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Closing Relevance Gaps and Building Schools of the Future

By Scott McLeod
Closing Relevance Gaps and Building Schools of the Future

Like most institutions in society, international schools are realizing that the intertwined, very disruptive forces of technology and globalization require us to rethink things, often at an elemental level. Corporations, governments, nonprofits, universities, and other societal entities are being forced to reexamine their roles in the world and realign how they operate. Schools are no exception to this phenomenon, even those in the international arena that traditionally have experienced high levels of success. Most of the schools that I work with are trying to be responsive to these societal and workplace changes. As they do this work, they typically are focused on four big shifts. The first shift is one toward higher-level thinking. Schools that are focused on deeper learning are moving from an overwhelming emphasis on students mostly doing lower-level thinking tasks—factual recall and procedural regurgitation—to students more often engaging in tasks of greater cognitive complexity, involving creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication, and collaboration. In other words, students are living more often on the upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge wheel) than on the lower ones, doing the uniquely-human thinking work that can’t be replicated with a quick Google or Siri search. The second shift is one toward student agency. Deeper learning schools are moving from classrooms that are overwhelmingly teacher-controlled to learning environments that enable greater student agency—that is, ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn. As students engage in project-, inquiry-, and challenge-based learning, the resultant self-directed learning opportunities allow for greater personalization, individualization, and differentiation of the learning process and are powerful vehicles for building social-emotional competencies. Greater ownership of their own learning also invariably increases students’ motivation and engagement. The third shift is one toward more authentic work. Deeper learning schools are moving from isolated, siloed academic work to environments that provide students more opportunities to engage with and contribute to relevant local, national, and international communities. These activities can take many forms, including service learning, community partnerships, internships, and capstone projects. Instead of sitting in disconnected classrooms, students can also begin fostering active networks with individuals and organizations for mutual benefit. Examples of this might include students who are active participants in local or online writing, coding, photographic, artistic, and philanthropic communities. The ultimate goal of more authentic learning tasks is to help students find greater relevance and meaning in the work that they do. The fourth shift is the move from analog to digital. This shift toward greater technology infusion is incredibly important given the digital world in which we now live. Deeper learning schools are moving from local classrooms, ring binders, and printed textbooks to globally-connected learning spaces that are deeply and richly technology-suffused. Deeper learning schools are focused on helping students become information-literate in our new, complex, digital and online information landscapes. They are also tapping into the new affordances that powerful learning technologies provide to both students and teachers. Best of all, these new technology-enabled capabilities allow deeper learning schools to elevate the first three shifts in ways that are nearly impossible in analog learning environments. As schools engage in these four shifts, they begin to close some of the relevance gaps between their relatively slow-changing learning spaces and the fast-changing societal contexts that surround them. To accomplish these four shifts, international schools are employing a number of different building blocks, including technology initiatives, new scheduling structures, redesigned learning spaces, standards-based grading and competency-based progressions, project- and inquiry-based learning, personalized learning pathways, and much more. Unsurprisingly, these shifts bring new challenges to our teaching and leadership. Many schools with IB or AP programs may feel that those are all it takes to accomplish these four shifts. They’re not. Every school, no matter how rich its curricula or how capable its teaching staff, should be reexamining the opportunities that it is providing its students. A pilot program here and there, an under-utilized makerspace, a few short-term service learning projects, or a half-hearted 1:1 initiative aren’t enough to accomplish—at scale—the kinds of learning experiences that our students require these days. There’s also the danger in some schools of complacency. Many international schools are well-resourced, enjoy high levels of intellectual and family capital, and are incredibly successful on traditional metrics. In these environments, it’s very easy to fall into an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. As we shift learning, teaching, and schooling to prepare our students and graduates to meet the demands of our new global innovation society, it is often the schools that are most successful under old paradigms that are the most reluctant to change. International schools usually have some of the strongest foundations from which to take risks and try new things. Are we ready to shift?

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12/19/2018 - Scott McLeod
Glad to see this one published! Thanks, TIE! :)

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