Tool Belts Required

Tuesday, May 07, 2019 - By: Bud Patel - Head of School

Our students are entering a more competitive, complicated and compressed world that is seemingly rotating more quickly than ever. The pace of change due to technological advancements, demographic shifts, and political unrest has us teetering on a knife’s edge. To navigate these turbulent times, students require a wide variety of skills to place in their tool belts. While there is no argument against these broadly accepted notions, the debate now centres round acquisition. How can we teach or learn or develop these essential items occupying our tool belts?

Some say we need to shift our educational model to focus on developing the four Cs of 21st century learning – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Some have gone further by adding to the list digital literacy, flexibility, and global mindedness. Some assert that we need to get back to basics and teach foundational academic skills such as memorization, numeracy, and literacy.

With limited time and space, choices have to be made. Is it this OR that?

Like many of you, our staff shares interesting articles, research and tidbits that circulate the Internet. Recently, Mr. Mark Wismer shared one with me that piqued my interest and speaks to the binary challenge noted above – this OR that. A recent study by professors from York University, Western, the University of Toronto, and Waterloo concluded that a significant number of students are entering their institutions without the requisite skills to succeed. More specifically, many students they work with lack analytical, research, writing, numeracy and resilience skills. First year students are arriving with stellar high school marks and seem to struggle when the grind of first year sees their marks fall by 20% to 30%.

One quote from the researchers jumped off the page: “Students with high self-esteem based on false feedback are much more difficult to teach because many cannot take criticism and feedback without assuming that it is personal. Experimental research suggests that such people attempt to preserve their self-esteem, not by altering their behaviour so that it becomes more based in reality, but by attacking the source of the threat.” Yikes!

At Brentwood, we are so fortunate to have a staff of trusted adults that develop deep relationships with our students that enable them to give, at times, direct and clear feedback, always with a lens of care, growth and improvement. If a student receives disappointing news – a poor test result, limited playing time, not winning a lead role in a show, or failing room inspection – we expect them to take on the challenging task of accepting the feedback, seeking guidance on how to get better, and actioning the steps for improvement. Repeated over time, this vital skill of seeing feedback as a gift rather than an attack will take them far.

WE like to think that Brentwood strikes a balance of what SOME call more traditional academic rigour AND future competencies. WE want our students to equally thrive in a 100 question high-stakes multiple choice exam AND work collaboratively in an integrated cross-curricular project-based learning model. WE want our students to be able to be independent thinkers, learners and doers AND embrace the value of community, partnerships and movements. When they walk across the stage at graduation, WE want their tool belts to be full of a complete set of competencies to allow them to thrive in the world of today and tomorrow.

Brentwood, I hope, is an AND school, not an OR school. Long may that continue.

De Manu In Manum,

Bud Patel

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