#4—The Future of Smart

Mr. David Perry

One of the joys of school leadership is getting to work as part of a school leadership team. This year at AES, my team is focused on making progress on our school-wide goals especially as they relate to a shared vision around learning and around encouraging a sustainable ethos of belonging for all. To inspire my thinking about this work, I am reading a book about the future of education—The Future of Smart, How Our Education System Needs to Change to Help All Young People Thrive by Ulcca Joshi Hansen. 

According to Hansen, our ideas about what it means to be smart need to change. Being smart continues to evoke images that were born within the “factory model” of school, tied to a relentless focus on efficiency, effectiveness, quantification, and competition. Hansen notes that our schools continue to operate as though the purpose of education is to sort and rank kids based on how quickly they can absorb knowledge and how long they can retain it. This sort of educational approach divides knowledge into discrete subjects, decontextualizes learning from life, and assesses all students by the same criteria. 

But, as Hansen notes, some schools have emerged to shift their focus on a different set of values: interdependence, community, diversity, and deep, dynamic learning. Hansen believes teaching with these guideposts aligns with natural human development, facilitates learning for different kinds of brains, and prepares young people for a changing society and evolving workplace. 

Further, in The Future of Smart, Hansen shows how we can build an education system to nurture the unique development and capabilities of each child, and in turn, lay the groundwork for a more equitable, just, and humane society. According to the author, this work is necessary because “[t]he ‘highly skilled’ individuals we need [for the working world] are more likely to emerge from schools that allow them to learn by doing—by engaging with the community around them and following their interests—than from schools that compel them to follow a preset curriculum.”

At AES, we are currently engaged with this important work as we develop and communicate a shared vision and common language around learning. To this end, AES has adopted five learning principles that will guide our progress (Viewbook  pgs 21-21):


Learning is guided by a clear, intentional sense of purpose. Through authentic experiences, we create connections with the past, make meaning in the present, and extend our learning into the future.


Learning is driven by the joy of our natural curiosity through a lifelong process of play, wondering, questioning, exploring, and investigation. 


Learning is a personal, social, and emotional experience. Our community is strengthened as we actively develop the capacity to learn.


Learning is meaningful when we take ownership of it. Through voice, choice, and self-efficacy, we create paths toward sustained, independent growth. 


Learning is enhanced through diversity. Our varied cultural and linguistic backgrounds, life experiences, identities, and individual perspectives empower our unique voices and contribute to our culture of belonging. 

These five learning principles—purpose, wonder, community, ownership, and diversity—will guide teachers in their development of units that speak to Hansen’s notion of how we can nurture the unique capabilities of each child. And tied with our commitment to service learning, each student at AES will have multiple opportunities at every grade level to learn by doing—to follow their interests and then engage with the community around them—which Hansen says should prepare them for success in a changing world.