What's school for?
By Scott Schimmel
"Too many graduate or leave early, unsure of their real talents and equally unsure of what direction to take next. Too many feel that what they're good at isn't valued by schools. Too many think they're not good at anything."
- Sir Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
I can't remember one moment in school where an adult attempted to have a meaningful conversation with me. Can you? I hope so. It wasn't that I went to bad schools- I spent Kindergarten through 8th grade in a top performing district in Orange County, and I went to high school at a small, private, Catholic school with small class sizes. Nor was I a bad student- I finished in the top 5% of my class and an academic scholarship to a top university. I wasn't a trouble maker, although I got detention once for cheating on an extra credit assignment in Algebra I.
There's a distinct memory that sticks out to me when I decided and declared my future path in education and work. I was watching an old episode of Family Ties and taking note of how my family laughed at the Alex P. Keaton character- the kid who wore khakis and penny loafers, read the Wall Street Journal and wanted to be a banker when he grew up. Spontaneously, I said something like, "Gee- when I get older, I want to go into finance, too." If you grew up in my family, in my neighborhood, around my people, deciding on a career path in finance was the equivalent of a bird telling its' friends it was going to go into flying. Nobody was surprised, everyone was impressed that I 'got it', and my life was functionally organized. I had a clear direction, it provided motivation and clarity and took away all of my anxiety for life choices.
The problem was: my declaration was incongruent with my authentic self.
Seemingly every industry on the planet has undergone rapid innovation and change over the past twenty years, with the exception of education. Typically, the average classroom today still resembles the average classroom one hundred years ago- with a teacher in the front and age-batched students in desks organized in rows, memorizing information and tested for factual understanding but not necessarily deeper comprehension. Not only has it stayed relatively static, but it would be hard to find a conversation topic these days where more people agreed on the same thing: the education model needs to change.
If you're reading this article you likely skimmed through the previous paragraph because you've heard this (a thousand times) before. But we're noticing an interesting and ripe opportunity in these times- with the rise in safety concerns on campuses, increase in student depression, anxiety, and self-harm, the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) movement has shifted the collective current to focus on the inner lives of staff and students. Now, there's a strong demand for district and school leaders to figure out how to reimagine the existing model.
That's why we're so engaged and focusing our efforts on school culture. We want to disrupt the model by bringing the best in design thinking practices to a school's leadership. We're less interested in creating a new education model and more interested in reimagining the current one to deliver on more important objectives: making sure that every student flourishes, with capable and healthy adults investing in their lives and creating an environment where the natural mode and expression is thoughtful reflection and insight. In other words, to change the culture of the campus for students to graduate as thriving, self-aware, self-confident, and self-directed humans.
We've spent years designing meaningful programs to cultivate the connection between adults and students around structured conversations on meaningful topics. We've learned the complexities of school leadership; the factors that contribute to or degrade a healthy culture.
Next year we're pulling our resources together to create an interactive learning cohort for school leaders who want to embed design thinking practices applied to the Social-Emotional health of their campuses. We will be gathering leaders from diverse campuses and guiding them through theoretical learning, hands-on assignments with a proven playbook, and guided introspective reflection. Participants will be challenged and grow from the dynamic learn-by-doing cohort and receive a YouSchool Guide certification in completion of the program.
I wish that I had been given opportunities to explore my inner world. I wish that my teachers would've opened up more about their personal lives and given me the chance to learn from them- who they are, how they make decisions and live in this world. I wish more adults had engaged me in personal conversation, asking me insightful questions that forced me to think. I wish I had adults taking the initiative to point out to me my talents and aptitudes, encouraging my interests and sparking my curiosity. I wish I had been guided to deeper reflection, and been given the opportunity to talk out loud and listen with my peers about the most important parts of life: our identity, purpose, and belonging. I wish I had taken one less AP class and had a Wellness class instead, where the curriculum was designed to help me discover a path to flourishing unique to me.
That's what we're aiming to do.