We arrive at this time of year having just recently honored our graduating seniors and retirees, and also putting the final touches on our incoming class of students and new hires to replace our handful of departing faculty and staff. This annual cycle connects two very interrelated pieces at University School of Milwaukee–the students with whom we are entrusted to educate and prepare for the future, and the adults who work tirelessly to ensure that we meet those expectations. As I reflect on this, my thinking seems to always come back to two related questions–“Is the education we are providing our students relevant for this time and this world?” and “Are we educating our students to be versatile in a world that is becoming increasingly challenging and complex?”
We are fortunate to have resources as a School– endowed through professional development funding and the generous support of our donor community– that provide opportunities for research, information- gathering, and skills development for our teachers and administrators. Through these opportunities, there has been a growing awareness that USM needs to be more than an academic institution that excels in teaching students the traditional subjects of math, science, history, English, and language. Rather, we need to augment these foundational disciplines with modern learning in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship.
While these learning opportunities are not new to the School, there is no question that our formal commitment to them as part of the USM educational experience will require new pedagogies for our faculty to grapple with, and new spaces for these opportunities to take place. I was fortunate to be able to travel to St. Louis last summer and experience new innovation spaces at both Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS) and John Burroughs School, and also explore the new spaces at Francis Parker School in San Diego, all independent schools with which we benchmark. The doors that have been opened for students and alumni at those schools as a result of the schools’ commitments to innovation and entrepreneurship were nothing short of amazing.
There will be many opportunities and challenges as we make thoughtful choices about how we will inculcate this curriculum into our already full schedule of traditional teaching and learning. We will be reconsidering not only what we teach, but also how we teach. We will undoubtedly move toward more of an interdisciplinary curriculum as we continue to recognize the necessity for students to learn across boundaries. This will be done with intention as we blend not only the traditional areas of study but also those in the innovation and entrepreneurship arenas, all while enhancing our emphasis on skills-based education, character development, and meta-learning–the awareness of one’s own learning and cognitive abilities.
So, now we are faced with the challenge of making it all work together. I am convinced that our faculty will make this happen. They have shown a propensity for the ability to interact, challenge, and influence each other and our programming through discourse, learning, and flexibility. They have proven their ability to change and embrace new ideas, programs, and techniques–thoughtfully–with balance and caution. Independent schools are ideal environments for this type of challenge. We possess an inherent plasticity that allows us to make the changes and evolve appropriately and quickly, as necessary. USM will undoubtedly continue in its role a leader amongst all schools in the area of innovation as we address this important inflection point in the history of education. It is truly an exciting time to be an educator, and USM is a forward-thinking school that inspires us to be our very best, as we inspire our students to do the same.