Liz and I hit another parent milestone last week: we attended our first school conference for our sons. Granted, our boys are three, so there wasn’t any talk of grade point averages or course recommendations. Nonetheless, it was instrumental for us, especially since Liz and I have often represented the teacher side of these meetings.
One of the things we learned is that both of our boys have “emerging listening skills.” As someone who understands teacher-speak, this means that sometimes, our sons just don’t listen in school. This isn’t surprising, given their age and the fact that they don’t always listen at home either. But it did make me think about the role that schools play in developing non-content-based skills, such as patience, resilience, collaboration, and, of course, listening.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Andrea Saveri, a foresight and strategy developer based in the Bay Area. She started her talk by describing how, as a child in San Francisco, she desperately wanted chickens and how her mother helped her research and build a coop. Saveri was ahead of her time—today, background chicken coops are a pretty common occurrence. (For example, we get our eggs from Mike Joyce’s daughters’ chickens.) DIY culture is nothing new—but now it’s become ubiquitous and easier to accomplish. You can Google almost anything and find how-to guides, instructional videos, and blogs about others’ experiences. As Saveri argued, there really is no excuse for not knowing how to do something.
Teachers also experience this new reality in the classroom: with mobile devices, Wikipedia, and YouTube, students always have answers at their fingertips. It has become difficult to argue that students should remember important dates when they will likely always have resources literally in their hands.
So if that’s the case, why do we still need schools?
Saveri spoke about moving from an educational bureaucracy to a learning adhocracy. Borrowing from the term first popularized in the 1970s by Alvin Toffler, Robert Waterman defined adhocracy as “any form of organization that cuts across normal bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems, and get results.”
This concept is reflected in independent schools like Marin Academy. Even our school slogan, “think, question, create” seems to capture this sentiment. An adhocracy connotes that learning can happen anywhere, at anytime. It is predicated upon collaboration and sharing. Something like design thinking, which I love blogging about, fits this definition very well.
I’d like to take this concept a bit further. Even in our technical and Internet revolution, I do believe that there is a place for physical schools. I believe that great schools provide a consistent and coherent community. The consistency is having our students and teachers here on campus every day, interacting and learning. The coherence is that we share the same values. Students and teachers are here for a reason, and our specialized curriculum is constructed for a reason. We believe in individual voice—and also a commitment to community. Those human relationships allow for caring adults to shape, intervene, direct, and support our students.
Schools also provide an opportunity for students to live in a world beyond themselves. If all of their learning were self-directed, students wouldn’t necessarily be able to test their limits, be held accountable, and work with others.
Which brings me back to my sons and their “emerging listening skills.” “Emerging” is a nice way to say that they have some ground yet to cover in this skill base, and they need to keep working on it. In some ways, we’re all emerging. And we know from research of the adolescent brain, teenagers are really emerging people. We’re here to help them learn how to think, not what to think.