Learning About Learning: Inspiring Voices on Modern Schools

“The abundance of information and people connected is changing government (Wikileaks) … music (Spotify), shopping (Amazon) … so why would we think … schools would be immune? “Will Richardson


In the business of learning, it would seem self-evident that we should all be learners. With the digital landscape transforming so many aspects of society and our lives, it is abundantly clear that schools need to keep pace, to change in proportionate, appropriate ways for the benefit of all learners. I read widely and extensively; I have a desire and an obligation to learn. There are some really powerful, inspiring voices writing today about what Chris Lehmann refers to as “modern schools”. Lehmann’s phrase permits us to avoid that obsolete terminology – 21st century learning. This blog entry serves a quite simple purpose. In a year in which I had the good fortune to hear Michael Fullan and Scott McLeod speak articulately about the moral obligation to transform our schools, here are 15 inspiring voices whose published works make for a compelling case for modern schools. Featuring a brief quotation from each author, I recommend these books as essential reading for all learners in the business.

“Learning is clearly the best immunization for the disruptiveness associated with change, and the … changes of the 21st century can only be embraced with a genuine disposition to permanently learn.”
– Gabriel Rshaid, Learning for the Future: Rethinking Schools for the 21st Century

“The changes coming because of technology are far greater than you – or anyone – can imagine. And because of the changing context, the wisdom of the past, in a great many cases, will no longer apply.”
– Marc Prensky, Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom

“Through social media, teens reveal their hopes and dreams, struggles and challenges. Not all youth are doing all right, just as not all adults are. Technology makes the struggles youth face visible, but it neither creates nor prevents harmful things from happening even if it can be a tool for both. It simply mirrors and magnifies many aspects of everyday life, good and bad.”
– danah boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

“How can established educational institutions encourage the trial and error and intellectual risk-taking that are the hallmarks of innovators?”
– Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era

“Our kids are swimming in seas of access where they are able to learn deeply without us. If we don’t begin to shift our focus in schools from control and organization to freedom and self-direction, we’re going to suffer some deep consequences as a society.”
– Will Richardson, From Master Teacher to Master Learner

“Perhaps we need a different vision of education, a vision that foregrounds educating for the unknown as much as for the known … a vision of education that is ‘future wise’”
– David Perkins, Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World

“We do our students a disservice when we … fail to empower them with the skills and abilities they will need to navigate rough and shifting seas. We … need students who can create, innovate, connect, and collaborate. …Changing the way we educate students is not only necessary…it’s a moral imperative.”
– Don Wettrick, Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation

“Digital technologies are transforming how we all work, play, think, feel, and relate to each other. That revolution has barely begun. The old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind. Improving them by raising conventional standards will not meet the challenges we now face.”
– Ken Robinson, Creative Schools: Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up

“The world of the future—with its ubiquitous search engines, robots, and other computational devices—will demand capacities that until now have been mere options. To meet this new world on its own terms, we should begin to cultivate these capacities now. ” – Howard Gardner, Five Minds for the Future

“If we want to prepare our students for the rest of this century and beyond, then we must quit living in the last half century and recognize the value of becoming not only a connected educator, but also a connected, lifelong learner. The more we consciously strive to serve as connected educators, the more likely it is we can support our students in becoming connected learners.”
– Todd Whitaker, What Connected Educators Do Differently

“When we challenge students to make connections between the content of the classrooms and the context of their real lives, school can be more than preparation for real life. School can be real life.”
– Chris Lehmann, Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need

“The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves.”
– Suzie Boss, Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World

“It is time to acknowledge that we live in a nonlinear, unfathomable, and intrinsically uncertain world and that regardless of what the future looks like, the messiness will not change. It is fitting then that school mirrors, to the extent feasible, the world to which our students belong. We need to embrace a creative chaos, rather than futilely attempt to resist it.”
– Yong Zhao, How to Make Personalization and Student Autonomy Happen

“Learning is creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates … Our role is to empower students to see themselves as innovators who take responsibility for their own learning.”
– George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity

“We know only two things for certain. The first is that we should learn to embrace uncertainty…. The second is that if all the old certainties are gone, then we have to be open to radical shifts in how we work, live and learn.”
– David Price, OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future

We recently held a faculty workshop in which we shared these quotations with our colleagues and provided them with an opportunity to discuss and consider the implications of the changing landscape of learning. It was a process that provided us with an informed and somewhat disruptive context for our own work. We are currently sharing and exchanging copies of many of these books. This process of ongoing learning about learning is not only how we model the move towards modern schools with our faculty, but also the empowered foundation for our shared learning vision.