Today's World is Full of Complexity

A summary look at the news of the past 12 months presents an interesting time in our history. This time has been marked by natural disasters and pandemics, global conflict and significant shifts in the political landscape both in Australia and abroad. It may be that these are unusual times, out of the ordinary, or perhaps this is the new norm. Our world is incredibly complex, filled with challenges at all levels of society and in all areas across the globe. Most of these challenges and complexities come about at the hand of man; others are part of the natural cycle of change outside of human control.

Photos from the Senior Campus Bush Week Planting Session with Year 7s and Year 12s

As an educator who started his career in the 90s, I have spent most of my career talking about my students' need to develop 21st-century skills. Well, we are well and truly embedded in the 21st Century, and these skills are needed now more than ever.

Young people need the ability to unpack complexity to make sense of the many issues facing our world. They need to become innovative and creative problem solvers with high-level interpersonal skills that enable them to lead social change and enterprise.

Photos from Penbank's Prep Science Incursion

Learning Our Way Out of Problems

Recently, our research partnership with the University of Melbourne took several Woodleigh staff members and me to a workshop led by Tony McKay. Our partnership is investigating new ways of assessing learning in our schools and, by definition, new ways of teaching children, and Tony, one of the most prominent educational advisors and leaders in Australia, spoke about the complexities and problems in our world. He also spoke about the importance of education and the possibility that, as a race, humans could learn ourselves out of the complexities and the challenges we face into a positive collaborative future.

His is an incredibly optimistic view of how we can approach the challenge which exists for our planet, yet it holds enormous weight and, in many respects, may be our only option. However, to do so requires a shift in the way we do things. This shift requires us to think deeply about what we are teaching our kids, how we engage them in their learning and what capabilities they will need to make a difference to our future.

We are the current stewards of our planet, and education needs to think about how we can prepare future generations for this stewardship. This is not a project or a bespoke interest that we have, but a fundamental shift required in how we do things. This is fast becoming a national imperative. Our partnership and work with the New Metrics team at Melbourne University will significantly influence how this transformation will occur across Australia and the globe.

Photos from Minimbah's Reconciliation Week Assembly

Building a Better Measure of Success

The starting point for us as a collective of schools is to redefine the way we define excellence. We currently have such a narrow band to define what we consider good learning or understanding. Historically, this has been based upon a traditional interpretation of education as a sorting mechanism that helps society decide who works where. We need to broaden our definition to a strengths-based model where students can understand and manage complexity, develop self-awareness, and collaborate with others to innovate and create.

There are several models of learning that support this process. They all have a sense of student agency or designing student learning to allow students to have agency about how they approach their learning.

Agency is more than simply voice and choice; agency is taking responsibility for how they learn and, in many respects, where they take their learning. In short, these models encourage students to act with purpose, reflect on their actions and understand learning at an individual, collaborative and collective level. Students need to know how to have agency on a moral level, a creative level, and how to add value with their actions.

Our work with the University, as part of the New Metrics program, is supporting our school to develop new metrics (funnily enough) that define success in a much broader and more sophisticated manner and in a way that honours the strengths of our students and promotes and supports student agency. These new metrics will redefine how we design learning in the classroom and, most importantly, how we support genuine, authentic and deep learning.

Later this year, I look forward to sharing our new strategic plan with the School community. This plan will be underpinned by student learning and our desire as a school to purposefully develop each student so that they can thrive in an ever-changing and complex world. It will also be a plan that captures our planet's need to learn our way out of complex problems and into a positive and collective future.

Take care,