On Schools of the Future

Tony Wagner’s official title is Expert in Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab. He is a well-known speaker in education circles for his thoughts on building schools of the future to prepare our students for changes in the workforce. He makes the case that the students most likely to succeed in schools in the past are not necessarily the students most likely to succeed in the future.

In the video below, Tony proposes that educators need to focus in three primary areas in defining schools of the future:

  • What academic content do I want students to master?
  • What are the skills that matter the most and how do I assess them?
  • How do I develop the intrinsic motivators through play, passion and purpose that will ultimately be the most important indicator for future success?

St. Michael’s has a long history of excellence in identifying and developing the content and skills that matter. Area high schools seek out our students knowing that they are exceptionally well prepared for the rigors of challenging academic programs. Course content and student skills have been mapped by teachers for each class at St. Michael’s and our annually updated school Primer charts out major content areas for parents and newcomers to the community.

In recent years, we have paid more and more attention to the intrinsic motivators that inspire our students to be curious, take charge learners who will continuously acquire the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful throughout their lives. School-wide initiatives in a variety of areas focus students on choosing challenges for which they find personal meaning and motivation:

  • Project Based Learning – PBL activities begin with a process that engages the students in choosing projects for which they have personal commitment and motivation. (Examples: third grade American Burying Beetle project, sixth grade plastics and oceans study) 
  • STEAM – Where science and mathematics often center around known facts, engineering and the arts transform facts into real world, intrinsically motivating problem solving. (Examples: Middle school rubber band boat elective, first grade STEAM Fridays)
  • Design Thinking- Design Thinking activities give students a step by step process for creating personal design choices (Examples: third grade Toy Design; middle school water bottle design elective, eighth grade cardboard chair design project)
  • Service Learning – The first step of any design process is developing empathy, an ability to understand the mind and thinking of others. Student leadership in service learning encourages an understanding and appreciation for the life and experiences of others. (Examples: Mitten Tree, Amenity Aid Drive, household supplies for Lucy’s Hearth) 
  • Innovation Lab – There is a growing impact of our Middle School MakerLab in which students are encouraged to choose and design projects of their own creation.  As the makerspace grows, it will serve as a school-wide center for innovation and exploration. (Examples: Kindergarten TinkerLab, Middle School electives)
  • The Arts have been a core component of the St. Michael’s community for many, many years. Students at St. Michael’s learn to express themselves through the Arts by choosing projects and presentations that have personal meaning and intrinsic motivation.
  • Entrepreneurship- This is a growing focus in education circles in which students are encouraged to think of their lives and pursuits as entrepreneurial ventures. Entrepreneurial students ask what value can I bring to this endeavor, how can I shape success from my own knowledge, skills, and aptitudes? (Examples: Third grade farmer’s market).

This past week a team of six St. Michael’s teachers began a two-month program sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools to further their understanding of new technologies and of ways to develop curriculum through social innovation projects. They join sixty educators from across the globe in discussing and developing programs that motivate each individual student to seek success. Our faculty at St. Michael’s has positioned themselves at the forefront of educational innovation and will continue to lead our school thoughtfully into the future.

John H. Zurn
Head of School