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Second General Session

Wagner: Change Schooling to Create Innovators or Failures

Did you know that there are skills that separate innovative from non-innovative individuals?

Tony Wagner spoke to the Second General Session at the 2013 Joint Annual Conference about how school leaders can create conditions at home, school and communities for students to create, learn, produce, and become innovative.

Wagner began by stating: “We are experiencing times of exponential change and unprecedented challenges.” And he ended by questioning the current educational delivery model of static classrooms and challenging the audience to think about finding ways to inspire innovation and engage the concentration of students.

Before opening up the floor for a short but lively Q & A session, Wagner left his listeners with the idea that the necessary foundation that all students need is built on three pillars: content knowledge, skills and intrinsic motivation to learn. But he added that motivation — the will to learn — “is the most important, and yet current schooling does the most damage to that.”

Wagner is Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University, and the founder and former director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is a former high school teacher, K-8 principal, professor of education, and the founding executive director of Educators for Social Responsibility.

He is also a widely-published author of numerous articles and five books, including The Global Achievement Gap. That and his recent book, Creating Innovators, were available at the conference bookstore after his address.

Wagner also challenged conference attendees to think about education in a different way, placing an emphasis on preparing students for a job landscape that is no longer asking for repetition and fact-based learning.

“Businesses want employees who identify problems as much as they want problem solvers,” he explained.

Wagner stressed the importance of becoming an innovation-driven economy as opposed to a consumer-driven economy, and laid out the survival skills that students will need for college, career, and citizenship:

  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • collaboration across networks and leading teams of peers by influence (he said all kids particularly need to learn that skill)
  • agility and adaptability
  • initiative initiative and entrepreneurialism
  • effective oral and written communication (he said kids often don’t know how to think and how to reason, and they need to be taught how to write to voice their passions)
  • accessing and analyzing information
  • curiosity and imagination

He also said that “teaching for the test” is crippling the opportunity that teachers might have to induce healthy risk-taking in the classroom. In contrast, Wagner noted that Google allows its employees to dedicate 20 percent of their work time to do whatever they want.

Wagner said the job of leading profound change is critical today, noting that for the first time in American history, over 50 percent of college grads are without a job or a school.

Also speaking Saturday was David Pickler of Tennessee, current president of the National School Boards Association. He acknowledged what an honor it is to be the president, adding, “Our job is to serve you, knowing that school boards make a difference.”

Pickler charged that the federal government has lost its way on education, and that U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan wants a federal school board, with himself as superintendent. “He has many well-funded allies,” Pickler warned.

But he said school boards can become a powerful army if they work together to seek local autonomy and focus on the issues that unite them. “Collectively we represent and serve over 50 million school children; we are collectively the largest employer in America,” Pickler noted.

He concluded his remarks with a quote from the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on the 50 th anniversary of his death: “ ‘Now is not the time for complacency…This is no time for timidity or doubt. This is a time for boldness and energy’.”

The Second General Session was also the venue to recognize IASB’s past presidents and the Illinois Superintendent of the Year, Kelly Stewart, superintendent of Benton CHSD 103.

Stewart was introduced by Steve Webb, president of the Illinois Association of School Administrators. As superintendent of Goreville Community Unit School District 1 for 11 years and as a school administrator for the past 20 years, Webb said he is particularly proud to lead the state organization of school superintendents because, “We just want to do what is best for students.”  


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