Last year, the community at The Knox School celebrated the 40th anniversary of the opening of the school on the hill, affectionately known to many as TKS.
The world was very different in 1982.
Our cars looked different, our phones looked different, our hair certainly looked different and therefore surely it follows so too should our schools.
The world has changed dramatically in the last 40 years, we are no longer preparing our students for the world of 1982.
2022 was different and it was complex.
As I sat in a classroom in the 1980s in the North of England, I recall I dreamed of becoming a teacher, a lawyer, a Doctor (also a Formula One driver, but that is a whole other story)
Students in our classrooms today may have similar ambitions, but they may also dream of becoming an app developer, a social media manager, a content moderator, or a cryptocurrency trader; jobs that in 1982 simply did not exist!
The Internet, as we know it, changed our lives significantly and the pace and possibilities of future technologies means that this trend will only continue, if not accelerate exponentially.
I know I am not telling you anything that you don’t know. However, let us consider that the students in our current prep classroom will graduate in 2035! Let’s just let that sit for a moment as we consider just how changed our world will be in 2035. What jobs will our prep students have an offer? what courses will they study?
Experts predict the rise of the biotech market, in particular agriculture. Also, that around 47% of jobs will be automated. Will we all work from home? How will the rise of AI change our everyday lives? Indeed, we need look no further than ChatGPT to understand that this is not a phenomenon of the future, but already very much with us today!
It is fair to say we may not fully understand the full implications of all of this, but what we do know is that we will require humans with the soft skills that automation simply cannot provide. Our world will need individuals with values, with skills to navigate the complexities and with dispositions such as strong character.
It is therefore our job to ensure that we provide an education which will allow our 2035 graduates to be world ready.
We cannot simply wait to see.
We must be proactive and forward focused!
So, I have posed some big questions, but rest assured these questions are not asked rhetorically or without answers.
In 2023 at TKS we are already making significant inroads towards our goals of future proofing our education ecosystem and supporting our students, the decision makers of tomorrow… to be world ready. Their future. Our future is in their hands.
In 2023 we know that it is not just about what to learn, but more importantly about how to learn.
In 2023 at TKS, through a range of programmes and care structures we will support our students to define themselves as learners, to map out their own journey and to make their mark on their world.
In 2023 we will continue to shift the traditional paradigm and focus on the process of learning and holistic student outcomes through the concept of the 3 journeys, framed within the TKS strategic four pillars (the framework for all learning design at TKS) and overall vision of Personalised Learning.
The Three Learning Journeys at TKS
The notion of learning is a journey is not new, in fact it’s well established.
The concept of learning as three journeys, intertwined and of equal importance is perhaps a little more intriguing. At The Knox School, we consider learning to be not just a singular undertaking, but rather a journey on three levels.
The first journey is the road well-travelled, that of the academic journey. These are the concepts of which we are all familiar, the stuff of academic disciplines, knowledge, facts and figures. The outcomes of this journey are measurable and quantifiable and are captured in the examinations assessments and coursework.
This journey is still vital; it has not lost its importance. But it is not the only journey our students will take. If we look a little closer, we will see that this is just the surface of activity in a TKS classroom.
The second journey is more complex and it’s not as easy to measure. This is the skills journey. At TKS, we focus on the skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity – affectionately known as the 4Cs. Skills for life beyond the walls of TKS and skills that will be required by our students to navigate the complexities in our world, not only now but 40 years from now in 2063. These are the skills that cannot be captured effectively by artificial intelligence, generated by ChatGTP or indeed automated.
The third journey is even more complex still. This is where we find the gradual development of attributes and dispositions that influence the overall learning itself; at TKS, we focus on character and contribution. These fundamental attributes and dispositions determine how our students respond to difficulty, uncertainty, and complexity, in the world around them.
This learning is complex and can be challenging. Indeed, these skills are not developed in a singular lesson or classroom, but over time. As such, this development requires carefully planned sequences of learning experiences, which allow our students to wrestle with challenges and apply their skill set in different circumstances and complexities. Over time, we see them actively grow, not only in a specific subject or discipline, but in their overall capacity as learners.
In 2023 our students at TKS will have the opportunity to engage in working on real world problems, with real world outcomes and on significant projects that are meaningful.
Here is just one example from last year….
In 2022, a group of students collaborated in projects as part of the Design Thinking and Social Innovation Course in our ‘Cube’ suite of electives in Year 9.
The Cube is a trans-disciplinary model of learning which sits within our electives model at Year 9. Each elective within The Cube is constructed around our Design Principles and measures growth in skills, not in grades. Each elective within The Cube has been designed to offer pathways for our students to individually develop within the competencies of the 6Cs (Character, Communication, Critical thinking, Contribution, Collaboration and Creativity) Students are given the choice to choose their own pathway through The Cube and opt for electives which sit within their area of interest or to work on developing the competencies of their choice.
