What are the hottest trends in education? And how do we address them?

My job is to watch trends, and so when I had the chance to meet with other Executive Directors this week in Fort Worth, and the conversation inevitably turned to the changing landscape, I was in my element.

Here are the three trends (with a shout out to my mentors, who advise three bullets, and three bullets only):

What should children learn?

  • How can schools best develop character? We know from our Parent Motivation survey that development of character, morals and values is today’s parents’ priority. I follow NYT’s journalist David Brooks and recommend his most recent book, The Road to Character.
  • How can schools best develop entrepreneurs? This article on raising kids to be billionaires is actually not all evil and manages well the dilemma of focusing on opportunity and money and yet also generosity and values.

How should children learn?

  • How will blended learning change our schools? While some are arguing that this is not a trend (See a recent article here), others are arguing that this is the disruptive innovation on our industry.
  • What does personalized learning, the trend that everyone agrees is the number one trend, actually look like? Bob Snowden has done a great job exploring this question in a series in his blog.

There may be others, but for now, I would say that these are the hottest trends in learning. I believe we always need to pay attention to trends, and the latest figures on the decline of school age children in Canada is a real wake-up call that we need to sharpen the saw. (The forecasted total decrease in School Aged Children from 2010 – 2025 is 771,287, which is a 20.7% total decrease).

What can our CAIS schools learn from other schools?

  • What can we learn from for-profit schools? Here is one example of a for-profit school expanding its international clientele.
  • What is going on in Asia and what will be the impact on our CAIS independent schools? CAIS wrote an Asian Trends Report last year, and we continue to follow activity.
  • How can we learn from start-ups? This week, Elon Musk announced that he will start a school. With all due respect, what does he know about education, and why are parents willing to trust a school with no history? But with all due respect, what can our traditional and successful schools learn from this parent, who was obviously dissatisfied with the local public and private options?

The second question – how do we address these trends – is more of a challenge. It requires research – such as our 2051 Project – that captures the complexity of the trends, or as we call it, the “dual challenge”. But more importantly, it requires the best minds working collaboratively.

This week, I am meeting with the leaders of our CAIS National Networks. Those of you who know me know I am super cheap. So you may be surprised to know that CAIS is actually paying for everyone to travel to meet in person. But I firmly believe that the future strength and permanence of our schools will require much more collaboration. It will require time, in meetings and in less formal situations, to learn and debate and problem-solve. Our new national conference model is based on this same philosophy of diverse thinkers engaging in catalytic conversations about the future of education. I know I will be in my element again when that happens, so I can’t wait to get started.

Why did you choose that school?

With the upcoming Kee family move, we spent time in Ottawa this weekend. Kevin met his new colleagues, and the kids and I searched for a home (we bought one in the Glebe!) On Friday night, we were all invited to dinner at the current Dean of Arts’ house, and I had the opportunity to watch my kids in action with a room full of adults – professors and administrators! – who were brand new to them. I eavesdropped on one conversation that really got me thinking.

Jacob and Kathleen were asked which of the local public schools in Ottawa they would choose for next year. I thought of interrupting my conversation to reply, but instead, knowing that a university crowd is a fairly safe one, I watched.

Jacob explained that they would go to boarding school. He reported that he chose Lakefield because it had “better programs”, and he gave the example of outdoor education. He went on to tell the story of last week’s river rescue when he had to wear a wetsuit and jump in rapids and be saved, and do the saving of another boy as well. He said it was those kinds of extras that made him choose Lakefield.

Admittedly, I was relieved to hear this. That focus on the outdoors was exactly what we hoped for with his choice. (Is it bad to admit that I was pretty proud of his confident reply?)

For a while the conversation turned to what the adults knew of Lakefield – that Prince Andrew went there and it was near Peterborough. One woman from Spain added that the King of Spain had also attended Lakefield. When Kathleen expressed surprise at that, she was asked about her decision. Now Kathleen hasn’t started yet, and I had no idea how she would handle the question about school choice. So I watched, ready to jump in, if needed.

She turned the attention back to them by asking, “Have you ever been to camp?” For a while, the conversation turned to camp, and she smiled and nodded. Then she went on to tell them the following (more or less):

Kathleen: Well, Lakefield is a lot like camp. We live on the water and do a lot of fun activities. Plus, everyone knows everyone.   It’s a great place.

She smiled confidently (and I had that Mother pride moment again). I later heard one woman quietly ask Kathleen, “How often will you get to see your parents?” And she lit up. “Oh. Every 2-3 weeks or so. It is just like being away for camp.”

There are moments in life when, as a Mother, you know you’ve made a good decision, and I felt that then. For starters, we gave our kids a fair amount of autonomy in the process of choosing a high school, focusing on finding a school that uniquely suits them. We took some heat for that, and for allowing them to choose boarding. So as I watched them own their decision, share their enthusiasm for their boarding school experience, and handle themselves with grace and confidence, I have to say it: I felt proud.

As the Executive Director for 97 CAIS schools, I sometimes worry about how all of our students would justify their school choice. But then I imagine our 50,000 students having 50,000 conversations where they share their passion for their schools with confidence.

And that image not only makes me smile, it also makes me proud.