Problem solving--the kind we need to solve our nation's and our world's real problems--takes collaboration, compromise, and maybe most importantly, a powerful, irrepressible, deep care for something larger than ourselves. I saw all of these last weekend at the first What's the Story retreat. I listened to adolescents talk with passion (and nervousness) about things they cared so deeply about: migrant farm workers, gender inequality, educational opportunities, animal cruelty, the opioid crisis. Listening to them share their research and present their plans--such lofty and idealistic and abstract plans--made me hopeful for the future, but also reminded me of the importance of teaching students the transferable skills they will need to turn these abstract plans into actionable realities.
The structure of WtS encourages idealism, but grounds it in the practical skills necessary to achieve change. Students are asked to dream, to research, to ask questions, to find answers, to seek perspectives, to deepen their understanding, and to find their place as change-makers. And as they do this, they are provided structures to support them, space to mess up, a net to catch them if they really fall, sign posts to direct them, adult mentors and blog readers to ask questions, time to discover and think, and instruction to push their skills and help them communicate. These are all provisions that could be replicated in our schools. None of these parts is all that innovative, really. The innovation is in putting them all together and trusting that students have the agency and maturity to learn beyond the traditional boundaries we set for them.
As WtS continues, we'll get better at guiding our students to dream big, but act small; we'll improve how we support their long-distance collaboration, a key to the future of problem-solving; and we'll progress in our ability to communicate what creativity and innovation and personal growth looks like. What we're all doing here feels really important. These students will find new passions and stumble on new problems they want to solve in the future, and I am confident that they are leaving this course not only feeling like they can make change, but having the skills and understandings to know how to do so.