High School of the Future?

IMG_2263Last week in New Zealand I visited a high school that may well be the exemplar for global high schools of the future. Hobsonville Point Secondary School (HPSS) on the outskirts of Auckland is just two years old, and only has about 20% of its build-out student population. It has been designed, physically and pedagogically to break virtually every boundary condition of the factory model of education while still meeting all prescribed student performance standards. I recorded video of the school and some of its student, teacher, and administration co-leader/learners, and will share those in the near future. For now, here are some highlights:

  • Students and teachers co-create courses that meet mutual interests and passions while including required standards.
  • The daily schedule is unlike any other I have seen, with time for instruction, community planning, passion-based units, social time, and the other elements of a balanced, deeper learning experience.
  • Adults view their role in a state of constant evolution and professional learning.
  • The physical layout is remarkably open and flexible; teachers and student groups communicate and negotiate over how to use spaces during the day.
  • Students clearly understand and can articulate why they are learning, how it applies to the world around them, and why the learning will help them in the future.
  • Content and subjects are included within broad multi-teacher interdisciplinary programs.
  • Office incubation spaces and free wifi for small start-up companies in exchange for several hours a week coaching students on projects.

IMG_2291Perhaps most importantly, the stunning aftertaste I had from this extended visit was one of remarkable, tangible, and pervasive humility amongst the faculty. Some educators at schools in the U.S. that get a great deal of attention for transformed learning come across as knowing all the answers—”the solution” for all schools. The faculty at HPSS clearly state that they are, and expect to remain in, a state of perpetual learning and evolution, always asking “how can we improve learning for and with our students?”  They know they don’t have all the answers, and convey that openness and humility to their students. JUST ADDED: Follow this link to Claire Amos’ blog which lays out the founding principals, boundary conditions, daily schedule, and other details of what makes the school so unique.

Educational thought leaders in the U.S. are actively developing a next generation high school that will prepare our students for their futures. This evolution is taking place in public, charter, and private schools, and has recently received a booster shot in the educator landscape via high profile actions like the release of Tony Wagner’s documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” and the ground-breaking generosity and vision of Laurene Jobs in funding the $50 million “XQ America Re-think High Schools” challenge.

IMG_2281As I found during #EdJourney in 2012, and continue to find as I travel to visit with educators all over America, elements of a radically non-factory education model are found at many schools. Few, though, have succeeded in combining many or most of the large, systematic changes to create a school with a fundamentally different operating system.

Of all the schools I have visited in the U.S., the two that come closest to embodying this fundamental change are Design 39 Campus in Poway, CA. and Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia (though SLA does not have a tailor-made physical plant). There are many, like the Alt Schools, High Tech High and others that are very much exemplars of this re-design. HPSS is taking lessons learned from many such schools and combined them in a way that to me, closely replicates a naturally evolving and internally consistent ecosystem.

IMG_2292While the physical layout of HPSS will be correctly viewed by some as a throwback to the “open schools” model of the 1970’s, HPSS is constantly developing and improving a culture and pedagogy that maximizes the potential of the physical space and minimizes the natural obstacles like noise and confusion. They are deeply committed to great learning, and everything else takes second place. There is no question that as the school gains enrollment they will be challenged to continue to evolve their pedagogy and operating systems to avoid keep what is now comfortable flexibility morphing into noise overload and confusion.

During my visit I learned that the Ministry of Education in New Zealand has decided that all new schools will be built and developed along similar lines as HPSS, which means they have both the opportunity and responsibility to develop and train teachers how to use these spaces to maximum effect, and not to repeat historical mistakes. HPSS will be a proving grounds for this transition, with the potential of leapfrogging New Zealand way up the list of countries from which Americans and others can learn key lessons about scaling public education for a post-industrial world.

I urge you to follow educators at HPSS, including Maurie Abraham, Claire Amos, Steve Mouldey, Danielle Myburgh, and others. Their blogs and tweets are full of constant updates and sharing of tremendously valuable work product for schools and school leaders who are on similar arcs of transformation.

12 thoughts on “High School of the Future?

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  3. Ed Jones

    Grant, thanks for this. (I know how you suffered going to NZ and all to get it. 🙂 )

    Can you tell us more about the ‘daily schedule unlike any other I have seen’?

    And what happens when the other 80% of students arrive?


    1. Grant Post author

      Thanks, Ed. I have asked for permission to share their schedule, though it will need explanation that I can’t provide; am sure one of their great teachers will do so! And the question of what happens when the other 80% arrives is a huge one; the great news is they are being hugely proactive in their thinking and planning.

    2. Danielle Myburgh

      You can read more about the ever evolving schedule on Claire and Steve’s blog at the links shared above. Our school has a Creative Commons licence to enable us to share our learning better.

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  6. Rick Gordon

    Somehow Compass School has stayed off the radar of these discussions of high schools for the future for 17 years of our existence (maybe being in tiny Vermont is off the beaten path? But our scenery can rival NZ sometimes:). Founded on CES principles and committed to student ownership of learning and a high degree of personalization, we have a record of success with graduation rates and college admissions rivaling any school, while serving a diverse population of students who largely have struggled elsewhere (and doing it for thousands of dollars less than public or private schools in the state). Loads of factors in this, but one concrete one is how we use the calendar and schedule to balance student centered learning with more teacher driven experiences so every student is stretched to build foundational abilities and develop as an independent learner.

    1. Grant Post author

      Thanks, Rick! Something tells me that I wrote a blog about Compass a few years ago, but I might be wrong. I will check out your website later today and add a note to social media about your great work at Compass!

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