As individuals and as schools, do we want to be successful or significant? Great or leading? What are common elements of the disruptions and mutations facing both K-12 and higher education? I was honored to share the stage with Dr. John Fry, president of Drexel University at the annual meeting of trustees and heads of schools of the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools, hosted at The Shipley School in Philadelphia. Dr. Fry and I each gave a short talk on what we see as major challenges in our respective areas of work, and there were a number of overlaps. Here are a few:
- Seismic shift: both of us tried to impress on the attendees that education is already undergoing changes, the magnitude of which we have not seen in, perhaps, centuries, and that we almost certainly are still not fully imagining. The model of a “school” as a physical, relatively isolated entity where the primary function is the passing of knowledge from a set of adults to students is on the wane.
- Experiential, cross-disciplinary, and collaborative: Schools are increasingly “back-flipping” to the core tenants of John Dewey and the Progressive Era and the understanding that schools must act much more like the world beyond the edge of campus. Colleges and K-12 are shifting major resources to develop programs that radically disrupt the silos of traditional subject and allow students and faculty to work across those boundaries…as they will be expected to in future jobs.
- People and program inform place and time: The era of building new buildings in an ever-increasing arms race to impress potential customers with little thought to how they improve the lives of people and allow for transformed learning is coming to a close. Expensive physical facilities must contribute directly to a significant shift in program, particularly as we find learning taking place in virtual relationships with collaborators who are not on our own campuses.
- Community and partnerships: We both see increased permeability and connectivity between schools and the community: as learning spaces, opportunities to partner, and opportunities to serve. Dr. Fry reported that Drexel, rather than building new dormitories themselves, have partnered with a private company to construct and operated these buildings because “our core business is not operating housing”.
- The cognitosphere: Dr. Fry sees a reflection of this term I coined in the online, hybrid, and increasingly global nature of college education. We both see the rapidly expanding global neural network of knowledge creation and flow as a radical shift in how teachers and students will increasingly become creators, not just consumers of knowledge, across all grade levels.
Dr. Fry finished his talk with a call for the independent school leaders in the room to take a much greater leadership role in reaching out to underserved schools in urban Philadelphia that have been hammered by short-sighted, and in some cases Draconian budget cutbacks. I ended my talk by asking schools to consider what it might mean to be considered a “great” school or a “leading” school. In the Q&A following, a gentleman from the audience pushed this theme even further when he suggested that the real challenge for schools in the future is to discuss and decide and act upon the difference between being “successful” and “significant”. This simple provocation perfectly summed up our talks. When I post on my work with the students at Shipley the next day, you will see that I plan to ask individuals and schools to consider this question of success vs. significance as a guiding question of their vision.
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