Permission to be Audacious

August, 2013

We live in audacious times. We are seeking models for how to live, think, be productive, creative, and entrepreneurial in a new digital, interconnected world. We look to rogue sources of energy and insight—Steve Jobs, teenage entrepreneurs, internet memes.

We need new models for how to communicate, how to sort through information how to deal with not only information overload, but the ubiquitous availability of information—and the ubiquity of social media—of online community. (PhD students at MITs media lab, developed “pavlov’s poke”….) The challenge is HOW to manage, how to learn, how to make use of very, very abundant resources…

Worcester Academy is a unique place that has always had a clear and grounded vision, and we have set audacious goals for ourselves. Our internal, aspirational goal—to be the best urban independent school in the country.—is an audacious one. And as to our desire to engage in Innovative Teaching and Learning,–you cannot be innovative without being audacious.

The rest of the country, and the world, is still grappling with what we’ve come to call “21st Century Skills.” I think that term suddenly became dated oh, about 13 years ago. The 21st Century is not only here, is has been here for nearly a decade and a half. We know what those skills are—they are those that move our students beyond automatons with the ability to regurgitate discrete information on rigid, one-dimensional measures of content knowledge acquisition.   We know this. So we know what we don’t want. We have to continue to invent what it is we DO want.

We know that we want a new system that is more deliberately constructed to invite students to think for themselves, ask questions big & small, and make connections—between what they learn in English and what they learn in science, between what they learn in the classroom, and what they wonder about in their lives beyond the walls of the school. We want them to be inventors, problem-solvers, communicators, entrepreneurs—“renaissance” men & women. We want them to be audacious.

So we must engage in innovative teaching and learning. The problem is that the old system was static. Information in (through textbook, lecture, exercise, etc.) information out (through test, worksheet, paper, etc.). The new system is dynamic. It is fluid (changing every day) flexible (adapted to place, community, time, and person), relevant, and meaningful.

It incorporates 21st century skills, deeper learning principals, and innovative teaching. It is, it has to be, audacious.

It is not one method. When we invoke “Project-based Learning,” we are not referring to old-school “projects.” It does not mean a poster, a diorama, a “group presentation.” It means that it includes one or more of these characteristics: inquiry, student agency, and application to the word beyond school. These elements are there by design—careful, thoughtful, and deliberate design. The designers—teachers. Lesson design has never before been as dynamic, as relevant, as meaningful, as essential, as it is in the present paradigm. The creative, innovative, intellectual ability of those who teach has never been more in evidence.

So the new paradigm, that includes what our head was astute enough to ferret out and put front and center in his audacious vision for WA, is Innovative Teaching and Learning. We have been given license–permission—to reinvent our classrooms, our teaching practices.

The funny thing about “permission–” it is not enough to “grant” it. It is useless unless it is embraced.

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