International College Hong Kong
Nov 01, 2018

“Yes, but what are they learning?”

Occupy a ‘leadership’ position long enough, particularly when working within a relatively high-powered team, and you’ll be asked to undergo some sort of psychometric testing. These come in many guises, so you might find it’s DiSC, Belbin, Myers-Briggs, Strengthfinder or any one of a dozen others, but in some shape or form you will be quizzed and assessed on how your personality and preferences equip you as part of the collaborative process that, in pretty much every job of work, provides for success.

So it is that recently, in connection with another responsibility allied to my role as Head of School at ICHK, I was invited to undergo assessment to see how I fitted into a team of other richly qualified individuals from across a range of professions. My teammates, too, took the assessment and, as is the way with these things, it was promised that we would be located in one of the archetypal quadrants that would identify our greatest value to the overall team. We would be revealed and classified as either ‘dominant’, ‘influential’, ‘steady’ or ‘conscientious’. I will leave it to my friends to surmise my final resting place.

I am not proposing here to write about the accuracy or usefulness of these types of tests (though it must be noted that all big corporations pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn from them), but only to reflect on the kind of qualities that they seek to discern in those who take them. These are the qualities, the tests assume, that are most critical to the wellbeing and successful functioning of any team that has worth and is effective. So, in this instance, what qualities were listed? Here’s a sample: direct, results-orientated, strong-willed, forceful, analytical, reserved, systematic, precise, outgoing, enthusiastic, lively, even-tempered, accommodating, patient, humble, tactful …

All good, strong indicators of human value no doubt, but, looking at the list, I found myself wondering how many of these attributes are even called upon, let alone consciously and deliberately developed, stretched or honed in students attending a typical mainstream school. Maybe three or four of the sixteen, at best? And, even then, surely on a piecemeal and ad hoc basis, as a byproduct of classroom activities rather than as the actual focus of what the students are experiencing?

Let's look at another list, from a different test. This time the assessment claims to report on, among other attributes, positivity, command, communication, discipline, responsibility, ideation, connectedness, self-assurance, relationship building, adaptability, consistency, harmony, futures thinking, and empathy. Once again we might ask: how many of these strengths are called upon, rehearsed, developed or rewarded at school? How many actually form the basis for the planning and delivery of the learning opportunities from which the students benefit?

It’s not quite a rhetorical question, for I am proud to say that while, statistically, the answer may be dismal, here at ICHK we are a statistical anomaly and definite outliers to the general trend.

Over the past several years, through a combination of our own curriculum innovations – Human Technologies, Free Learning, Deep Learning, Enrichment & Flow, and Big History – and a more active and ‘romantic’ approach to ‘traditional’ subjects, we have been moving our students out of the classroom, encouraging them to work in groups and teams, engaging them in complex and evolving issues and problems, and, by so doing, requiring them get to grips with the precisely that type of challenge that draws on the skills and attributes identified above.

The results are becoming increasingly apparent around the school, where I find myself in daily, hourly contact with young people who exude confidence, who resonate with good will and with a sense of purpose, who gladly shoulder responsibility, who are generous with their time and care, who laugh frequently, and who can look an adult in the eye and hold a conversation without artifice.

When, I wonder, will we get to graduate them in all that?

One of the great frustrations of teaching is when a well-intentioned but all-too-well-trained-by-the-system parent remarks, “Yes, all this outdoor and active education is great but what are they learning?” Now then, where do I start to answer such a question? By writing this blog.

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