I’ve been reading a lot of Tony Wagner recently and it has me thinking about how we need to do school differently.

This is not a new idea – I’ve known this for quite some time and the entire purpose of Ed2Save is to transform education. Still, it’s nice to remind myself just how drastic the change needs to be. It’s so easy to get caught up in my new-school-year routines and habits. Reading Wagner has been a welcome jolt, re-motivating me to push beyond the status quo. 

In case you, like me, need to reinvigorate your change impulse, here are three steps I’m taking to make-over my school experience this year. I have posted them on the bulletin board by my desk as a reminder:

Step 1: Stop worrying about the content! 

In The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner cites seven “survival skills” that kids need to develop in order to succeed in the 21st century:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability 
  • Initiative and entrepreneurism
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination

These are the competencies that employers want and work in the 21st century demands. In fact, when I stop to think about it, I’m struck by how much more important these seven things are in my own work than the content I teach. Could I survive in my job without knowing the Battle of Trent or when South African apartheid ended? Yes. Could I survive without the ability to problem solve, to adapt to new circumstances, without curiosity? Nope. And I’m a HISTORY TEACHER. That means that my students are highly unlikely to need the content I teach much beyond this academic year. 

So, I have to ask myself: why am I stressing out about the content of my upcoming units? Why am I frantically skimming new textbooks? 

Every time I start to obsess over the content I’m teaching, I’m going to ask myself: How can these competencies become the center of all I do? How can I teach, measure student progress, and assign grades based on these things?

Step 2: Think like a learner! 

Wagner writes:

The overwhelming majority of students want learning to be active, not passive. They want to be challenged to think and to solve problems that do not have easy solutions. They want to know why they are being asked to learn something. They want learning to be an end in itself – rather than a means to the end of boosting test scores or a stepping stone to the next stage of life. They want more opportunities for creativity and self expression. Finally, they want adults to relate to them on a more equal level.

Why do I keep thinking about what will do, or when the due dates will be? I should be thinking about the problems my students will solve and how I will unlock their creativity. Once the school year begins, I plan to have my students create a class learning profile that sounds something like this – a manifesto about the type of school they want and need – but until then this little excerpt will suffice as a reminder. 

Step 3: Remember, this is supposed to be fun! 

In Creating Innovators, Wagner describes three key elements that allow young people to develop into innovative problem solvers who are capable of tackling the major global challenges we face today:

  • Play
  • Passion
  • Purpose

What strikes me most about the portraits of young innovators in the book is how each experienced a radically different kind of learning – project-based, open-ended, FUN, PLAYFUL, learning – at some point in their academic careers. And this one course stood out to each of them as a turning point in their lives. How do I make my course that course? How do I make sure every kid leaves understanding that history is fun, that it’s exciting and meaningful?