Make School Different

I really hope education and the way we “do school” changes over the next 15 years. I think it needs to change dramatically in terms of physical space but also use of technology AND a massive mindshift on the part of teachers and administrators if we are really going to make school different.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to spend the day in New York City at a Seth Godin event. It was not long after he published his education manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams (which is brilliant) and upon which I based my own book, Imagine A School.

I would love to work there!

I would also love to work at this beautiful Japanese Kindergarten, at the Opal School in Portland, Oregon,  Gever Tully’s Tinkering School, or the Mark Zuckerberg supported AltSchool in San Francisco.

Why these schools? 

They are innovative, the value individualisation, they believe in the integrated use of technology, they build on the interests of the students, and they help them in their ability to inquire.

They also foster a sense of community and of collaboration. “No man is an island” at these schools and yet, their needs are taken care of as if they were the only child in the room. That is where I see education moving to: less of the industrial, more of the individual. Less competing for the teacher’s attention and more collaborating on projects that push beyond re-sharing knowledge.

When I was at the AGIS conference, the keynote speaker, New Zealander, Lance G. King asked us to stop and ponder this “mythical” scenario:

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All images are taken from my presentation Haiku Deck:

Role of Technology in Education – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

He asked this somewhat tongue in cheek, of course, as the majority of his audience HAVE these things in place – so what are they doing that is revolutionary?

The schools I mentioned above, don’t exist because of technology, but they have figured out how to make school different through the applied use of technology and thoughtful use of the learning space.

Where will I be teaching in 15 years? I am not sure. Wherever it will be, I know it will be a place that values innovation and strives to give its students agency and autonomy over their learning. A place that uses technology thoughtfully and teaches students to make an impact with the knowledge they acquire. I think of my own daughter and what her school experience will be like and I know that I want for her an environment that challenges, nurtures, and excites. And I am not sure that is always the case in the classrooms of today?

The individualisation of education isn’t a mythical pipe dream either.  People are already doing it – and doing it really well.  And like most things, it isn’t exclusively because of technology that it is possible. It is the ability to think about the individual and reframe the role of the teacher in order to help students tap into their own passions and dreams and learn through these applied experiences.  An example: The Playbook by The Future Project. This is a great tool that can be used by teachers (I used it with my fifth grade class a couple of years ago) to help kids tap into what is important to them.


Whether we like it or not, the future is coming. We can either sit and wait and watch it come, hoping it will change on the way here, or we can get out there and pave a new road for it to roll down, one in which ‘school’ is different. But, how?  One way could be to start rethinking the way we assign and collect work. By focusing on conceptual understandings and allowing students the freedom to express themselves we are already breaking the ‘one size fits all’ factory-farm style of education that has existed for so many years. Technology can help you do this by providing options for students to showcase, share, collaborate and learn:

The future is coming! Or is it already here….?


2 Replies to “Make School Different”

  1. Sonya, I do believe that education can move in the direction of individualized learning for ALL students (and teachers as well!). It will require a monumental shift in how schools are administered, in how student work is assessed (on concepts, not on specific products), and how concepts are taught, especially at the secondary level where currently different teachers teach different subjects in different rooms with different tools. Called “integrated studies” years ago, the idea isn’t new, but still has a long way to go to being accepted as a logical way of learning how to learn. And that is the goal in the long run: for all students to learn how to learn, so that they can continue to learn, create, and solve challenges for the rest of their lives.

    1. Hi Jennifer, I absolutely agree. I love the work of Grant Wiggins and his obsession with understanding (over knowledge gathering). I am so saddened by his sudden death – what an incredible loss! I feel like there was just SO much I still had to learn from him about teaching for understanding and loved how active he was on Twitter and within his blog. As you say, for students to be able to create and solve challenges beyond school – that is what our new role needs to shift to. We owe it to the memory of people like Grant who worked so tirelessly to make school different.

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