Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon are two longtime education activists and reformers who have become increasingly convinced that the current education model is not preparing students for a world in which computers can do much of what humans used to do and in which creative thinking is highly prized. They consult with school leaders around the world for their company Educating Modern Learners. After many conversations they believe education as a system is ripe for a radical shift away from reform efforts that tinker at the edges and towards learning that puts students at the center with agency over what and how they learn.
“The conversation is shifting a little bit, but the ‘how’ part is still really hard,” Will Richardson said. Through his work as a consultant he has worked with several districts he thinks are moving in the right direction. In an effort to understand why these districts have been able to push against the status quo, he and Dixon have catalogued the ingredients they believe are necessary to make the kind of change they hope all districts will embrace in a white paper. He cautions that the “how” of dramatically changing traditional education will be different in every community, but hopes their “ingredient list” will help anyone seeking to make real, seismic, sustainable change.
As the superintendent of Albemarle County schools in Virginia, Pam Moran sees one of her main jobs as building a strong culture (Moran is also on the advisory board for Educating Modern Learners). She contends that the system of education is what holds educators back and that teaching is an incredibly creative profession. “You just don’t see it sometimes because teachers hide it,” Moran said in an interview with Richardson on the Modern Learners podcast. “So how do you make that space a part of the formal culture?”
One way Moran tries to create that space is to find ways to say “Yes” when educators come to her with new ideas. But saying “Yes” is easier than acting on “Yes,” she admits. For example, one of her middle school principals called her to ask if his students could use design thinking to redesign the “dining experience” in their cafeteria. She said “Yes,” but was surprised when the principal started posting pictures of what they were doing on Twitter; rather than the simple booths she had imagined they might make, students were building 12-14 foot-high tree houses on wheels.
middle schlers wouldn't B up here building cafeteria treehouse this week if I hadn't run N2 @publicworkshop #satchat pic.twitter.com/7OpOgGlzWY
— pammoran (@pammoran) May 2, 2015
Mindful that her role as superintendent includes watching out for liability concerns, Moran got a little nervous. But when she went to visit the project she could see that students were engaged and passionate about their work. Not only that, their teachers told her that some of the strongest leaders on the project, the most creative thinkers, and the best workers were the students who struggled the most in regular classes. And in fact, as they were measuring, calculating angles, sawing, and designing their tree houses, those students were doing math that their teachers didn’t realize they were capable of doing.