People lose interest; they change priorities.
What’s going to work is what I call diffusion
or intentional social movement. Let me give an
example. About eight years ago, we worked in
Ontario, which has 900 high schools. Their graduation rate was stuck at 68 percent. So we created
an innovation that enabled schools to develop programs involving applied work in various sectors,
such as aviation, forestry, finance, or whatever
fields were of interest to the community. But
instead of doing this innovation in a few of the 900
schools and trying to scale it, we said any school
can apply for it and we’ll support that school. And
as we support those schools, we’ll quickly disseminate what’s being learned laterally to other
schools. Eventually almost all the high schools
were doing one or another part of this innovation,
and learning from one another. The high school
graduation rate went up from 68 percent to its
current 85.5 percent. Moreover, the number of
students involved in the programs grew rapidly,
from 600 students in the first year to 48,000
within a decade. That’s convincing. Pilots don’t go
to scale, culture does.
In our deep learning work, instead of sequential
thinking (doing a pilot and going to scale),
we’re trying to get to the idea of simultaneous
learning—people learning from one another.
It’s a bit complicated because you’re investing
in a lot of initiatives, some of which don’t work
out. People should not be too constrained at the
beginning, so that they can do different things.
Then you need to sort out rapidly what’s working
and what’s not working and do more of the things
that are working. It requires good leadership. It
also requires that ability to look outside yourself,
to “go outside to get better inside.” Whether
you’re an individual school or a school district,
make sure you’re connecting to what’s happening
beyond yourself, and contributing to that as well
as learning from it.
So you need to do rapid measurement
as you go along?
Yes. Rapid measurement and looking at things
as they develop, always paying attention to any
change’s impact on student motivation, student
learning, and student achievement. You don’t have
to prove it works within 12 months, but you have
to show progress in measurable ways as you go
from year one to year two. People latch on to what
is working if they have early access to the ideas.
Is there anything you’d like to mention
about your current work?
Here’s one exciting thing. When you start to
implement those global competencies, the six
Cs, with the new pedagogy, students gravitate
towards wanting to do something that’s worthwhile. More students and teachers get turned on
because they’re doing something relevant—and
they feel they need to help change things. It’s
obvious that the world is a lot more complex and
anxiety-producing now; even little kids know
We have hundreds of examples being produced
by schools we are working with in many countries.
In Uruguay, for example, we have 10-year-olds
saying, “I am supposed to be helping humanity, so
I think I’ll start in my neighborhood.” They then
address specific local problems. Birds were eating
vegetables in local gardens, so the students built
an electronic device that vibrated when birds came
nearby, scaring them away.
The exciting part is, with these new pedagogies—which are more tied into real problems,
more about humanity and citizenship—the students who are most alienated from regular
schooling are the ones who move the furthest and
fastest into this learning mode I just described.
Our preliminary evidence—I call it the equity
hypothesis—shows that by doing this new work,
those students who are least connected are being
drawn in in a way that changes their lives. We call
it attacking inequity with excellence. The breakthrough is that all students end up learning and
being more equipped to cope with and influence
the world. Indeed, our newest motto is “engage the
world, change the world.” ;L
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for
space and clarity.
Naomi Thiers is senior editor of Educational