“When your headlights aren’t on, the best rear-view mirror available isn’t likely to improve your driving.”
I love this quote by Martha Rogers, Professor of Business at Duke University. To me, it speaks to the challenge of shaping education in the 21st century. It was a quote I thought a lot about when we were developing our School’s Strategic Plan last year, and it’s one I continue to think about as we put the plan in place.
The rear-view mirror is often a reference point in education. We remember our own schooling and feel comfortable with what we know. It largely worked for us so we seek to replicate it for our children. It makes sense to use so we accept it as tried and true, and push back against new-fangled ways of teaching, grading or reporting. As understandable as this may be, it’s also problematic. We were educated in a different time, prepared for a different future, with different tools at our disposal. Ours were the schools of yesterday. The schools of today need to be different because they are tasked with preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, and in order to do so, they must push back against the comfort of the familiar. If it sounds unsettling, it is. But it’s also exciting.
Author Nicole Kreuger, writing for ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), notes: “The bottom line is that there’s no way to prepare students for specific careers when we can’t even fathom what those might be. Even now, nearly half of what students learn in their first year of technical school is outdated by the time they graduate. Instead, the key to molding job-ready graduates is to teach students how to live — and learn — at the intersections.”
Living at the intersections in schools means breaking up subject-specific silos in favour of interdisciplinary learning, and teaching students what Georgia Institute of Technology Professor, Calton Pu, calls the most important meta-skill of all – the ability to adapt to change. It means looking beyond content, focusing on the soft-skills that will help students achieve success at university and ultimately in the workplace. That’s what makes the future of education exciting!
Our new Strategic Plan identifies a need to provide every Trafalgar girl with the knowledge, skills and mindset to define her own future. It commits us to preparing students for the road ahead by challenging them with innovative programming, strengthening them through authentic learning experiences and nurturing them in a community of care and support. It requires that we do this while staying true to our values of determination, imagination, resilience, kindness and insight.
Traf First is part of this commitment. It’s a whole-school continuum designed to build essential skills in an innovative way in order to prepare our girls for the future. Collaboration, creativity, communication, leadership and teamwork are just some of the areas we will focus on. In the Lower School, Traf First will build our girls’ abilities to become good problem solvers, focused listeners and confident communicators. It will stretch their creative thinking and allow them to work at the intersections of disciplines through integrated projects and real-world learning experiences. In the Upper School, Traf First will build on the skills already learned, and expand to include a greater focus on leadership, career exploration, university planning, post-secondary preparation and workplace readiness. Across all grades we will present students with challenges that ask them to manage failure, develop resilience and dig deep to find their inner strength. Programs, workshops, guest speakers, experts, mentors and internship opportunities, all designed to help Trafalgar girls explore a future of possibilities at university and beyond, are being developed as part of this exciting initiative.
Traf First is off to a great start. This year we introduced a small number of one-week March Break internships for senior students with placements in the arts, insurance and media industries, with more opportunities planned for next year. Earlier in the year, our Grade 9s attended a four-part workshop series to explore what it means to belong and what it takes to create a strong sense of community. The Grade 10s began their work with Ms. Knight-Johnson as part of their post-secondary exploration and are beginning the important process of self-discovery that will make university planning more meaningful down the road. This month, every Grade 11 will participate in a two-part workshop that will explore “Brave Leadership” as we prepare the girls to assume the mantel of students leaders in their final year. And then in April, the Grade 11s will take part in Pitch Perfect, a fun and interactive workshop that will teach them how to develop and communicate a succinct message about their individual skills and interests – a bit like a personal elevator speech to help them one day land their dream job. With their message in hand, each girl will then have a chance to try it out at a mock networking event with alumna and parent volunteers. Finally in April, our Grade 12s will spend an evening together learning the fundamentals of business etiquette, to ensure they can put their “best fork forward” at business dinners and social engagements.
None of this would be possible without the dedicated work of the Trafalgar team combined with the support of our many parents who are providing time and resources to ensure that Traf First lights the road ahead. We’ll be sure to provide more news as our strategic plan continues to unfold, but if this first year is any indication, we’re well on our way to ensuring that Trafalgar girls will be ready for the future.