At our annual Board Retreat last Friday, the trustees watched a portion of a 2010 presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, which is linked above. The purpose for our conversation was to talk about the ways technology can help change the model of instruction in our classrooms to make learning more engaging for students.

An important larger theme of the Robinson talk, however, is how the structure of our school system as a whole is no longer relevant in the lives of many students. Sir Ken speaks quite a bit about the ramifications, and about midway through his talk he discusses the remarkable increase in the number of ADHD diagnoses and charts the location of the “epidemic.”

Interestingly, this theme emerged again just this week in a sobering article in the New York Times about a doctor who has stopped even the pretense of an ADHD diagnosis and is now prescribing Adderall for the sole purpose to help students pay attention in school. “I don’t have a lot of choice,” says Dr. Michael Anderson in the NYT story. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

I think about this story amidst the backdrop of the financial debates that are happening in communities today ~ and the sad state of affairs when class sizes are approaching 50 students. Talk about a factory model! There is simply little that teachers can do beyond crowd control. Many students don’t complain because they don’t know anything different.

Of course, the issue of relevancy is about more than just class size and whether there are enough desks for students. Our curriculum and teaching also need to be relevant and engaging.

Just this morning, I passed through several upper school classrooms and was pleased to see such a wide variety of teaching and learning happening. Chemistry students were in the lab. History students were working in small groups, using laptops, to research and prepare presentations. One teacher was using the Smartboard to toggle between videos, class notes, and discussion. Another was making reference to the online materials she has made available to reinforce and supplement what was going on the classroom. Yet another was combining a traditional lecture with the use of new digital tools to support research and notetaking. Students were engaged in labs, collaborating on projects, and acting out material they had just read.

It was an exciting few hours, and it gave me the greatest pleasure to see our students fully engaged in their learning and supportive of each other and the work of their teachers.

There is more to be done, but I certainly didn’t see the world prophesied by Sir Ken. We have a great foundation to build upon.