Launching Into the Future

Launching Into the Future

By: Melony O'Neill, Middle and Senior School Social Studies Learning Leader

Around 500 AD, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted, “everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed… cool things become warm, the warm grows cool; the moist dries, the parched becomes moist… It is in changing that we find repose.” (Morgan, 2006, p.241).

Change is the one constant we can rely on; the world is always in flux. In 2019, blindsided with a new pandemic reality, systemic and societal change demanded that educators and institutions pivot again, and again, to navigate the unknown. Educators manoeuvred through curricula on-line, off-line, and everywhere in between and aspired to be the glue that held learning communities together while navigating an ocean of change. While the pandemic continued on wave after wave, strategic vision planning at STS emerged, morphed, and caught traction despite pandemic struggles and triumphs. The moral imperative for all educators, tapped us on our collective backs; the need for continual improvement beckoned. The need for change, an updated vision, and a new STS strategic framework, was stirring to life.

Our Head of School, Carol Grant-Watt, set the roadmap for strategic planning in action and invited all to reimagine STS’s pedagogical future in light of Michael Fullan’s research on “Deep Learning”. His conceptualization of deep learning asks educators to create environments that challenge, provoke, stimulate, and celebrate learning (Fullan, Quinn, and McEachen, 2018). Carol brought experts together to collect data from all stakeholders. She asked us to dream; to imagine what an endless universe of learning might look like. The possibilities were infinite. Within the 2020 school year, the Strategic Plan was named, articulated, defined, aligned, and executed. Flourish 2031 was realized, published, and delivered to all families, alumni, and employees. And with that, the Plan was christened, launched, and floating. Flourish 2031 proudly arrived despite a pandemic, and faculty and staff were faced with the reality of what to do next.

As the plan was broadly shared, I struggled. I found myself contemplative; seeking ways to make sense of the strategic “big picture”, the connections and the weaving of the distinct threads running through the Strategic Plan. Mentally, I needed to piece it together, to picture it somehow so that others too might also be able to see it as a whole. I needed a bridge to move theory into reality; into practice. I needed to synthesize priorities and pillars captured from Flourish 2031, the IB Continuum of International Education Programme, and the Alberta Program of Studies. I began trying to visualize different ways to weave together the “mission critical” forces at play, to moor myself and make sense of multiple pressing priorities that kept surfacing and competing within the plan. Several images started to materialize in my mind’s eye.

Fullan’s work on “Deep Learning” needed to intersect with the IB Continuum where curiosity and inquiry work interchangeably to support deep learning within the Alberta Program of Studies. Fullan asserts that deep learning is the acquisition of six global competencies: character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. “These competencies are needed for students to flourish as citizens of the world” (Fullan, 2018). Keeping these things in mind, my drawings began to materialize on the page. Iteration number one and two, when shared, were met with polite head nodding, and head scratching, and it became clear I needed to go back to the proverbial, “drawing board.”

Michael Fullan (2018) posits, “if we want learners who can thrive in turbulent times… we must reimagine learning”. This assertion, along with the pillar that STS is a “Global Hub” inspired iteration number three. Mountains appeared, trees emerged, pathways meandered from mountains. Then, as I drove to work, I mused that the strategic plan was not unlike a boat, and iteration number four came to be. Deep learning transforms reality through learning individually and with others. The drivers are faculty and students engaging in learning together, pulling hard on the oars. Deep learning sticks when through collaborative inquiry, we layer pedagogical practices, learning partnerships, learning environments, and leverage digital technologies to mobilize our efforts in the direction of a strategic plan or the nose of our collective boat. We need a “launch and learn” mentality. At this moment, I wondered what our impact could be if we all pulled together, in the same direction. If we were all driven by curiosity, if we each wanted to make an impact and cut loose the anchors of fear, traditions and resistance, how far and how fast could our boat travel? A nautical, and yet Canadian, icon emerged that I felt could make sense to my colleagues when trying to picture the journey ahead toward 2031. 

All pieces and priorities came together; an STS Flourish canoe complete with faculty and staff pulling together on the oars, powered by the the six global competencies of character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking on one side and on the other side the five IB approaches to learning: communication, social skills, self-management skills, research skills and creative and critical thinking skills, all working in tandem to power and move the STS Flourish canoe toward the future. 

Strategic plans take time to realize, to lift anchor, and launch. I could finally see how all parts of the vision support other components to mobilize our focused journey together. Imagine and “reimagine education.”

Consider the possibilities for our students’ future if we rowed together in authentic, active, challenging, student centered strokes. What will we leave in our pedagogical wake? Only the future holds the answer.

As enacted in the writing process, design process, and any entrepreneurial venture, many edits allowed iteration number four to float to the surface. This is the visual I hope that helps us to see how the pieces we value most need to work alongside and with one another in order to mobilize our best hopes for students and education. This visual captures how we can buoy up immersive experiences that empower balanced student learning and create environments that challenge, provoke, stimulate, and celebrate learning such that each of our STS students, flourish, thrive, succeed, and reach new heights to move forward to meet the world, as global citizens.

I look forward to us pulling in tandem to launch the 2022-2023 school year as we collectively aim to set the STS Strategic Plan Flourish 2031 in motion, and leave the safety of the shoreline to envision and power forward through the exciting, yet unpredictable, waters that lie ahead. So let’s lift our anchors, lean into it, pull together, and launch into the future. The possibilities are infinite.