Risk-taking as a route to transformation

Author icon: Head shot of Commissioner Stephen BowenTony Wagner came to Maine this week with a message to which we in education should pay attention.

What we need to do isn’t get better at teaching within the system we have now. We need to retool our education system to teach the skills that take precedence in our 21st-century, knowledge-driven economy.

Wagner, the first Education Innovation Fellow at Harvard’s Technology and Entrepreneurship Center, laid out his “Seven Survival Skills” for more than 200 educators gathered at this week’s Positive Youth Development Institute at the University of Maine.

It’s those skills that employers in all industries are looking for in their workers nowadays, Wagner writes in his book “The Global Achievement Gap,” and it’s those skills that our schools simply aren’t equipped to teach.

Slowly, though, some of our schools are adapting to a 21st-century reality.

We have pockets of schools in Maine that have taken major steps to implement a standards-based system of education in which students take control of their learning and learn at their own pace.

We have schools that make learning relevant by making it about applied projects.

And we have schools where technology isn’t a special part of the day, but an integral part of the learning experience.

In other words, we have schools in Maine that have taken risks in an effort to help students become more successful and engaged learners.

And if there’s one lesson to take away from Tony Wagner’s address this week, it’s that innovation doesn’t come about without risk-taking and, oftentimes, mistakes.

In a world where we demand accountability from our schools, taking risks is an especially gutsy move for an educator. But it’s a necessary one if we’re going to reinvent our education system and help our students become more successful.

Educators should know they have the Department of Education’s support as they take those risks.

3 thoughts on “Risk-taking as a route to transformation

  1. How about setting up a network (under the auspices of the Dept of Education) for teachers and administrators to share their ideas and experiences in implementing new ideas. It could serve as an idea bank but also allow us to share our problems or road blocks which might help others avoid them.

    1. Excellent idea, Lee, and we are already working on something like that. Commissioner Bowen has made it a priority to establish an online space for groups of educators (communities of practice) to collaborate remotely on topics ranging from the implementation of major reforms to teaching particular standards.

      There are other sites out there with resources and discussion boards. What features of a Maine-based online network would add value without repeating what’s already out there? How would Maine educators use such a venue?

  2. Thank you!! The professionally courageous educators at The REAL School appreciate the DOE’s support as we continue to take innovative risks and reinvent education!

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