We are born creative. The average five year old asks 100 questions in a day. Most kindergartners consider themselves to be artists. But then something happens. As Tony Wagner, author of Most Likely to Succeed (the book that inspired the 2015 Sundance film of the same name) says, “We call it school.” The longer children spend in a traditional school environment, the less curious they become, the less they consider themselves artists, and the more preoccupied they become with test scores.
Perhaps even more alarming to Wagner was this staggering statistic: 45% of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, with 1/3 of graduates moving back home after college. The conventional wisdom that a degree from a top school will translate into a successful career is not holding true for almost half of our kids.
To understand where we are going wrong, Wagner launched a massive-scale global study interviewing hundreds of notable innovators from all walks of life all over the world. One common thread among the subjects he interviewed was that they had a teacher who inspired their innovative mindset. Wagner tracked down many of these teachers, and then interviewed and observed them teaching. He found a recurring pattern of teaching in ways that were fundamentally different from their peers, yet remarkably similar to one another.
Below are five characteristics these innovator-inspiring teachers tended to have in common:
1) They promoted deep collaboration and teamwork and even participated in team teaching whenever possible.
2) They organized interdisciplinary work as opposed to focusing on a single subject at a time.
3) They fostered a unique classroom culture that centered on creative problem solving, not just taking in and regurgitating information.
4) They embraced the F-Word: Failure! As teachers, they were not afraid to take risks, even in front of parents and peers. They understood that true creativity and innovation cannot happen in a setting where everyone is averse to risk. They focused more on iteration, a process of trial and error, which is how we really learn as human beings. They also avoided too much emphasis on conventional grading. What if you could only give an A, B, or Incomplete?
5) They fostered intrinsic motivation in students. They didn’t want their students to get an A for the sake of the grade, but rather because the work had value and was interesting.
What would it look like if a school embraced these characteristics? I would argue that it would look a lot like WHPS. How could we leverage Tony Wagner’s research even further and foster a truly transformative innovator mindset in all our children? I invite you to come join the conversation at our Most Likely to Succeed film screening on March 8.