New Paradigm for Education Puts Children at the Center of Learning

May 29, 2016

Education is at a crossroads. While educators have been anxiously watching the signs for some time, we are witnessing our graduates experience the reality of their education becoming irrelevant.

College graduates are struggling to find and keep stable jobs in a competitive global marketplace that prizes skills like creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and resilience. High school seniors and their families are struggling to afford colleges they hope will give them an advantage after graduation. And at public and private schools across the country, teachers are struggling to understand their new role preparing students for their future in a digital age where content is no longer the primary focus of teaching.

Is this the end of formal education as we know it? Not if we are willing to entertain a new paradigm for teaching and learning that is different from what most of us experienced in school. In this K – 12 vision, children are placed at the center of their learning. This means that a child’s interests, questions, and creativity will shape his or her school experience more than a predetermined curriculum that assumes a one-size-fits-all approach. It means that a teacher’s responsibility is not only to relay information, but also to personalize, mentor and guide a student’s learning journey.

Students must see what they are learning as relevant to their life and to the world beyond school. Children who engage authentically and passionately with their learning develop the essential skills needed to succeed in school and beyond: independence, self-direction, innovation, confidence, perseverance, problem-solving, teamwork and empathy, to name a few. These are the individuals who will forge their own paths, create new opportunities for themselves, and continue to develop their own promise while living full and productive lives.

In order to foster this preparation for life, schools need to evolve in many ways. The most critical include:

  • Renewal and repurposing of campus facilities to allow for more interdisciplinary and applied learning;
  • Professional development for teachers that will give them the tools and confidence to embrace their role as mentors and catalysts for a diverse range of learners;
  • Administrative leadership structures and models that are flexible, adaptable, and willing to embrace experimentation and change.

We must continue to seek innovative ways for children to realize their capacity to learn and adapt, to seek answers to questions we have yet to articulate, and to prepare them for jobs that don’t yet exist. As educators, we need to take a bold look at how we can make our learning student-centered, enduring, and relevant in today’s world. Our solutions must be systemic, and take the long view.

Finally, we should applaud the emerging transition from federal mandates to state control of public education. Each of our schools, whether public, private or charter, must find our own approach and leverage our own unique strengths. By sharing our learning as educators and by working on these opportunities together, we can rebuild the confidence of an increasingly anxious public.

There is nothing more valuable, more noble, or more timeless than the gift of learning. As educators we must model the growth mindset we seek for Hawaii’s children while working collaboratively as partners and co-learners in this moment of exciting educational renewal.

As published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on May 28, 2016.