Old School, New School: The Modern Skill Sets Students Need

Old School, New School: The Modern Skill Sets Students Need

By Mary Lisa Geppert (Senior Advisor), Ara Brown (Head of Upper School, D.C. campus) and Stephanie Fitzgerald (Head of Early Learning Center, D.C. campus)

Whittle School & Studios recently participated in the Meridian Global Leadership Summit, which convened leaders at the nexus of diplomacy, business and policy in Washington, D.C. to discuss the disruptions of technology and innovation and how to prepare for a digitally driven future.

Both public and private sector leaders discussed how automation, artificial intelligence and technological advances are challenging employer and educational models around the world. Many companies and businesses are grappling with how to best prepare their employees for the future and how to obtain the skill sets necessary to adjust to the impact of technology on the global workforce landscape.

Chris Whittle at the Meridian Global Leadership Summit
Whittle School & Studios founder Chris Whittle speaks at the Meridian Global Leadership Summit. (Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar)


The Importance of Empathy

Sharon Grant, vice president of community affairs at United Airlines, explained the essential need for United’s employees to have empathy and to show a human touch in customer service in the age of automation. She noted that corporate policies, while important, need a human touch and “an empathetic person” to determine if modifications can or should be made in order for customers to feel that their best interests have been considered—especially when handling challenging situations.

Schools in the United States and around the world traditionally have not focused on the personal skills necessary to be competitive in our ever-changing business world. There is a great need for the workforce of the future to have endurable and transferable skills, be relationship-driven, and receive training and hands-on educational experiences that are collaborative, experiential and discussion-oriented.  


Updating Rote, Stagnant Processes

In the words attributed to John Dewey, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” The antiquated approach of teaching students what they should know instead of how they should learn does nothing to prepare them for future careers. The World Economic Forum states in their 2016 Future of Jobs Report that “most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today,” which include “social skills such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others [as well as] collaboration skills.”

While advances in technology grow exponentially, our approach to education has not changed much since the industrial revolution. Never within history has it been more imperative that schools provide an education that equips students with the necessary skills of tomorrow.

In world that is advancing overnight, schools remain the same. As our founder Chris Whittle joked, “If you were to fall asleep in the 15th century and wake up today, you would only recognize two things: your church and your school. Though that might be good for your church, it’s not [good] for schooling.”  


A New Kind of School (and Student)

At Whittle, we are re-inventing the modern school. We believe that through our personalized, global and experiential approaches to learning, students will become rigorous scholars, intrepid explorers, self-aware beings, resilient individuals, creative builders and ethical citizens. We need empathetic, informed citizens as employees in every level of our modern society.

Expedition Day
Whittle students and faculty on a recent expedition day.

What makes Whittle so different is that our students will practice these skills and ways of being every day in their classrooms, neighborhoods, and local and global communities. During an in-depth, multi-week project on water quality in the Anacostia River, Whittle middle school students will research the history, environment, biology, and community based on their personal interests.

Expedition Day
Whittle students and faculty on a recent expedition day.

Whittle students and faculty on a recent expedition day. Every week, they will interview experts, plan visits, paddle down the river in canoes and test the water quality. Products of their work might include a video promoting the volunteer work necessary to remove invasive species from the banks of the river or a policy brief for the public officials responsible for investing in improvements to the river’s water quality. In this one project alone, they will become:

  • Rigorous scholars who use the tools of humanities, science, technology, engineering, math, creative arts and design to observe, order and express themselves in the world
  • Intrepid explorerswho learn, problem solve, follow their passions, and reflect using stories, investigations, explorations and creative designs
  • Self-aware beingswho recognize their capabilities, develop a healthy mind and body, and understand their learning styles
  • Resilient individuals who use mistakes to learn, use practice to reach their goals, and give and receive feedback to continually grow
  • Creative builders who use design processes to make the world a better place and joyfully create using language, music, movement and visual arts
  • Ethical citizens who embrace diversity, treat others fairly, seek understanding, practice empathy, and care for the world around them.

Whittle students will lead their communities in kind, thoughtful, knowledgeable, strategic and passionate ways from preschool through high school.  We are confident that they will become the empathetic humans our society needs and deserves.