As the world develops a more global focus, education needs to prepare students in new ways. No longer will there be silos of knowledge. The successful adult will have a broad knowledge of academic subjects, accompanied by the ability to problem-solve across disciplines, both independently and collaboratively. At present, DC independent schools have the flexibility to create programs to foster independent thinking, to encourage creative analysis, and to teach the art of innovation.
The most successful schools embrace student-centered learning in an experiential environment. Harvard professor Tony Wagner has highlighted the benefits of the Finnish system, where students experience hands-on learning daily and choose the path within which they can follow an interest or passion. Students are far more likely to engage when they see the practical application of what they are learning. Adult mentors value the student's individual learning style and believe in the power of Emerson, who wrote, "the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil."
The Student-Centered Classroom
Respecting the student entails understanding learning modalities, individual interests, and personal potential. Academic rigor is not merely meeting the expectations of a standardized test. The student also learns to stretch, to question, and to continue to seek answers. The teacher is a partner and a mentor as the student learns and grows.
Intensive study in an extended class period, focusing on two subjects at a time, allows the student to explore material more deeply and to make use of the greater environment for research. An added benefit is that the stress of multiple daily transitions is alleviated. Varied learning environments, including online and studying abroad, encourage the student to craft the most interesting and efficient avenue for individualized learning. Each student focuses on individual needs without the pressure of conforming to the expectations of peers or traditional milestones.
A Student-Centered Learning Community
A community is built through empathy. As students interact with peers in small classes, they will come to understand and appreciate the differences among them. In an increasingly global society, learning empathy through relationships with others not only builds a better school community but also extends into the student’s greater world. An empathic community develops empathic students, who, in turn, become empathic leaders. Empathy breeds trust, which breeds respect, and, in the end, a more content and vital student learner.