Antonia Knoth is a Grade 12 student at Havergal College in Toronto. She’s also a changemaker, getting a solid start with the school’s blockchain Hack 4 Change.
Now she’s chair of the 2020 Toronto Youth STEM & Innovation Conference taking place this spring at the MaRS Discovery District, connecting her peers with industry leaders and new opportunities.
“She’s a great example of someone making a difference,” says Garth Nichols, Havergal’s vice-principal of student engagement and experiential development.
This is part of the school’s Forum for Change mandate, which delivers integrated programs with a focus on social justice and innovation. In September, the school launched its Global Leading and Learning Diploma, a distinguishing program for students engaged in the Forum for Change.
“What we’re seeking to do is celebrate social innovators and give them the resources, the challenge and the support to really deep dive into what it means to be a social innovator,” Nichols says.
That includes the Blockchain Learning Group’s Hack 4 Change. “Students have to research a sustainable development goal from the UN and find opportunities in which blockchain can help move in the direction of achieving that goal,” says Tanay Naik, director of Havergal’s Forum for Change. To help meet the goal of ‘decent work and economic growth,’ for example, students used blockchain to create more transparency in the supply chain.
The future of work is changing, and a focus on changemaking is aimed at tackling one of the biggest challenges in education today: forming young people who can adapt to rapid change and embrace it.
That’s also the thinking behind The Mabin School in Toronto, Canada’s first independent Ashoka Changemaker School. Ashoka is a global organization that supports social entrepreneurship, with a mission to help students become changemakers.
This mission is based on empathy in action, “the idea that everybody can be a changemaker if you can access empathy and take action based on that empathy,” says Nancy Steinhauer, Mabin’s principal. “The social curriculum is just as important to us as the academic curriculum.”
By Grade 6, students have already learned specific “habits of mind” such as empathy, managing impulsivity and taking responsible risks. And it starts as early as Kindergarten.
Mabin’s youngsters were interested in saving the bees, so they created a garden on school property with flowers that attract bees and went door to door handing out packets of seeds to neighbours. “Interests and passions become an excuse to teach [skills like] reading and math,” Steinhauer says. And they “often culminate in changemaking.”
Habits of mind are also a foundation for learning at Kingsway College School in Etobicoke, Ont. “We have grown to be a school where empathy is being practised and directly taught,” says Andrea Fanjoy, head of Senior School. So much so, it will be opening a new senior school in September 2021 with a mission to build citizen-leaders.
“When you’re starting something new, you have an unparalleled opportunity to apply everything you’ve learned and know to be good,” Fanjoy says. “We’re building on our junior school, but it will be increasingly experiential. It will have woven into the curriculum a framework for building agency and having impact in every subject.”
Schools are promoting student agency through inquiry- and project-based learning. Kingsway has an entrepreneurship program called StEP, led by its partners at Future Design School, to help students bring a business idea to life. At St. Clement’s School, project-based learning gets students out into the community to develop skills and competencies.
New this year at St. Clement’s is a food security project, where experts, food vendors and even a chef educate students about this complex issue of equity and social justice. This spring, students will create their own healthy, cost-efficient meals, and then make those meals at a local community kitchen.
The school has shifted toward new pedagogies for deep learning, which include developing competencies like collaboration and critical thinking. “The trick is how do you mix content with these competences and apply these to authentic situations,” says Heather Henricks, vice-principal of learning, research and innovation. “We’re trying to use ways of teaching that kids can use later in life.”
While some life skills are developed in the classroom or community, others are developed by leaving the country. At Neuchâtel Junior College, students study the Canadian curriculum in Switzerland, speaking French and living with a local family.
“Living in another culture teaches them to be resilient,” says Dorit Tepperman, director of admission at Neuchâtel. In a safe, structured environment, “they have to speak another language, learn to navigate a different culture, learn how to be open-minded in solving problems and using the resources that are available.” And that, she says, is an authentic way to create agents of change.
New approaches are helping students turn into more resilient adults, capable of taking risks and persisting through difficulties. “In a time of rapid change where we really don’t know what the world is going to look like in 10 years,” Steinhauer says, “what we need is kids who love to learn. Content is a bit arbitrary.”
Our Kids tip: Make sure your school’s values align with your own
“A supplemental program can certainly influence the direction of your child’s development, but what makes a bigger difference are the values that pervade the school as a whole. Schools should be able to clearly articulate these values: What is their vision for a fully developed student? What does the school do well and differently? You want to hear answers that are specific and differentiating. Test for consistency of message, and for coherence between values and programs.”
— OurKids.net, Canada’s Private School Guide
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.