Tuesday, 28 February 2017

What is the mark of a successful school? (2017 Term 1 Week 5)

The number of possible answers to the question 'What is the mark of a successful school?' is endless. Strong HSC and NAPLAN results? Full enrolments? High parent satisfaction? High student satisfaction? High staff satisfaction? A safe and supportive environment? Smoothly run and professional operations? Respectful students who wear their uniform well and stand up on the train? Sporting success? Strong brand recognition in the community? Financially viable and sustainable? All these features get raised with me at some point. However, while there is validity to all of them, I want to suggest that they are matters of secondary importance. They may be enablers of the larger goal, they may be proxy indicators for the larger goal, they may even be distractions from the larger goal.

The larger goal is the formation of adults who will thrive in ten, twenty, and fifty years time. Schools are about the formation of people. In our context as a Christian school, we understand our efforts to be directed towards the formation of people who are imbued with all the dignity and responsibility that bearing the image of God entails. However, all schools should be operating with the long horizon in view. Schools are essentially about the shaping of people. Therefore, the mark of a successful school will be seen in the ongoing reality of its influence in the lives of its graduates, which will be played out over decades.

The question for us, therefore, is what we should be doing now in order to shape young people. Members of the Inaburra community will be familiar with the Inaburra Learner Profile, which is our articulation of those traits, characteristics and soft-skills that will serve our young people well in the years to come. We don't claim divine inspiration for our Profile, but it is a helpful description of those non-cognitive outcomes for which we are aiming.

I was very pleased last week to read a book by Thomas R. Hoerr, called The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills Every Student Needs. A principal with 34 years experience in that role, Hoerr identifies his own list of those capabilities for which schools should be aiming. His list includes: empathy, self-control, integrity, embracing diversity, and grit. We could discuss the respective merits of his list versus ours, or that of the International Baccalaureate World Schools, but the point remains the same. Who our children are will be more important than what they know.

Apart from the vaguely suspicious pleasure that comes from reading someone who agrees with you (recognising that we are all prone to confirmation bias), I really appreciated his second chapter, titled "Thinking about tomorrow". In this chapter he identifies six trends that will inform how we need to prepare our children to achieve success in tomorrow's real world. The first three trends have to do with the global context in which our children live, and the second three trends are education specific. While not whole-heartedly agreeing, I found it very stimulating. (I have slightly paraphrased some of the wording below):
  • Prediction 1: The Earth will become more fragile
  • Prediction 2: Technology will touch everything
  • Prediction 3: Diversity will be in our faces
  • Prediction 4: Schools will broaden their understanding of student growth
  • Prediction 5: School choice in various forms will disrupt traditional school models
  • Prediction 6: Technology will change how and what we teach
What world do we imagine will exist when our children are the age we are now?

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