Originally Published in This is Alabama
The only constant is change, and as we get further into the 21st
century, it seems that change occurs more and more rapidly. Birmingham has experienced this in recent years, with urban renewal transforming the recreational and industrial landscape at an incredible rate. As educators, our goal is to prepare students to thrive in this environment. So, what does that look like and how do we achieve that goal?
In all honesty, it means doing something that is counter-intuitive to many educators — relinquishing some control. If we want students to be prepared for uncertainty later, we must allow them to experience uncertainty now. By taking ownership of their learning, they will learn to confidently approach unfamiliar situations and quickly adapt to change.
At Highlands, we approach this in a few different ways. Woven throughout our teaching and learning is a project-based learning (PBL) approach – one in which students acquire deeper knowledge by actively exploring real-world problems and authentically engaging in content. PBL asks students to take control in their investigation of issues and topics. They address real-world problems by breaking down the barriers between subject areas and working across the curriculum. PBL is a method that fosters critical, abstract thinking to explore and grapple with complex issues. It promotes independence and understanding, which helps to fortify enduring understanding in students. Most importantly, PBL allows students to create without a predetermined formula. They are limited only by their own curiosity and creativity. As they explore, make judgments, interpret, and synthesize information in meaningful ways they model professional environments where adults are asked to solve problems by demonstrating knowledge, understanding and mastery.
Above all, we are focused on ensuring graduates are prepared to succeed in this world that is being remade constantly. As they enter careers that do not even exist today, it will be imperative that they are inspired, not intimidated, by uncertainty.
Kavita Vasil is the head of school at Highlands School in Birmingham, Alabama, whose mission is to provide an academically challenging program, create a love of learning in every student, instill the habits of success in every student, and prepare students to be responsible and productive members of the community.