Content within The Cube is agentic, in that it is co-constructed with the students and is not fixed from the outset. As the facilitator of the learning experience, the teacher will ensure the structures for growth are in place, but the agency is firmly with the students.
Underpinned by the principles of design thinking, our students explore concepts and problems which are authentic and related tangibly to real world outcomes – both locally and globally. Through the experience of The Cube, the students will not only become aware of global issues and have the ability to identify patterns of social injustice, but rather will be equipped with the skills to advocate for change, contribute towards potential solutions and support communities to thrive.
The process of learning in The Cube is as essential as the outcomes, and our students are encouraged to engage in fortnightly learning conversations with their teacher; in these conversations they will reflect on what has been achieved, challenges they have faced and processes they have undertaken.
Last semester, the students set about researching real problems which exist within the local community. Having identified a problem of significance the groups worked through a design thinking process finding solutions for social innovation.
One of the non-negotiables of this course is that the students must work together with an intentional focus on the skills identified within the framework of the 6Cs. They must also have a real-world outcome, a tangible product and at genuine audience.
Initially, I had set out to represent their learning and outline what they have achieved. On reflection, I realised that it would be more powerful to use the students’ own words. It is, after all their journey.
This is an extract from the email, which they sent to me and a select group of staff:
“Our course looks into finding an issue in the community, taking action and designing a change to help overcome this issue. After researching various aspects of the community, we have decided to focus on ‘issues’ amongst TKS in contrast to the council as this affects us the most, because we are here learning and socialising nearly every day. We decided to focus in on Sports and Recreation and Sustainability. Our research found that:
Sports & Recreation: we found that in The Knox Community, there’s a very small number of outdoor gyms especially post COVID. This is an issue because following the experience of the pandemic, people are travelling less and not using indoor gyms as much as we used to. In addition, we also found that in Australia, more than a third (36% ) of our population aged 15 and over do very little or no exercise at all. This is a huge problem affecting people like us… the students of TKS.
To add to this, research shows that more and more people prefer to engage in outdoor workouts or activity so they can enjoy the fresh air. This exposure to fresh air, natural environments and sunlight increases levels of Vitamin D, helps boost serotonin and post exercise endorphins levels, making outdoor fitness parks even more important for the Council to have.
Sustainability – Soft Plastics: our research focused on soft plastics going to landfill and how much plastic Australia wastes from not recycling. Did you know, we produce 2.5 million tons of plastic waste every year? That’s equal to 100kg of plastic per person! When you consider this, it is crazy and we’re not doing anything about it!
We use about 70 billion pieces of soft plastic a year (this includes things such as food wrapper ) and of these statistics, only 13% of plastics are recovered and recycled whilst the other 87% is going to landfill. This affects TKS because most of us bring single use plastic in lunches which go straight to the landfill; could we start up a soft plastic bin service?
Knox Council work with REDcycle to set up drop off bins however, they’re only stationed at big supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths. This also poses a problem as 33% of Aussies have switched to online grocery shopping after COVID which means less are travelling to the supermarket to drop off they’re soft plastics.
Our project idea for the TKS community is to have a sustainably made fitness circuit for the Middle and Senior School students. The fitness station below is the option we are looking at. We have recently pitched this idea to our Principal, Ms. Kirkup and she has initially approved the idea for us.
As the next stage of our project, we would like to set up some meetings with key staff such as, the Head of Sport, Maintenance and facilities and the Director of Business for discussions around locations, permissions, and the budget.”
I can confirm that I did approve the project.
I can confirm they did meet with the Head of Facilities and discussed locations, permissions and also cost of labour.
I can confirm that they also met with the Head of Sport and discussed equipment options.
I can confirm they met with the Director of Business, with their final business plan and overall proposal.
The project was approved and will go ahead in 2023.
In this one example we can see our students working on projects and learning which make a genuine difference to our community, to our world and exploring learning which has their voice at the very heart of it.
To be clear, this learning journey does not replace the content or the academic disciplines, rather it combines and enlivens it. This form of learning provides both meaning and context.
This learning allows our students to not only achieve a grade, but to make a real difference to their world and to leave their legacy well beyond their time within the walls of TKS.
In the words of Paulo Freire, “Education does not change the world, education changes people and it is people who change the world.”
In 40 years time another Principal, will stand in my shoes and perhaps ask the TKS community, where were you in 2023?
Perhaps they too will comment on our primitive phone technology and mock the fact that we drove our own cars and used actual dollar bills rather than cryptocurrencies.
They may mock our hairstyles and our fashion choices. It is difficult to imagine the changes they will have witnessed and the lives they….. we will lead.
So, to our current students, I ask the following:
Where will you be in 2063?
What role or roles will you play?
What changes will you have made?
And how would you have made the world a better place?
To our current educators and leaders, I ask the following:
What are we doing collectively to support our young people to become responsible citizens and humans with a critical consciousness in aspiring to create a more equitable and just world?
“After all, the future is not something hidden in a corner. The future is something we build in the present.”
Freire, Paulo. 1972. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth UK: Penguin.