The Radical Rethink of THINK Global School

by THINK Global School Teacher Breanna Reynolds

“Schools are failing to prepare students for the future!” shouts every progressive educationalist to ever step on a TED stage in the 21st century.

The world’s most renowned thought leaders have reinforced this bleak narrative, begging schools to step up and tackle reform. Our Failing Schools. Enough is Enough! Geoffrey Canada cries. Ken Robinson provokes, Do Schools Kill Creativity?

As teachers, we’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again… And in the face of the impending darkness, we beat on, boats against the current, fighting the good fight against the conformity, compliance and standardization inherent in our archaic educational institutions.

From the comfort of the stage, these champions demand a “radical rethink” in education, their fists pumping as they name-drop those who have supposedly WON the battle in experimental education across the world, educators who now foster the development of fail-happy students in out-of-the-box “schools” that hold no standard classes, but have invested amply in neon beanbags for their avant-garde meditation nest.

Meanwhile, 90% of teachers are standing next to their broken copy machine, wondering if the cafeteria will still be open after they post their term reports.

As educators, we all want to be the school with the neon bean bags, not the one saddled with decades-old electronics. And (insert optimistic declarative now)... we can be that school.

The problem is, our TED educational cheerleaders often promote change without necessarily blueprinting how to change. Change is hard. It is slow. It is arduous. It is taxing.

So what does the path to real school reform look like?

Assuming not all schools (like students) are created equal, here is the story of our school’s 21st century educational makeover. We began by… wait for it… listening to the shouts of every progressive educationalist to ever set foot on a TED stage. That’s right. We took their words to heart and used them to shape some of the most important components of our curriculum. Without further ado, here are five thinkers who helped shape the “radical rethink” of THINK Global School.

“The worst enemy of curiosity is standardization.” -Pasi Sahlberg

Pasi’s Case for Reform: Pasi Sahlberg, when speaking of educational reform, says “to rush it is to ruin it,” and he should know, considering his successful policy implementation associated with the achieved excellence in Finland’s education system. (Psst… Finland is consistently one of the highest performing countries on the PISA tool for education systems worldwide). Yeah.

Our Radical Rethink: Peace out, IB (it’s not you, it’s me). After offering the rigorous, world acclaimed International Baccalaureate (IB) certification for five years -which educates one million students worldwide- we decided that standardization just isn’t for us. While the IB is undoubtedly a powerhouse of a pedagogy, we hope to cultivate the curiosity of our students through concept connectivity and the mastery of skills rather than through a formative, assessment-based model.

Moving forward, our students will not sit exams at the end of their studies to prove their understandings; instead, they will complete a Capstone Project that culminates in a presentation and/or practicum which addresses a global issue and provides a progressive multi-solutioned proposition to fix it. A collection of research, publications and creative content will serve as a digital portfolio for matriculation. The SAT, ACT, and AP Exams will all be accessible to students who wish to bolster their college applications, but our TGS “exams” will prepare students to be changemakers for real world issues. You’re welcome.

“School systems should base their curriculum not on the idea of separate subjects, but on the much more fertile idea of disciplines... which makes possible a fluid and dynamic curriculum that is interdisciplinary.” -Ken Robinson

Ken’s Case for Reform: At 41 million views and counting, Sir Ken Robinson is a pretty big TED voice, having researched, authored and spoken on the 21st century educational revolution. FYI, he has also been knighted for his professorship and service to art. Cue the applause! Ken has asserted the notion that students should be treated as individuals, and that a one-size-fits-all approach to education, replete with standardized assessments and testing, does more damage than good.

Our Radical Rethink: Class periods and subject boundaries were voted off the island. Wanting to combat the rigid structures of traditional schooling, we literally scrapped our subject-based classes and designed our own Changemaker Curriculum, which prioritizes interdisciplinary studies and project-based learning. Our students’ affinities will drive our highly individualized curriculum delivery model. In each country they visit, they’ll plan, research, and present 2-3 independent academic projects that adhere to a range of learning targets. These learning targets will be transcripted to meet the requirements of a secondary school diploma for admission into universities, and complemented by AP offerings.

What should be fixed is a high level of comprehension and what should be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept.” Salman Khan

Salman’s Case for Reform: Khan Academy founder Salman Khan is kind of a big deal in our eyes. I mean, he was listed as one of the 100 Most Influential People… in the world… by Time. Considering his free, online educational platform has over 840 million views, this comes as no surprise. The Khan Academy encourages learners in a variety of subjects to proceed at their own pace by watching easily digested YouTube videos and completing a series of supplementary quizzes. Each lesson is progressively harder and draws on material from previous videos, allowing students to increase their skill in a subject as they move along.

Our Radical Rethink: With the notion that learning should not be limited to the classroom and the classroom should not be limited in terms of time or space, we say BYE FELICIA to a traditional timetable and instead promote levels of mastery to ensure a solid foundation of connected knowledge. Our curriculum will divide levels of mastery into three stages: Apprentice (can remember and understand), Specialist (can analyze, evaluate, and apply), and Master (can create new ideas and teach others). This will ensure an evolving level of comprehension rather than a memorize-purge-forget mentality. Our timetable will allow students agency and flexibility in their pursuit for greater conceptual understandings, while our staff will scaffold and mentor students through their developmental progression.

