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The Challenge of Change (and why Burgundy is one step ahead)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

What a week! From the pre-dawn power outage that forced us to close school Monday to our first snowstorm Thursday, to the end-of-week exclamation points: an inspired and inspiring 6th grade Burgundy on Broadway production of Origins and Elements and an exciting championship varsity coed soccer win over ACDS at Bishop Ireton. Now that’s a week to remember!

Somehow we also had a productive and somewhat normal week of classes, and, on a personal-professional level, I was able to attend the annual AISGW heads of school conference in Middleburg Thursday and Friday, a terrific once-a-year opportunity for heads of school of greater Washington area independent schools to gather and reflect and learn together.

The theme of the 2018 heads conference was ‘The Challenge of Change.’ Change meaning the incessant, lightning-paced, pulsing evolution, automation and machination of seemingly everything these days and how that is impacting, or soon will be impacting, education, particularly secondary and post-secondary ed.

Let me share just one theme from the conference, and maybe I can expand on it and other conference takeaways at a later time. The big takeaway was this, and if it sounds self-serving that does not make it less true: The evolution and machination of so many industries and elements of life, including communication and education itself, are making more relevant than ever what we’re doing at Burgundy! The capacities for learning, for creativity and outside-the-box integrative thinking and problem-solving -- and what are known today as 21st century learning skills -- are manifested by our students in so many ways: in learning activities such as building a ‘digestion machine,’ in debating what school or personal business relationships matter and why, in collaboratively designing and executing a full-class musical review, in learning how to capitalize on rather than ‘tolerate’ diversity, in regular practice at learning by doing and applying learning; all of this foreseeably is going to be more valuable than ever before.

In a new and more dynamic ecosystem of work and education, in which education will be ‘continuing’ or ongoing more as a rule than exception, and where careers may be much more fluid that anything we can imagine, knowing how to learn, how to be a learner for life, and how to work with all sorts of people with all sorts of gifts are going to be essential….

This comment from Katherine A. Rowe, President, William and Mary College, one of Virginia’s oldest universities, echoes similar sentiments: We owe students an education for the whole person and for the whole of their careers….and with the wisdom to find value in both continuity and change: these are the problem-solvers that every industry and community will value most highly in the coming years…

If, in truth, many liberal arts colleges today are adopting or co-opting the social-emotional missions of independent secondary schools and soon may need to re-examine their academic purposes or risk losing relevance, these same schools are fully embracing that the concepts of 21st century learning are more than relevant, they’re essential. We’re grateful to have the resources we do at Burgundy in our campuses, facilities, caring staff and strong community, to give our children such a well rounded and integrated start that leads to such a diverse and excellent set of next opportunities and choices.

And while I am both dazzled and dizzy when I reflect on the blizzard of technical and societal changes that are already taking place and those that are coming, I am greatly comforted by and grateful for the work we are doing here at Burgundy in teaching children how to respect themselves, nature, and humankind, as well as the incredible creativity and power for innovation -- and for good -- we have individually and (more important) collectively within us.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for being a part of something wonderful here that we get to facilitate and witness in our children!