, Jordan, Colin, Carrie, Damon, and Ryan to create Monday meetings and an advisory program that allow us to share our stories and to listen deeply to one another is vital to our ability to communicate, live, work, and play together with respect, kindness, and understanding. We must continue to work hard at preparing our students to be adept at living and working in communities of difference.