Semester One: Purposeful Wandering

A New Paradigm
“To cultivate the entrepreneurial mindset cannot be achieved by simply adding another course to teach entrepreneurship to the existing paradigm. We now need a new education paradigm—entrepreneur-oriented education, instead of the employee-oriented education. Such a paradigm is really about the human dimensions. It is about respecting children as human beings and about supporting, not suppressing, their passion, curiosity, and talent.” –Dr. Yong Zhao

Innovation Diploma boasts an incredibly rich foundation. It’s built on ideas generated by business leaders, school administrators, students, teachers, community members, and thought leaders in innovation, education, creativity, and psychology. It’s a direct response to the Institute for the Future’s research on what our graduates will need in 2020 and an amalgamation of the recommendations the 2013 Council on innovation members provided Mount Vernon. But the program, which is still in its infancy, continues to morph based on the needs of the twelve most important learners and thought leaders, the Disney Cohort. This group, full of energy, rife with promise, and replete with desire to make positive change, is constantly challenging each other and me to work on “things that matter.” It may sound obvious, but working on things that matter is unfortunately not a concept that is as rampant as it should be in schools.

Because the Disney Cohort is used to school being a certain way, it is taking a tremendous amount of resolute for this Cohort to embrace the messy problem definition and passion finding that will lead them to purpose and innovations – and ultimately the entrepreneurial mindset Dr. Yong Zhao references above and that Grant Lichtman writes about in his book #EdJourney. Semester One included what we like to call “purposeful wandering.” The Disney Cohort wandered through our challenges, adVentures, and experiences searching for connections, meaning, and purpose. They had hours of time to “play” with ideas, hobbies, interests, and inquiries (we call these iVentures) that made them curious but nobody had let them even consider this type of learning and experimenting as part of school. Tony Wagner would smile knowingly at this group of creative thinkers who are beginning to understand that “perseverance, a willingness to experiment, take calculated risks, and tolerate failure, and the capacity for ‘design thinking,’ in addition to critical thinking” are paramount.  In iD, we work hard to reframe the concept of “school” and “learning” by seizing opportunities with the CDC, Thrive, members from the Council on Innovation and embrace the kind of work that truly matters. Through our wanderings and experiences, each of the Disney Cohort members has discovered more about themselves than they ever could in a typical class. Some searched so hard to find their passion, that they became frustrated, and at times, shut down. But passion isn’t something you can force, just like innovation isn’t something that happens. We are building a four-year experience for these learners to grow into, and it takes time and perseverance – and ultimately a conscious choice to do something differently (which can’t be done if we’re trapped in a “compulsion to conform” because “you can’t be yourself in a swarm” thanks Sir Ken Robinson, for these true words from The Element).

This group of pioneers took a risk that their peers admire and that schools around the country are hoping to offer their students. We continue to innovate how school is “done to students” – and we’re paving a new educational paradigm – not developing a course. I am so proud of the Disney Cohort’s first semester strides in undoing the “school” mindset and embracing the “innovator” mindset. Now onto Semester Two (preview post on Semester 2 is coming shortly)!

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3 thoughts on “Semester One: Purposeful Wandering

  1. iD is cutting edge stuff, no question, and congrats to you and all the students for such a great launch. I really look forward to more chances to talk to you and them; always a good jolt for me!

    Is the goal of iD a better learning experience for the students, or to evolve learning beyond iD, or both? Are the students actively engaged in designing how what they learn in iD will change how the rest of learning takes place at MVS and elsewhere? Am sure I know the answer to this, but I urge all of us to be always more transparent and overt in this task…we need to change the world!

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  2. Grant, as always, thanks for your comment and your interest in our work. I’ve been struggling with how to answer your questions in the most concise way. My ideal for this program is both a better learning experience AND evolving learning beyond iD. I do envision these students being actively engaged in designing a more ideal learning environment for not only themselves but others. Having said that, something that I realize is that not all of the Cohort has the bandwidth or maturity to be able to think about it in that way. They are so habituated to think about school in a certain way, and the system we’ve created (high school > applying to colleges > college) rewards students who play within that system that it’s quite difficult to make the case that this way of schooling allows for some pretty rich learning experiences. Some of our Cohort is at the front end of realizing the trade-off between what’s considered the norm and what they’re experiencing is much bigger than a course title on a transcript or even a diploma. Every day I am reminded though, that we’re competing against a model that has already been set up and that everyone knows what to expect at every turn – so it’s not as easy (and I know you are aware of this!) as flipping the switch to say “let’s do it this other way.” Like you, I am immersed in the research, literature, and case studies around what our future requires of these students, and my work with iD is constantly informed by that. I would love to take this conversation off-line with you (and Bo if he’s interested) to dig more into what we’re discussing here – it’s what keeps me up at night!

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