“The challenge for a human now is to be more interesting to another than his or her smartphone.” -Alain De Botton

Alain’s Case for Reform: Modern-day philosopher Alain De Botton has challenged traditional curriculum through the sharing of wisdom beyond ordinary knowledge. As co-founder of The School of Life, this educational insurgent has made social-emotional intelligence resources accessible to over a million subscribers… Allowing students, anywhere and everywhere, to develop in new capacities. Boom.

Our Radical Rethink: Based on neuroscience and mindfulness research, our new Inside Out program will further develop the social, emotional and physical well-being of each student. Our content area specialists will serve as advisors in helping students explore their “soft skills,” allowing for personal reflection on all aspects of life. In developing healthy and authentic personalities, we want our students to feel confident in their own skin. By engaging within, they will best engage with the wider world. Legit, right? We think so too.

“I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place.” -Howard Gardner

Howard’s Case for Reform: We figured it was about time we listened to Howard Gardner regarding the power of self-directed learning, seeing as he birthed the theory of multiple intelligences 30+ years ago and has practiced developmental psychology at Harvard for 50+ years. NBD.

Our Radical Rethink: Based on adolescent brain research and intrinsic motivational theory, we decided our students should have more autonomy in their learning as the primary designers of their own curriculum and experiences. Beyond this, using a year-round academic calendar, our students will travel to twelve fixed countries over the course of three years.

Through firsthand experiences of global travel, our students see and face real world issues and develop the skills necessary to affect meaningful change. Yes, this is a thing -- we travel like a pack of academic gypsies in order to best better the world. And while we know this is NOT a feasible model for every school, we advocate for all institutions to utilize local resources and assess the needs of their community in order for students to initiate meaningful service learning projects. Word.

Implementation beyond thinking

WAIT, BACK UP. Yes, we began by listening to the shouts of every progressive educationalist to ever step on a TED stage in the 21st century. But listening wasn’t enough. These champions set the stage for radical thinking, but the critical need is for radical implementing.

Most people continually blame a lack of funding, lack of technology, or lack of parental support as to why our schools fail. The hard truth is, dudes like Howard Gardner have been researching pedagogy and practice for decades and have proven these theories to be wrong. Analysts know the fundamental flaw in our education system: most traditional models do not cultivate intrinsic motivation. Say What? Most traditional models do not cultivate intrinsic motivation. This is the ultimate challenge we face. Crazy, we know.

“Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation” and “the same is true for learning,” says Clayton M. Christensen in his novel Disrupting Class. To remedy our systems, we must reform our systems to support self-directed learning so we do not continue to sabotage the natural curiosity of our students. These revelations are not new, people. The demand now is that we actually engineer unique solutions for every single school in order to truly prepare students for the (gasp) future. Dun Dun Duuun.

At THINK Global School, we started with a radical premise: we travel and study the world as our classroom. Mike Hourahine, head of technology since the school’s inception, states, “Our premise was radical enough, but not enough for us.” Despite being free from the many constraints other institutions are up against, we still fell into the cyclical trap of relying on a traditional timetable, standardized curriculum and score-dependent assessments to prove our worth.

Regardless, we are ready to brave the waters of reform and continue to fight the good fight against systematic compliance and fear-based contention. And if you are an educator, you should be too.

We should all fight to radically rethink our own systems, despite the inherent red tape we are bound to face. It clearly takes a village, especially when facing district, state even national mandates. And we welcome those interested in this movement to reach out to us, as knowledge is an ever-evolving commodity to be exchanged. And without this exchange, we can’t ever expect to see real change.

It’s yet TBD on whether or not the implementation of our “radical rethink of THINK Global School” will be smooth. Regardless, we are ready to try and test, to fail and iterate, and to ultimately succeed.

So, welcome to the reform party. Let’s toss aside our bean bags and whatever tangible monetary means we assume will remedy our monopolized system. Instead, let’s focus on motivating kids and strengthening the educational rethink our TED voices have inspired. This is your invite. See ya there.

References


-Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. NY, NY: Scribner Classics, 1996. Print.

-Weller, Chris. "The 14 Most Innovative Schools in the World." Business Insider. Business Insider, 10 Oct. 2016. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

-"Home." Pasi Sahlberg. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

-Jackson, Abby. "4 Reasons Finland's Schools Are Better." Business Insider. Business Insider, 03 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

-Ib Organization. "Benefits of the IB." International Baccalaureate®. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

-"Welcome." Sir Ken Robinson. Ken Robinson, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

-"Ken Robinson." Ken Robinson | Speaker | TED.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.

-"Khan Academy." Khan Academy. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.

-Christensen, Clayton M., Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.

-"Alain De Botton Quote." A-Z Quotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

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