The Spring 2017 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin magazine explores the theme of innovation among our alumni, students and faculty. The following article by Chief Innovation and Information Officer Anthony Pisapia sets the stage for what we mean by innovation at Tower Hill School.
Innovation as Mindset:
Bridging the Preparation Gap Between College and the Workplace
By Anthony Pisapia, Chief Innovation and Information Officer
Children are magical. Every day I am amazed at the gains my three children make. With a tot, a second-grader and a fourth-grader, I am seeing it all as a THS parent.
But I do believe students and teachers need to be aware of how quickly things are changing. I have seen, in my own lifetime, how much the world has changed. I want my children to be prepared for the future we see on the horizon. I want them to outpace me and succeed.
I think about:
• The fact that freelancers make up 35 percent of the U.S. workforce today, a number that is rapidly increasing. Our children may have no choice but to be entrepreneurs, as the typical 9 to 5 makes way for more flexible, and less certain, opportunities.
• The rise of automation and the fact that existing technologies threaten to replace $2 trillion worth of human effort are sobering. Our children must be able to work with technology throughout their lives.
• Globalization and the fact that many Fortune 500 companies work across a minimum of seven different time zones will require our children to collaborate and communicate across dozens of cultures, and languages, on a daily basis.
Our students are entering a world where it may no longer be enough to be a lawyer. They may have to be lawyers who can mine vast databases to create the argument on which a case rests. It may no longer be enough to be a doctor. They may have to be doctors who can use a robot for surgery or help design an app for wellness. All of these data points bring me to the core question of my work: “What are the core skills that children will need in order to be successful throughout their lifetimes?”
The Role of an Innovation Officer
I sit in a very interesting seat. My position is one that effects change throughout Tower Hill. I get to ask questions like the one above. I get the opportunity to consider the future and help drive changes to our children’s education in order to meet that future.
We must, as a school, continue to adapt our approach to teaching and learning if our children are to succeed. But we must also identify, and hang on to, those things that make a Tower Hill education timeless.
A century of successful teaching and learning has created, inarguably, one of the finest education institutions in the world. There is a balance here that we must get right.
We must keep emphasizing teamwork, time management and the ability to learn new tasks quickly. We must add things like entrepreneurial mindset, global perspective and the ability to use technology as a powerful tool.
We must be vigilant to not chase fads. We must instead uncover underlying truths about where our children will need to go and what they will need to be able to do. They need to be ready for a future that is not yet realized. We must ensure they are prepared.
These Skills Must Be In Place Before College
My experience starting a coding boot camp, Zip Code Wilmington, was eye opening. At Zip Code, I saw college graduates—some with master’s degrees, some with doctorates—frustrated by the opportunities they had to advance in their careers.
I also met with dozens of employers who were frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t hire college graduates because they didn’t have the requisite skills.
And it wasn’t just technology skills that these college graduates lacked. The key skills necessary for their success were problem solving; analytical ability; and the capacity to learn new tasks quickly, deliver finished work and communicate effectively in a team. Those skills were in short supply.
As K-12 educators, we are in a unique position to teach those skills. We give students that core skill set rarely taught in college, where research is king. We teach our students how to connect the dots, put it all together and deliver a finished product. We teach them to analyze, adapt, learn and succeed. We put students in control of their educational development, and career opportunities, for a lifetime. We “future-proof” our kids.
Bringing Home the Magic
Parents a generation ago were astounded by the new skills their children brought back from school. Their children were using technology they had never used and learning about complex concepts with intricacies they had never explored. It was clear their children were moving ahead.
This generation is working a bit differently. Parents are seeing innovations in their workplace, and in the world, and fear their children might be left behind. It is this new reality that is driving innovation in schools across the country.
Parents are looking to schools for help. They want help keeping their children ahead. They want to see their children bring home magic. The question we should be asking is not, “Are we doing enough?” We’re doing plenty. The question should be, “Are we doing the right things and making the right choices?”
For me, the only way to answer that is to define what we want to achieve. We need to ask: “What do we want our end product to look like? What should our students be able to do when they leave?”
Innovation Isn’t Just About Technology
Steve Jobs has an often-misunderstood quote: “Everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” This does not mean that children who can’t code can’t think. It means that our children are entering a world where they will be required to be analytical. They will be required to break down a problem and design its solution. They will be required to learn new skills at an incredibly brisk pace.
Our children may be missing a key piece of their education if they do not understand the process, the tools and the language of innovation.
For our part, at Tower Hill, we will be studying our end product. Our alumni become as important in this conversation as our educators. We must ask our alumni to expose our blind spots. They need to tell us what skills they wish they had before leaving Tower Hill.
We must also ask our parents and universities. To adapt a quote from the hockey great Wayne Gretzky, we need to ask them, “Where is the puck moving?”
Finally, we must engage employers. Employers can expose gaps and opportunities. They can also give us a global perspective and show us where other countries are exceeding expectations.