The prevailing model of schooling is so deeply embedded in our collective psyche that it’s often difficult to imagine alternate models.
Last Friday, my colleagues and I visited New Tech Network’s president, Lydia Dobyns and senior director, Tim Presiado to look at ways to build a sustainable framework beyond their 100 schools in the US and to identify opportunities to extend their approach to interested schools within our own system.
New Tech Network is a non-profit organisation working with schools, school districts and communities to reframe schooling by creating innovative learning environments using a project based learning (PBL) approach. Students not only acquire subject matter knowledge, but the skills needed to thrive in today’s world such as critical thinking, collaboration, work ethic, content literacy and communication.
One of our own successful secondary schools, Parramatta Marist, has been involved with the New Tech Network for over three years and as a result has reshaped its curriculum offering, invested significantly in the ongoing professional learning of teachers and demonstrated sustained improvement in student learning. Lydia and Tim visited Australia in March this year to announce the inclusion of Parramatta Marist as the first school outside the United States to become part of the network and to share their approach with over 300 educators within our system.
It is important to understand that PBL is not a solution that can be simply taken and imposed on any school. It is a construct to support school communities committed to reflecting on and improving student learning and teacher practice in a contemporary world. Lydia describes the heart of New Tech’s work as building the capacity of teachers and students as part of an educational network through a focus on quality, sustainability and growth. It is through the network – the collaboration within and between schools – that the approach is strengthened and refined.
From our meeting, we identified several issues critical to reframing schooling, including resource implications, a blend of support incorporating coaching and teacher shadowing, the adoption of rigorous application criteria as a starting point for engagement, opportunities for the creation of a PBL professional learning community and an overall commitment to working together to build a sustainable framework.
It is great to see we can broker connections with partners across the globe who are so willing to share their expertise and experience as we meet the challenge to look beyond standardised, off-the-shelf solutions and engage in a process of discovery and learning to improve schooling.