Highlands Blog

Head of School Update

Kavita Vasil
Recently, I came across this article highlighting The 13 Most Innovative Schools in the World (at least according to Business Insider) and it really resonated with me. Education today in the US and around the world is going through a transformation. Some call it a disruption, others a much needed renaissance. Central to this is the idea that the traditional model of education, born in the industrial age with a one-size-fits-all approach, is not meeting the needs of our knowledge economy. The current and future generation of children need a personalized educational experience that equips them with the skills, values, characteristics and knowledge they need to thrive in our modern society. 

The employers of today are looking for employees to fill fundamentally different roles than were required in the past. Much like the factories that defined the time, the industrial era educational system enforced uniformity, stressing memorization and judging students by their ability to recall facts on multiple-choice exams. If the education system did not teach the specific skills to perform a function, the employer could fulfill that duty.
Contrast this with today, where the facts taught in school can be obsolete in a few years.  Employees must constantly reinvent their skills in order to stay employable. In today’s workforce and overall society, what is required is the ability to understand the problems, analyze the bigger picture, predict the ramifications of what is being proposed, synthesize new information and use creativity to problem solve and collaborate. How to create, invent, solve a problem, continually learn — these are the skills that should be reinforced at every level of education.
This is what “innovation” is – the introduction of something new, a new idea, a new method, a new solution. Innovation requires the ability to “think different”. It requires active learning. It requires collaboration. It requires ideation and prototyping and testing and tweaking (design thinking). It requires resilience, persistence and being okay with failure.

So, when I read what the 13 Most Innovative Schools in the World are doing, it was very simple. They are “doing” school differently. They are innovating by being open to new ideas, new ways of learning for students. They are actively engaging students so that learning has a purpose (why do I need to know this?). They are providing real world applications and experiences, and they are re-envisioning spaces in which students learn best. 

We are on an innovation journey at Highlands as well to “think different” about school and what is possible. Our aim is to use research and data that tells us how children learn best and put that in to practice in our classrooms. We provide multiple opportunities for learning that has applications in the real world and collaborate to not only identify problems but also discover solutions.

One way we are innovating is by our efforts in Project Based Learning/Project Work. Project Work is a systematic teaching approach that engages students in learning important knowledge and 21st century skills through an extended, student-influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions (essential questions/big ideas) and carefully designed products and learning tasks. With this approach, students take ownership of their learning, guided by teacher input.

As part of our practice of Project Based Learning, we hold periodic “culmination” events, where students can walk an audience through the evolution of their project and display the understanding that was fostered throughout their work. This year, we will host a culmination event for all project work completed in the first semester of the 2017-2018 School Year. We hope you will join us for eNight on Wednesday, December 13th  at 6:30pm where learning will be on display museum style and student docents will share with you their knowledge and understanding of the curricular content covered in the respective grade level projects.  

In the love of learning, 
Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).

For more information, visit www.highlandsschool.org.