Independent School Education Today

It is an exciting time to be a student. As we close out the second decade of the twentieth century, schools continue to focus on developing innovative ways to keep students engaged, curious, and passionate about learning. In the summer volume of Independent School, the National Association of Independent School’s quarterly magazine, the editors take on the subject, “What Independent School Education Looks Like Today”. Throughout the issue, they feature signature programs and state-of-the-art practices from independent schools around the country that are giving students choice and voice, building partnerships with public institutions, and re-imagining how students should be thinking about their learning and the future.
As educators learn more about the science of how our children learn, they are challenging the orthodoxy of school structures, building design, and even its very purpose. Whereas educators in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries sought to prepare students for the contemporary workforce, today’s teachers understand that our role is to develop the skills and habits in learners that produce agile, creative, and critical thinkers prepared to solve the big problems they will confront, even if they haven’t yet been identified. According to a recent report, an astounding 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 — when our current First Grade students graduate from Bush, and our current Twelfth Grade students turn thirty — haven’t been invented yet (Emerging Technologies’, 2017).
This is the charge of teachers at Bush — to prepare students for a future that is unknowable yet filled with possibilities. Many of you heard this directly from our teachers at this week’s Middle School Back-to-School and Upper School Curriculum nights. They spoke clearly and persuasively about their passion for developing curricula that encourages students to ask questions and to challenge assumptions. They shared their pedagogical practices that require your children to work collaboratively — a skill that develops empathy and the ability to listen, digest, synthesize, and process data from multiple sources and perspectives. They shaped conversations around student voice, agency, and choice, which make learning not only more engaging, but relevant for them.
I was encouraged to read that some of the programs featured in the magazine are part of our curriculum and practices as well. For example, the magazine highlights Putney School’s (VT) movement to re-consider assessments and define characteristics of a Putney student (pgs. 87-91); Catlin Gabel’s (OR) place-based learning module called the PLACE program—an inspiration for Bush’s Methow Campus (pgs. 110-111); and The Willow Community School’s (CA) effort to implement the RULER program within their school community (pgs. 81-85). These examples focus on areas The Bush School has championed for years—authentic assessment and engaged learning, education outside of the classroom and in partnership with the community, and recognizing emotions as an integral part of how students learn. I appreciate that we are not only responding to these positive trends in independent school education, but finding areas to lead.
At tonight’s Lower School Curriculum night — and throughout the remainder of the year — parents will have an opportunity to hear about how science, research, play, and passion influence our teachers’ work and your children’s learning. They may not know what big problems will lie ahead for them, but Bush graduates will be prepared to solve them.
It’s a great time to be a student, and a great day to be a Blazer!
Percy L. Abram, Ph.D.
Head of School