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Acclaimed Speaker Dr. Tony Wagner Skypes with SMES and Shares Seven Survival Skills

7 February 2013 admin 2,619 views No Comment Email This Post Email This Post Print This Post Print This Post

IMG_3940By Dr. Jeneen Graham, Academic Dean

In his low carbon footprint presentation last week, Dr. Tony Wagner shared his vision for a new set of education goals that will equip learners with the skills and abilities the world needs. His presentation outlined years of research that led him to develop the seven survival skills for the 21st century learner. During three separate Skype sessions, Tony communicated his message to faculty and staff, parents and community members, and the Upper School students. As a supporter of Tony’s work for years, it was a privilege and an honor to hear him address the St. Margaret’s community. I am incredibly grateful to Jennifer Arundale and the PTF for sponsoring his virtual presentation.

In many ways, Dr. Wagner’s work builds on the research of Dr. Carol Dweck who visited St. Margaret’s in the fall. Carol contrasted a fixed mindset with a growth mindset, the latter allows students to engage in challenging work and recover from setbacks on a quest toward deeper learning. In both presentations, Carol and Tony shared that they had a new favorite word. Carol’s favorite word is yet and Tony’s favorite word is iterative. Both of these words, in an educational context, have enormous power. Tony said that learning should be an iterative process, which means it is frequently guided by knowledge gained through trial and error. In other words, some of our best learning occurs through our reflections on mistakes and failure. Learning is an iterative process that will not in every case yield the desired result…yet. Both Carol and Tony remind us that the learning process takes time, struggle, patience and persistence. It is the hope of that which is yet to come and the knowledge that learning is iterative that empowers our students to persevere and our teachers to guide them through the process.

As it relates to Tony’s seven survival skills, I felt incredibly proud to be a part of a school that values and actively nurtures the very skills he identified. Through years of education research and interviews with business leaders around the nation, Tony has identified seven survival skills that will help schools to develop active learners, effective workers, desirable colleagues and empathic citizens.

His first survival skill is critical thinking and problem solving. Both critical thinking and problem solving are higher order cognitive processes that ask students to do something with their knowledge. He suggested that the basis of critical thinking is asking the right questions. I would take it a step farther and say that critical thinking is the evaluation of ideas for their quality and judging whether they make sense. Problem solving is also a higher order cognitive process, but the focus is on choosing a course of action to achieve a goal based on the available evidence. As he mentioned in his presentation, the College and Work Readiness Assessment is an excellent new test that is authentically evaluating the development of these skills. St. Margaret’s was an early adopter of the CWRA and our results clearly indicate our emphasis in problem solving and critical thinking. He also suggested that we consider the implementation of an e-portfolio to track student work over time. This is advice we are taking very seriously.IMG_3944

His second survival skill is to collaborate across networks and lead by influence. These kinds of leadership and social skills can only be taught in an environment that values group work and collaboration. St. Margaret’s have been growing and developing our programs, teams and spaces that foster cooperation and group work. The third survival skill is agility and adaptability. It is abundantly clear in the technological age that change is occurring at increasingly faster rates and the ability and desire to learn and grow is a valuable orientation. Taking part in robotics programs, theatre arts, sports teams and debate programs, to name a few, encourage our students to be agile and adaptive as they face unexpected problems and responses. St. Margaret’s not only actively pursues the development of acquired skills and knowledge, but also productive learning dispositions.

The fourth survival skill is developing initiative and entrepreneurship in our students. The underlying constructs in initiative and entrepreneurship are curiosity, creativity and the ability to self direct the learning process. Our abundance of course offerings and extra curricular programs is just one example of our desire to spark curiosity and initiative in our students. We encourage independent study through our Independent Senior Project program and our growing list of internships for Upper School students. The fifth survival skill is to develop effective oral and written communication skills. One comment that we consistently hear from our St. Margaret’s graduates is that we have taught them to write effectively and with a strong authentic voice. This attention to student voice cannot be understated. It is one of our specified curricular goals to develop students with the ability to communicate effectively with passion and sensitively to audience. Opportunities for oral communication begin early at St. Margaret’s with our youngest students at the Preschool level. Rarely is an opportunity missed for Preschool students to find their voice in resolving conflict. An emphasis on speaking carries through our whole program with opportunities in Chapel, debate, classrooms and the stage.

Tony’s sixth and seventh survival skills, assessing and evaluating information, and curiosity and imagination are in many ways linked to two of his other skills. To be able to effectively assess and evaluate the copious amount of information at our fingertips, one needs to think critically. To me, this is an extension of his first survival skill. Additionally, to take initiative and be entrepreneurial requires both curiosity and imagination. These two survival skills are also deeply connected.

As I sat in the audience listening to Tony speak, I thought that St. Margaret’s is unusually poised to achieve these 21st century learning goals. St. Margaret’s is not dictated by standardized tests like so many of the public schools and not guided by years of institutional history like so many of our older independent school peers. This freedom and flexibility, coupled with an institutional culture that embraces change and progress, puts us in a unique position.

Like any truly great institution, we will never stop reflecting on how we can improve every day. However, I am pleased that we are already accomplishing so much of what Tony is addressing. As one parent shared with me after the presentation, “My hats off to St. Margaret’s.” I wanted to stand up and shout out once again, “I hope you all realize what a gift it is to be at a place that will even put this topic on the table.”

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