Empowering Excellent People –“What if, instead of trying to produce good or even excellent students, we aimed more for empowering excellent people, outstanding citizens, valuable community members? What if we created learning centers where people of various ages could gather to pursue purpose, challenge, and connection with each other in meaningful ways?” - Sherri Spelic, 2017. “Letting Go of School in Order to Think About Education”
At INT'L*, we put great thought into what meaningful, deep learning truly is, and how to nurture this in our students. We engage, connect, and awaken interest so that students inquire, reflect, and take action. While content and specific skills are necessary to support this greater vision, our goal is to encourage students to become learners, not simply consumers of knowledge. Our school's own team of academic leaders recently discussed aspects that they see as meaningful learning and teaching:
- Teachers should hold a full belief that young children are incredibly capable
- Activities are all learning experiences, not just lessons. Learning includes sharing, conversations, realizations, engagement, interest, and passion
- Relevance to the students’ own lives leads to more passion leads to more engagement leads to more learning
- Learning happens through a transformative process, leading students to apply what they are learning to any situation
- Making connections between different subjects, with real life, between languages allows concepts to emerge and builds on previous knowledge
- Students should have freedom to own their learning in some way or another (how/what)
- Students benefit from space and flexibility to obsess over things and become masters of that passion
When we consider how we, as adults, learn, these aspects make sense, and we can identify with how we learn best when it is something we see as interesting, essential, connected and meaningful. Yet, we often have a hard time extending this understanding to the changes in schools; we think of what school looked like when we were young and feel that if it worked for us, we believe it should work for our children. But how well did it work, and did it work well for all of us? Perhaps there was room then to engage more of us more often.
Even in the heart of innovation in Silicon Valley, many parents are resistant to approaching learning in an innovative way, yet as author and futurist Alvin Toffler says, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” As society becomes more and more global, it is less clear as to who decides what content “should” be learned, and more important to learn how to access, discriminate, understand, and use all kinds of content.
It is vital to offer students more chances to fail safely and develop resilience, alongside more mindfulness and stress management strategies, as well as to find engagement, passion, and happiness in learning. Making time and space for these skills and the reflective process may look quite different from a traditional classroom.
At INT'L, we aim to find the balance that creates a learning environment in which students are supported to learn skills and emotional intelligence in conjunction with more traditional content, skills and knowledge. Learning through inquiry moves students from simply absorbing knowledge to discovering and understanding knowledge, concepts, and skills.
As parents, you can encourage the same learning at home. Take your children outside, explore nature, engage them in activity, fresh air, and the wonders that abound around us. Model relationships and connections by telling them about your day before grilling them about theirs. Ask your wondering questions to the whole family, and talk about the why and the how on a regular basis. Offer opportunities for play that require imagination, giving them a variety of materials and objects to create their own vision.
*In 2020, the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) formally changed its name to Silicon Valley International School (INT’L) to better reflect its bilingual programs, location, and international values.
References: Democracy and Education – John Dewey, 1916; Landscapes of Learning – Maxine Greene, 1973; The Nature Principle – Richard Louv, 2011; Modern Learners.com; Overwhelmed- Brigid Schulte, 2014; How Children Learn – Stella Vosniadou 2002 for International