Head Lines: March 2015

Chantal Gionet, Head of School
Chantal Gionet, Head of School

My first winter in Vancouver has been wonderful the weather was incredibly mild and the early spring with its beautiful cherry blossoms is spectacular. I have to admit that I have not missed the cold and long winter season of central and eastern Canada. It is hard to believe that another term has flown by with so many fabulous events and accomplishments by our incredible girls.

For our graduates, this final term is bittersweet as they experience the excitement of accepting university offers and feeling sad and/or anxious about leaving York House School and home for the first time. This struck me as I observed Ms. Tanya Boteju explain to our senior girls the process for student elections and the role that the current student executive will play in ensuring a smooth transition to the new executive that will be elected for the 2015-2016 academic year. All of a sudden there was a realization that the year had passed by so quickly and a sadness that it was almost to an end for our student executive who have been exceptional student leaders. As the last term draws near, I encourage our graduates to remain focussed, slow down, be passionate in what you do, and remember to appreciate loved ones, friends and the teachers who have supported and challenged you to be the person that you are today. Lastly, enjoy and savour every moment to the fullest that is left in this current academic year. Spring break is a wonderful time to relax, rejuvenate and reflect upon what is important in life and to be proud of what has been accomplished.

In April, we will begin on an important discussion about who we are as a community, reminding ourselves of our enduring values, traditions and core purpose, to educate and empower young women to make a difference in the world. Since 1932, we have believed that with the right education, a Yorkie can do anything! Our job is to continue to deliver an exceptional all-girls education and further explore what it means to educate and prepare our graduates of 2030 and beyond to be successful in a competitive, rapidly changing and interconnected world. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. We are witnessing tremendous changes geopolitically, the impact of climate change, an unstable and struggling global economy, and how internet based technology continues to impact our daily lives to name only a few. Because the world is changing so rapidly, education must keep pace and change as well.

For the past several years, many experts in the field of education across North America and the rest of the world have been exploring what we need to do better in education to prepare our kids for success in the future. Dr. Fernando Reimers, an expert on developing global education at Harvard, believes that it is crucial to educate the whole child for the whole world. We need to explore as educators how we are preparing our graduates to be responsible and active global citizens, while also centering on the physical, intellectual, emotional and ethical development of each girl. It is more important than ever to intentionally develop critical 21st century capacities, such as critical thinking, collaboration, creative problem solving, communication and global competency that will equip and empower our girls to be deal effectively with these realities of life, to have the moral courage to act on her beliefs, and be ethical agents of change in society.

Four years ago, I had an opportunity to attend a workshop at Havergal College led by Peter Cobb on redesigning education for the 21st century. This workshop revealed some of the most compelling trends in education today and how they might impact tomorrow’s design and delivery of education. This workshop affirmed the importance of focussing on depth of ideas (teaching for deeper understanding) rather than on retention, providing real-world learning opportunities for students and developing in students the skills, knowledge and attributes that are necessary for success now and in the future. Peter Cobb emphasized the importance of fostering an environment that encourages collaboration, improvisation, risk taking, innovation, problem solving, self-directed learning, creating, critical thinking, tolerance of failure, and perseverance.

Tony Wagner, author and professor at Harvard University, has also profoundly influenced me, as well as many other educators’ worldwide about what we need to do to better educate our children for the future. Kimberly Harvey, Director of Senior School and I met with him in person on March 12 in San Francisco. He stressed that we are currently in an innovation era and that we need to prepare our students to be creative problem solvers and innovators. Our economy and survival depends on it.

In Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap (2008), he outlines seven survival skills for students to be successful in the future:

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  2. Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

However, he realized that this list of skills is necessary but not sufficient for developing an innovator. In his book, Creating Innovators, The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (2012), Wagner stresses that the long-term health of the economy and prosperity is dependent upon creating far more innovation. He adds that we need new and improved ideas, products, and services to create wealth and new jobs.

In Creating Innovators, Wagner focuses on young innovators between the ages of 21 and 32 who fall into one of two categories: individuals who are doing highly innovative work in so-called STEM fields, and individuals engaged in social innovation and entrepreneurship. The former is critical to our economic future, the latter to our social and civic well-being. Wagner emphasizes the idea of igniting a passion with young people to be problem finders not merely problem-solvers.

In this book, he also outlines the qualities of innovators that are essential:

  • Perseverance, Curiosity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking
  • Associative and Integrative thinking
  • Willingness to Experiment and take Calculated Risks
  • Ability to tolerate Failure
  • Capacity for “Design thinking”

This list represents a set of skills and habits of mind that can be nurtured, taught and mentored. Tony Wagner states that most people can become more creative and innovative given the right environment and opportunities. He stresses that creativity is a habit that can either be encouraged or discouraged.

Through the stories of the young innovators, he illustrates how they developed a passion to learn or do something as adolescents, and how their passions evolved through learning and exploration into purpose. Wagner stresses that it is the desire to somehow “make a difference” that is key. In the lives of the young innovators that he interviewed, he discovered similarities in their development in their progression from play to passion to purpose.

We cannot ignore the importance of providing students with the opportunity to play, explore, experiment, and discover through trial and error.  Our girls must learn to take risks and to fall down in order to develop perseverance. However, as with the young innovators in Wagner’s book, our students must receive help and support from parents, teachers and mentors along the way.

In Creating Innovators, Wagner leaves us with the compelling question: So what would it mean if we were to intentionally develop the entrepreneurial and innovative talents of all young people – to nurture their initiative, curiosity, imagination, creativity, and collaborative skills, as well as their analytical abilities – along with essential qualities of character such as persistence, empathy, and a strong moral foundation?

We need to explore this question as we discuss how to prepare our girls effectively for the realities of the life and work in the future. Developing these qualities and habits of mind is a shared responsibility between all members of the school community. We cannot accomplish this without the support and understanding of our parents.

Chantal Gionet
Head of School

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