Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

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  • David Willows

Unlearning Advancement for the School of the Future

This week the World Economic Forum published a new framework for defining quality education in its Report, Schools of the Future: Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Listing 16 pioneering schools, systems and programmes intended to inspire us and help us define our own future roadmap, the Report is a significant endorsement of the need to adapt and finally move away from outdated models of learning.


The problem, though, is that moving away from outdated models of learning - or anything, in fact - is easier said than done. As Wittgenstein once famously put it, how can we start seeing the picture in front of us as a rabbit, when we’ve spent a lifetime seeing a duck? In other words, once we start seeing the world in one way, how practically can we stop?


Coincidentally, Bruce Dixon and the ever-inspiring team at Modern Learners addressed the same issue.


You see, if we are serious about school change, then we have to be serious about unlearning. And we know one of the biggest challenges facing any organizational change is resistance to new ideas, new concepts, and a new perspective of how to do what we do better.


Unlearning, according to this view, begins from the point of view that the models we use, the positions we take, and the assumptions we make are not the only way of “doing” school. The problem with “rebooting” the educational paradigm in a local context, however, is that it necessarily requires multi-stakeholder commitment to see things differently - a simultaneous reframing of teaching and learning by faculty, staff, parents and students alike. Schools simply cannot change unless the community moves forward with one voice and in one direction.


So what is the role of Advancement as schools define a different kind of future for themselves?


Unlearning Advancement at ISB: Will you be a part of our future?



Well, perhaps we should begin by considering the possibility that the established wisdom out there is not the only way of seeing the Advancement world. Every day we turn up at school with assumptions about how we organise ourselves and develop hierarchies, who does what and when, what works and what doesn’t. We have mindsets because, literally, our minds are set when perhaps what is required from us is elasticity and the expectation that a better, more relevant, way of doing things is just around the corner.


In 2016, Mark Bonchek wrote about unlearning in the Harvard Business Review. I remember reading his essay at the time and being particularly struck by one of his conclusions:


So as you begin unlearning, be patient with yourself — it’s not a linear process.


Today, these words resonate with the journey that we are on at the International School of Brussels Advancement team. Letting go of mindset is hard, filled with questions and the occasional moment of self-doubt . Sometimes an idea will open up new pathways and sometimes it leads us straight into a cul-de-sac. It requires both courage and patience - with ourselves and one another. And it is anything but a straight line.


But maybe, in the end, that’s what good learning always looks like. Maybe we are just mastering the craft of Advancement for the future of our school.

Photo by Akshay Chauhan on Unsplash

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