High School: Preparation For Life
Graduating from high school has become increasingly important and is viewed as a minimum requirement for success in terms of employment, salary, and future career choices (Gwynne, Lesnick, Hart, & Allensworth, 2009). According to Grant Wiggins (2011), "There's only one valid measure of the high school curriculum: How well does it prepare students for their adult lives?" Recently, I visited Hobsonville Point Secondary School in Auckland, New Zealand. The high school emphasizes learner agency, student understanding, inquiry, complex problem solving skills, creativity, personalized learning, and project-based learning.
In most high schools around the world, the priorities include earning enough credits to reach the next grade level, maintaining a high grade point average (GPA), and competing with your peers to have the top 5-10% GPA in the class. Hobsonville Point Secondary School is not your traditional high school. The students do not have a bell schedule. They have a small number of high school credits that are required for graduation. The emphasis is on learning, not on earning an A. The priorities include preparing students to become self-directed learners through a rigorous curriculum that encourages risk taking and engagement. Student engagement is increased through student choice, voice, and project-based learning. The students own their learning and they seek to grow.
The school uses classroom arrangements that look more like a Barnes and Noble coffee shop than a high school classroom. Students sit in the hallways, collaborate at tables, move furniture to work in small groups, and participate in class debates. The furniture is designed to provide students with a space to reflect. There are no desks or one-size-fits-all assignments. Students are practicing the skills that the workforce is requiring of new employees.
Maurie Abraham, principal of the school, said, "We are focused on developing dispositions to enable students to contribute confidently and responsibly in a dynamic and changing world." He explained that most high schools operate based on TRADITION. School staff in traditional high schools say they want to develop students who are college and career ready and able to contribute as active citizens in a changing world. However, the teaching and learning in traditional high schools focuses on seat time, earning a grade, completing assignments that may not be relevant to each student, and compliance over contribution.
Business leaders, university professors, and policymakers are calling for a K-12 experience that develops more critical thinkers. “Skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, applying academic knowledge and situational judgment are more important than ever to an individual’s labor market success” (Association of Career and Technical Education, 2008, p. 7). Does your school have “a gap between the compass and the clock - between what’s deeply important to us and they way we spend our time?” (Covey, Merrill, & Merill, 1994, p. 16).
Questions To Determine What Is Important At Your High School
By Maurie Abraham, Principal
Hobsonville Point Secondary School
1. What principles drive your curriculum?
2. What are your priorities?
3. What are your Graduate Learner Outcomes?
4. How will you measure student growth and progress toward the principles that drive your curriculum?
5. How do students learn best?
6. Are you preparing students for life after high school or sending them through the same hoops their parents had to jump through?
7. Is your curriculum aligned to student interests (i.e., relevance) and the skills that students will need to succeed in life?
8. Is your mission statement something to hang on the wall or does it push students closer to the Graduate Learner Outcomes?
Hobsonville Point Secondary School has transformed the traditional high school experience. Our visit showed how high school students can succeed in classrooms that are open, visible, and connected learning spaces. The students are motivated by the desire to pursue their interests and apply prior knowledge in school and in the community. Authentic tasks support inquiry, relevance, and transfer of knowledge. Does your high school prepare students for life? What would you change about the high school experience? "By learning from a set of best-practice high schools, all high schools can begin to move in the right direction, emphasizing the knowledge, skills, dispositions, programs, and practices necessary for all students to be successful in postsecondary educational settings" (Conley, 2008).
About the Author
Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (Arkansas). He is participating in "A Learning Journey: Global Perspectives to Ignite Innovation in Education" with two principals and two teacher leaders from Fayetteville Public Schools, along with other educators from Northwest Arkansas. The trip is sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Office of Innovation in Education.
This is a study tour of New Zealand's educational system and selected innovative schools. Efforts will then turn to transforming ideas learned during the study tour into action. The group is focused on learning how to create the conditions to generate, enhance, and scale dynamic innovative approaches to education.