Schools of the Future: Sir Ken Robinson

I enjoyed attending the Schools of the Future conference yesterday.  Sir Ken Robinson shared his thoughts about learning and schools in his charming and humorous style.  Here are my big takeaways:

  • Talent is diverse.  Effective educators identify and capitalize on each student’s natural aptitude and passion to design engaging and meaningful learning experiences. 
    • Kids continually give us signals about who they are.  We need to listen.  This struck me, first, as a parent; then, as an educator.  I have a renewed mission to let my child lead and I will follow, support, and enrich.  (Sir Ken Robinson also pointed out that we get signals ourselves about who we are, reminding us to listen to these as well.  This is the main message of his book The Element.) 
    • Our existing school system defines “ability” very narrowly, which, of course, contradicts the notion that talent is diverse.
    • I really liked his story about Death Valley.  After an unusual winter storm, the entire valley bloomed in spring 2005, highlighting that “beauty” and “talent” can be “dormant”.  When the conditions are right, life is inevitable.  People will flourish.
  • Learning is personal.  Therefore, classrooms and schools should be unique.  Why do we want to standardize everything?  He shared his experience as a special needs student and how due to his physical disability, he was provided a very personalized education.     
  • With our current level of attrition (~30%), we cannot blame the kids.  It is a systemic problem.  The structure and design of our schools were conceptualized at a very different time (industrial revolution) with the aim of developing students to function in the world at that time.  Times have changed.  As Sir Ken Robinson stated – we are in a time of revolution with technology and population growth driving this revolution.  Therefore, our school system needs to change to foster students who will thrive in today’s world.  If we take away everything, at the heart of education is the relationship between a teacher and a student. 
  • Sir Robinson identified five inter-related components essential to school transformation:
    • Curriculum – what we want to learn, involve kids in the dialogue.  There should be no hierarchy among subjects.
    • Pedagogy – the teacher should be a mentor or curator
    • Assessment – involves making judgments about progress and requires two components:  1) description (what the child can do) and 2) comparison (requires criteria).  Our current system is heavy on comparison and light on description.
    • Physical space – should reflect and engage the community
    • Schedule

Sir Robinson ended his talk with a story about assessing math PhD dissertations (in response to a question about assessment)… with the ultimate message that “originality” and “aesthetic” trump all.