What is the future of education? What trends, tools, and concepts will challenge traditional notions of teaching and learning? Last Saturday, academically trained futurist Garry Golden led the board of trustees and administrative team in a compelling discussion of what might lie ahead—and what that might mean to Catlin Gabel. The session was meant to help the board and school leaders practice big thinking, as we look forward to strategic planning in 2015-16.
At the retreat we summoned our best foresight, which, to paraphrase Garry, is the study of plausible and preferable futures based on research and forecasting. We considered several examples of tools and trends: adaptive technology, civic culture, and mindfulness. As we discussed how our mission and curriculum might be influenced by these and other developments around us, it became clear that future thinking needs to be grounded in a clear sense of the present.
Catlin Gabel is a thriving school today because our mission creates confident and skilled graduates. The teachers who interpret that mission into instruction and relationships are the heart of our educational process. It is common to imagine a future in which technology will render traditional classroom learning less vital—and that may become the case, as learning becomes an anywhere, anytime experience. But at Saturday's retreat we were drawn to the inescapable conclusion that the personal presence, guidance, and expertise of a teacher will only become more important as the world changes. As we are seeing the role of librarians expand from curators of books and spaces to teachers and resources who work all around the campus, we will see classroom teachers add new layers of complexity to their role, interacting with colleagues, technology, and self-directed learners in new ways and structures.
The good news is that Catlin Gabel teachers already are stepping into the future. Across the school a team of teacher experts is training peers to design curriculum driven by compelling questions and relevant assessments. In the Upper School, science and arts teachers have developed interdisciplinary courses on structural design and engineering and the chemistry of art. In a Middle School class, students are reading about civil rights, equity, and justice, and writing expository "problem-solution letters" to Portland urban planners. In the Lower School, teachers and tech colleagues are looking at new ways for students to use technology to record and show their understanding of concepts. From northeast Portland to the Oregon coast, teachers across the grades are challenging children to answer political, social, and environmental questions by integrating skills from traditional disciplines.
No one knows what the future holds, including Garry. But we have an obligation to look ahead and decide how we can best enhance the value of a Catlin Gabel education. In the next year, we will renew our commitment to our mission and to curriculum and activities that we know serve children well. We also will begin to identify the most promising directions for our school, pursuing with vigor the charge Ruth Catlin gave us in 1928 to be an "educational laboratory." As we approach the exciting opportunities that lie ahead, we do so knowing that caring, dedicated, and skillful teachers will always be at the center of what makes this school great.