Last week I had the great pleasure of sitting down for a Q&A with Larry Rosenstock. Larry is the founder and CEO of High Tech High in San Diego and one of the keynote speakers at last week’s PBL World Australia 2013 hosted by one of our high schools, Parramatta Marist in partnership with the Buck Institute of Education.
I had heard of Larry Rosenstock and High Tech High before but it wasn’t until I read Yong Zhao’s World Class Learners that I realised Larry is truly an educational entrepreneur. He has taken John Dewey’s ‘learning by doing’ as a model of education and made it work successfully in a 21st century environment.
Larry’s an engaging speaker but more importantly, an engaged school leader and I share some of his pearls of wisdom below from our Q&A.
- The purpose of education is to serve society and create it
- Education allows people to rise above social disadvantage but schools are the least changed institute
- Education should be a combination of academic and vocational – the theory and the practice
- High Tech High’s most important data point is a four year college degree
- High Tech High is a misnomer – it’s not about technology – it’s about personalised learning through integrated disciplines
- Every teacher needs to ask themselves how are they bringing the content alive for their students
- High Tech High teachers work together in teams – there’s a deep respect for the craft of teaching
- Craft always follows intellectual purpose and the purpose is profound
- Any change management at school level must be driven by a growth mindset – every child can learn
- Content standards don’t make sense – process standards do….’how do I think like a mathematician?’
- Role of a school leader is to make as few decisions as possible – lead from behind because you inspire teachers to want to do better every day
- Schools are messy organisms; you can’t replicate a school model but you can inspire other teachers/school communities to learn from each other
- The focus shouldn’t be on competition between students and schools but collaboration – this is a national narrative for 21st century schooling
- High Tech High is focused on student production not simply student consumption of technology. When you focus on both you see kids’ creativity explode.
I ended our session with the question that if Larry had to start all over again what would he do differently. He replied that it’s not what you put into a school that counts, it’s what you leave out. And there is much in many of today’s classrooms that need to be removed. Things like fixed white boards, rows of desk, and teaching times set by timetable requirements, don’t add much value to creating a dynamic learning environment. most importantly he wouldn’t allow teachers to find themselves working in isolated classrooms.
His last point was the one Carol Dweck makes about teacher mindsets. Larry said we are still inclined to see students as either ‘smart or dumb’. His advice – ‘don’t continue to mis-predict kids’ ability and intellect’. Larry’s a world class leader overseeing the education of world class learners.
There is little doubt that what Larry and his colleagues shared with us resonated with the conference attandees. What we need to understand from the High Tech High experience is that what they do is not a solution but rather a response to the context and understandings that their learning communities currently have. You cannot just superimpose their solution on your own school. This is a mistake made too often anfd always leads to failure.
High Tech High’s story is one of continuous growth and development and continually learning about how schooling can be better. The live the motto of “learning the work by doing the work.” For me this is the most powerful message, however you have to begin the journey, and the best time is now!