The question is a daunting one: how can a school tasked with preparing its students to succeed in a rapidly-evolving future landscape, arm graduates with the skills needed for jobs that don’t even exist yet? That question, along with a discussion about the changing landscape of 21st century education and society was given an in-depth exploration on May 20 at an academic symposium held in concert with Killington Mountain School’s Board of Trustees meeting. Keynote speakers challenged the audience, comprised of KMS teachers, coaches, staff, parents, and trustees, to rethink what teachers are teaching and how they are teaching it.
Speakers at the meeting included Charles Fadel, Lou Piconi, and Alice Preisler. Fadel is a global education thought leader and expert, author, and inventor. He is the founder and Chairman of the Boston’s Center for Curriculum Redesign and also Chairman of the Fondation Helvetica Educatio (Geneva, Switzerland). In addition, Fadel is a visiting scholar at Harvard GSE, MIT ESG and UPenn. He is the co-author of several books, including a best-seller titled 21st Century Skills which maps out the skills needed to survive and thrive in an increasingly complex and interconnected world; Fadel has worked with a wide variety of education ministries and organizations, and has contributed to major education projects in more than thirty countries. Piconi is founder and executive vice president of Strategic Activities for the Think Through Math (TTM), an online platform that offers personalized, interactive math instruction for students across the country. His work focuses on the implementation of statewide TTTM programs and on creating the company’s long-term vision. Prior to founding TTM, he launched WiredOrg.com, an innovative Intranet startup company, and served as chief operating officer of CommNav, Inc., an early-stage portal infrastructure company. He was also managing director of the IT Networks for the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Finally, Preisler, a Senior Project Manager in the Risk Control Services Division at AIG, is an expert at high-level data analysis. She has graciously been working with KMS coaches and staff on data tracking and analysis with an aim at enhancing athlete performance and cultivating individualized, targeted coaching. Her experience includes data analysis and project management at a variety of corporations, in addition to serving as Project Manager at both Pearson North America and Shipco Transport, Director of Transportation at Transmodal Corporation, and holding the position of Chief Officer at A.P. Moller Maersk A/S – Maersk Supply Service for the leading tug on the largest platform installation project in the North Sea. All three speakers brought a unique perspective on the future of education and offered invaluable insight on how to best prepare today’s youth for what is to come.
Fadel, Piconi, and Preisler gave presentations to the packed room, after which the entire group split into three breakout sessions to begin envisioning how aspects of what each speaker covered could be implemented in the school’s academic, athletic, and student life offerings.
Head of School Tao Smith shared his thoughts on the content covered at the meeting and on how KMS can adapt in order to ensure that it is equipping graduates with the best possible skills for success, “The world is changing; therefore, we must think differently about how we educate our students so that they have the tools and resources to lead and to change the world. So, the question becomes: How will KMS adapt to changes in technology, curriculum, knowledge, and skills needed to adapt and thrive in the 21st Century? The purpose of Friday’s meetings was to challenge our faculty to think differently about what we do in the classroom and with students in the academic, athletic and residential realms. What can we start doing now that is adaptive and reflects positive change? What resources will we need in order to achieve these goals? We considered our curricular offerings, pondering how will content change and how we can utilize technology to redefine conventional educational constructs such as where and when learning takes place. In addition, we examined and will continue to explore how we can focus on the skills students will need to master in order to thrive in the 21st century, such as communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.”
“If,” Smith continued, “as Charles Fadel describes, information is ubiquitous, how do we think differently about what our students need to know? What role does character development play in shaping program and how do we more effectively teach and reinforce character? How can we institute skills-based learning into our curriculum? We began by identifying areas in which we are already teaching critical 21st century skills, character and knowledge, and then imagined what ways the curriculum at KMS can blend and reflect our unique mission, character and community.”
The discussion raised questions about the school’s physical space, leading participants to re-imagine the layout and location of where learning happens, “By utilizing the best of technology to enhance our programming,” Smith noted, “the walls of the traditional classroom begin to recede. We can now consider where learning will take place, and what resources (human, technological, etc.) will we need to acquire. How will our physical space needs change? How can we think differently about our daily schedule (fall, winter, spring, summer) and our calendar?”
“From a perspective centered on implementation,” Academic Dean Amy Allen shared, “we have been examining ways to move toward more cross-curricular, project-based work that ties closely to our overarching academic theme, “Our Place in the World.” In addition, we are looking at using the best of what technology has to offer to enhance our curriculum and at making the best use of the time when the students are in the building and when they are on the road. As a starting point, some of our students are already using the Think Through Math program with their teacher to enhance their math instruction, and our language department has been enthusiastically researching software that allows students to both listen to spoken language and record their responses for their teachers while they are traveling. We will be moving toward a blended model, making use of the flipped classroom and also delving deeply into topics that are interconnected; once you begin identifying the links between certain overarching themes that lend themselves to this kind of work, the possibilities are endless. We will also take advantage of the extensive world travel our student-atheltes engage in by virtue of their sports. The faculty is looking at ways to maximize these unique travel opportunities and to use them as areas for both academic and athletic learning. We are on the cusp of something quite spectacular, and I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities that exist for growth and learning when you have a staff and a student body like ours who is open-minded, creative, and enthusiastic.”
Assistant Head of School Dave Willis commented, “The mission statement for KMS dictates that we facilitate world-class learning by providing a highly individualized program, skilled teachers and coaches, a dedicated staff and the technological infrastructure to support distance learning. As advances in technology increase exponentially each year, our ability to truly focus on executing our mission also evolves. It could not be a more exciting time to be involved in a school where everyone is aligned in the positive evolution of our curriculum: athletically, academically and socially.”
President of the KMS Board of Trustees Mike Hone added, “Education is the keystone of the Killington Mountain School. Without a dynamic education process to fit the athletic endeavors of our student-athletes, their ability to be successful after graduation could be very limited. The administration, the faculty, the coaches and the trustees all work together to make sure that these student-athletes are at the forefront of the educational process in the 21st century. Working with the best thought leaders around the country and applying the latest tools to the learning process is what KMS must and will do to guarantee our student-athletes an education that will be the platform for their future success.”
The thought-provoking day led to discussion after discussion, conversations that lasted well into the evening and carried over into the days following the meeting. Teachers, coaches, staff, and parents alike shared ideas about how KMS can implement curriculum changes in order to best arm graduates with skills for a rapidly-changing future, noting that at the same time, the school is already doing a great deal of what the educational experts are suggesting. One might pose the question, just what interested high-level, world thinkers like Fadel, Piconi and Preisler to come speak at a small, independent Vermont school? All three have a shared vision of the exciting possibility that exists for the future of KMS. Fadel himself noted that the school’s small-size, individualized programming, open-mindedness among its administration and faculty when it comes to adapting for the future, and its population of highly-focused, driven student-athletes who possess grit and passion, are all attributes that make the school both nimble and perfectly-suited to be on the forefront of cultivating preparedness for the ever-evolving 21st century among its graduates. The future is clearly bright, and with an active eye toward how to prepare student-athletes for life beyond high school and college, it becomes increasingly clear that KMS really does take you places.