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The Haverford School: Preparing Boys for Life


Dr. Pamela Greenblatt is Head of Lower School at The Haverford School, a pre-k-12 school for boys located on the Main Line. Here, she discusses the future of education and how we can best prepare our children to meet the challenges of the innovation era.

What skill sets do schools need to provide to position students for success?

What is being demanded of good education right now is that we prepare our students for a society, job market, and future that we can’t predict. We must arm them with flexible, transferable skills by shaping lessons around student passions and collaborative problem-solving. As noted in The Haverford School’s recent faculty summer reading, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era, we no longer live in a knowledge economy, but in an innovation era. Facts and information are more widely accessible, but what to do with what you know has become an increasingly critical component of a strong education and predictor for career and personal success.

Haverford School teacher working with student.

How do you define design thinking, and why is it an important component of the innovation era?

As educational research points to the need for students to have agency in learning, and as the job market indicates that students need to work collaboratively, have strong communication and critical thinking skills, and be innovative and creative, design thinking is finding its way into education. Design thinking is the mindset from which teachers approach classroom instruction. It relates to the “why, what, how” of teaching, which results in a classroom experience that is more about the learning process than the outcome. While the critical academic foundations of reading, writing, and math require some level of explicit instruction, our teachers are challenging students on skills like problem-solving, communication, and teamwork. One of the beautiful things about independent schools is that we can innovate fairly quickly. If you look at what the marketplace is expecting from our children, and how schools are set up, there’s a mismatch. Design thinking is one of the ways we can shift that paradigm to allow students to thrive in this new era.

Haverford School boys work on science project at table. Haverford School student works in lab

How does design thinking support boys’ learning in particular?

When evaluating trends in education, we can look through the lens of how potential changes benefit each and every boy, realizing that each student develops and masters academic, physical, and social/emotional skills at a different pace. At Haverford, teachers have a heightened awareness of who boys are and take that into consideration when designing lessons and experiences in the classroom. They know that long periods of sitting and listening are not optimal, that deeper learning happens when they can use their hands, that boys are sensitive and need encouragement. By integrating design thinking into the curriculum, we have created a space for the boys to engage in a process that encourages divergent thinking, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, resilience, communication, and empathy. We have witnessed boys employ independent learning strategies to solve a complex problem, integrate content knowledge and skills from the classroom to understand or explain their solution, learn how to use new technology to communicate or prototype a solution, reflect on failure and try again, support each other by providing insight, and generate novel solutions to problems. In essence, design thinking is an opportunity for our boys to integrate their classroom knowledge and social/emotional skills with their innate curiosity.

Haverford School teacher helps student at computer.

How is Haverford preparing students for the innovation era?

In Haverford’s Lower School, we recently implemented differentiated instruction and design thinking. In the classroom, differentiation can take a few different forms. First, our Lower School teachers use various assessment data to understand each of their students’ learning needs. Teachers can then design their classroom instruction to include scaffolding to support students who need more assistance in completing a task or learning a skill, or enrichment opportunities for students who might move more quickly.

Design thinking provides additional opportunities for differentiation and also allows students to direct some of their own learning. Haverford’s Lower School boys have designed water filtration systems, built a monument to commemorate a person or place of significance, developed a new sport, and created their own civilization. At the heart of design thinking is generating ideas, asking questions, researching, communicating, and refining. By focusing on the process rather than the outcome, students learn about empathy, failure, perseverance, resilience, and how to work effectively as both individuals and part of a team.

Our Middle School has implemented design thinking in the form of Minimester, during which students spend time examining their role in their various communities and learning from change-makers in the area about how they can positively impact their school, their city, and their world. During the three-day Xcursion Days, they work with faculty members to explore common interests, ranging from Live Action Role Play and the art of mindfulness in elite athlete performance, to the science of bread-making and outdoor survival skills.

During a similarly themed Upper School Intellectual Curiosity Day, groups of students dig deep into their passions; one group explored the city of Philadelphia, looking at classical architecture and its influence on buildings in Philadelphia, while another got a behind-the-scenes look at Philadelphia sports teams, exploring business models and scouting reports. On-campus groups explored Cuban dance and discovered the correlations between fundamental principles of mathematics and art while creating a mural.

Haverford School Dr. Pam Greenblatt helps student

Dr. Pam Greenblatt joined The Haverford School in 2014 as director of the Enrichment and Learning Center. She worked in several capacities at AIM Academy, including as director of curriculum and instruction. Greenblatt holds a doctorate in educational and organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in speech and language pathology from The George Washington University, and a double bachelor’s degree in psychology and speech and hearing science from The George Washington University.

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