When Educators Make Space For Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose

Students and their teacher watch the progress of their paper rockets during a "tinkering day." (Amanda Lucier/MindShift)

Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner has been advocating that we reinvent the education system to promote innovation for years. He's clear that content should no longer be at the center of school. Instead, he says a teacher's main job should be to help students develop key skills necessary for when they leave school. He contends there are seven essential things young people need to be successful lifelong learners:

  1. Formulate good questions
  2. Communicate in groups and lead by influence
  3. Be agile and adaptable
  4. Take initiative and be entrepreneurial
  5. Effective written and oral communication skills
  6. Know how to  access and analyze information
  7. Be creative and imaginative

Wagner worries that unless the U.S. starts focusing on cultivating these skills, the nation will no longer produce innovative people who drive job growth. He interviewed dozens of innovative young people and asked them about their experiences in school. One third of those he interviewed couldn't name one teacher who had impacted them. The other two thirds named teachers, who upon further investigation, were outliers in their schools. Their teaching styles and approaches were at odds with the dominant school culture.

Wagner found that all of these tremendously influential teachers ran classrooms that emphasized interdisciplinary learning, real team collaboration, risk taking, creating learning as opposed to consuming knowledge, and cultivated intrinsic motivation in students. These teachers made room for playful exploration and student passions in the classroom, helping their students to develop the purpose that drives them. He co-authored "Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era" with Tony Dintersmith.


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