Education begins, evolves, and endures through positive relationships that build connections to self and others, to ideas and principles, and to the work at hand. In the best schools these relationships are in abundant evidence in the diverse faces and spaces of the school where mission and goals are intentionally woven deeply into the fabric of the learning community. When students and faculty are in mindful interplay to develop cognitive, behavioral, and affective aspects, active learning through individual and community expression and performance is everywhere.
Educational Philosopher, John Dewey wrote, “We don’t learn from experience, we learn by reflecting on experience.” Carl Jung wrote, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by this intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” Problem solving and critical thinking are not new ideas, yet given what we know today in a far more complex society and during dynamic economic times, we must adapt how we approach the learning process in the classroom and beyond to equip students with skills, competencies, desire, and a mind-set for success and contribution.
“Brain research is posing challenging questions for education for a changing world, asking us constantly to reimagine how to design a school to develop knowledge and skills, integrate emotions and thoughts into coherent actions for today’s new world to help each child under our care reach his potential,” wrote G. Christian Jernstedt, Professor Emeritus of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College.
Community, culture, and environmental factors such as attitudes and perceptions significantly influence learning. The best schools foster an intentional, coherent culture of applied learning, where expectations of purposeful “learning by doing” are the norm. Curricula designed around relevant, experiential learning, and active questioning, are the building blocks to fuel natural curiosity and the habit of reflection for continuous improvement. Today, teachers and students are discovering that questioning is of equal, if not of greater importance than “showing and telling.” In highly competitive schools, desired outcomes can interfere with process and can conflict with better practices to meet long-term learning objectives. Competition is good when the challenges are exciting, not stressful. Students feel safe to dig deep, take healthy risks, as they apply what they know. Students discover they can influence, lead, and effectively shape the world around them.
Collaboration is an essential component of a sound curriculum. Active independence and interdependence form the basis of the student’s relationship to the learning process. Data show us that students and faculty perform more effectively when they are free to design the classroom experience and its connections to the co-curricular environments together. When students are able to apply skills and understandings according to their individual needs and interests, they discover themselves, and that they can make a difference. Student-centered teaching builds respect and trust.
Sound fundamentals, knowledge and skills, are critically important for success. Yet we know, if we win their hearts, their minds will follow. Interpersonal and intrapersonal engagement builds confidence and competencies, a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose, empathy, and joy. Positive relationships are paramount in the human ecology that inspires learning and growth, creativity, and invention. Education that transforms and sustains is not measured by what we know or what can count, not by how far we go, but how we go far together.