When Educators Make Space For Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose

Students and their teacher watch the progress of their paper rockets during a "tinkering day." (Amanda Lucier/MindShift)

Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner has been advocating that we reinvent the education system to promote innovation for years. He’s clear that content should no longer be at the center of school. Instead, he says a teacher’s main job should be to help students develop key skills necessary for when they leave school. He contends there are seven essential things young people need to be successful lifelong learners:

  1. Formulate good questions
  2. Communicate in groups and lead by influence
  3. Be agile and adaptable
  4. Take initiative and be entrepreneurial
  5. Effective written and oral communication skills
  6. Know how to  access and analyze information
  7. Be creative and imaginative

Wagner worries that unless the U.S. starts focusing on cultivating these skills, the nation will no longer produce innovative people who drive job growth. He interviewed dozens of innovative young people and asked them about their experiences in school. One third of those he interviewed couldn’t name one teacher who had impacted them. The other two thirds named teachers, who upon further investigation, were outliers in their schools. Their teaching styles and approaches were at odds with the dominant school culture.

Wagner found that all of these tremendously influential teachers ran classrooms that emphasized interdisciplinary learning, real team collaboration, risk taking, creating learning as opposed to consuming knowledge, and cultivated intrinsic motivation in students. These teachers made room for playful exploration and student passions in the classroom, helping their students to develop the purpose that drives them. He co-authored “Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era” with Tony Dintersmith.


When Educators Make Space For Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose 25 August,2015MindShift

  • Yes, Yes and Yes!

    The catastrophe in traditional education and with traditional educators is that they choose, by nay saying, to remain in the old ineffective and inefficient paradigm.

    Who are the losers? Students, parents, taxpayers and society in general.

    Its long over due that we hold these public servants accountable for their lack of action in embracing the new paradigm in education.

    • 葛道真

      Your job is on the line as a teacher when you don’t conform to the traditional model. I think you imagine that we have far more flexibility than we do. If we don’t teach 12 units in 30 weeks and our students don’t demonstrate that we stuffed them full of facts, then our teaching is deemed unsatisfactory by administration and ultimately the state and we have no job. I know how students learn best. I just wish I was allowed to let them do that. They need more time to learn, more exploration time to develop their intellectual curiosity, they need to not feel pressured to remember out dated curriculum so they can spit it back on high stakes standardized tests that cut into their learning time (ironically). And teachers need to be treated like professionals, like doctors, who know what best to “prescribe” their students for effective learning.

      • Your job should be on the line for conforming to a flawed methodology. You are a professional, not a victim. Currently by not empowering your students with success, you are a failure. Well treat you like a professional when your student success outcomes are measurably improved. No sooner

  • Norah Colvin

    Wonderful talk.

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