If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my experiment with adulthood, it’s that the real world is messy. And since I’ve spent most of my adulthood working in schools, I often ask myself: why doesn’t school encourage our young people to learn to navigate situations where the right answer is unknown and the path to get there is not a straight line?
Of course, there are places in our schools where students encounter real challenge and real risk. But we need to broaden our mental model of "experiential education," which too often means a limited set of educational offerings -- global education, outdoor education, service learning -- that are staffed and scheduled in ways that make them peripheral to the classroom.
Instead, we need to make a commitment to real-world learning, asking, “How can we engage with real people, real context, real problems in all areas of our program?” How can we train students to build real solutions (that take into account all the messiness of working in a real context?) How do we do this in advisory programs, Spring Break, math class, humanities classes, and the lunch line?
For teachers, this creates a parallel challenge because it disrupts the traditional model of teacher as content master and owner of knowledge. How can we increase co-creation of our curriculum - co-creating our experiences with colleagues, peers, and the community?
A few snapshots of this challenge from this year Watershed School:
For students and teachers alike, this shift requires a heightened level of emotional care: how can we live in this stage of ambiguity? Teachers have learned to control and plan their learning environment - but what would it look like to work with a sense of intent and professionalism despite not knowing how the course will unfold?
This comes to something I’ve been thinking about a lot. We often talk about innovation as a technical process. The narrative around innovation often tends toward funding STEM education, which is good - but incomplete.
Raising a generation of solution-seekers and problem-solvers is fundamentally a matter of building critical social-emotional skills: Do I understand (and can I manage) my impact on the group? Can I adjust quickly when things turn out differently than I expected? Can I give, receive, and learn from feedback? Can I work through problems even when the solution (and even the problem) are unclear? Can I sustain myself through intense, extended periods of challenge?
The ability to move constructively in the midst of ambiguity is a source of competitive advantage for our students. And if we want to develop those skills in students, we need to be able to handle that challenge ourselves.
This is the challenge for the Traverse ‘15 community: how can we see ourselves as designers of student experience, rather than architects driving curriculum to a pre-determined conclusion?
How can we, as educators, guide intentionally in the midst of mess?
Traverse IDEAS are curated by members of the Traverse community: featured speakers, expedition guides, partners, and attendees passionate about preparing a new generation of innovators and problem-solvers.
Traverse 16 is for innovative educators. Happening in Boulder June 6-8, 2016, participants will connect, explore, and experience new ways of teaching and learning firsthand.