Equipping Today’s Students for a Dynamic and Uncertain Tomorrow
A Havergal education is about much more than preparing young people for the world of work. It’s about helping students gain an understanding of themselves as unique individuals and discover their purpose. It’s about developing a sense of agency so they can shape their lives in meaningful ways. It’s about building a foundation for personal wellness, community mindedness and intellectual agility so that graduates can navigate a dynamic and uncertain world.
Speaking with Havergal’s Heads of Schools—Head of Junior School Kate White, Head of Middle School Jennifer Patterson and Head of Senior School Deirdre Timusk— along with Vice Principal of Strategic Innovation and Design Garth Nichols, I learned what it means for students to be “future-ready,” which is one of the eight attributes of Havergal’s Portrait of a Graduate (POG). Taken altogether, these attributes describe in detail the mindsets and skill sets students need in order to become responsible leaders and compassionate stewards of their local and global communities, while also finding passion and joy in life.
“With digitalization and globalization, there are a lot of questions about the future of education and the future of work,” says Vice Principal of Strategic Innovation and Design Garth Nichols, who led the development of Havergal’s Portrait of a Graduate. “We cannot definitively answer those questions, but we can activate and amplify the attributes our students need to have as they embark on an unpredictable journey. The Portrait of a Graduate guides the Havergal education on that journey.”
Nichols notes that the POG sets a clear direction, not a destination. It articulates a process of becoming. After all, when does a person finish learning and growing? The message to students and faculty is: “Never.” At the same time, while aspirational in nature, the attributes of Havergal’s POG are fully actionable and visible in the curricular and co-curricular programs throughout the school.
For example, Junior School students are inspired to action in the face of our climate crisis. The Grade 4 classes carefully followed the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) as part of their science program and created a Forest of Promises they shared with their peers and posted on social media for the COP26 leaders and others to see. Pledges are written on individual leaves and include reducing waste, recycling more effectively and lowering carbon emissions, as a few examples.
“The Grade 4 classes also co-created and sent a letter to me about how to reduce lunch waste,” says Head of Junior School Kate White. “They understood this was their issue to solve through daily choices and actions, both taking personal responsibility and leading others toward change. These are lifelong skills we work on every day.”
Leading with integrity begins with having respect for yourself and for others, which Grade 2 students develop when they explore their identities through personal poetry. After generating ideas around interests, fears, hopes, family backgrounds and physical characteristics, students craft “Bio Poems” and share them with their class. Not only do they gain confidence in expressing who they are, but our younger learners are also working toward being globally minded by viewing diverse experiences and cultures through the poetic lenses of their peers.
As they move closer to and then through Middle School, students participate in Havergal’s unique Digital Wisdom program for students in Grades 5 to 8. Informed by research within and beyond the educational sectors, this program helps students become future-ready digital navigators through an age-and-stage approach to skill development. For example, Grade 7 students use scenarios and case studies to explore the concept of how digital identities relate to real-world identities, impact relationships and leave digital footprints.
“The idea of digital footprints hits close to home for students of this age and can even lead to some heated debates,” says Head of Middle School Jennifer Patterson. “Should digital footprints influence school admissions processes? Job offers? What’s OK to present online and what isn’t? These aren’t easy questions, and not everyone has to agree. What matters most is that our students engage with these issues so they can learn to use technology in healthy, creative and innovative ways.”
Students also lean into empathy through Digital Wisdom, as they explore a range of different perspectives and ideas of citizenship within digital communities. The same can be said for the Middle School English and Social Studies programs, which offer literature and historical primary sources as windows into diverse experiences, cultures and ideologies. Through textual opportunities to grapple with differences, contradictions and, sometimes, upsetting truths, students naturally develop empathy and the capacity to navigate complexity.
Deirdre Timusk, Head of Senior School, witnesses that the older students work with adaptability and lean into empathy during the Wednesday Advisory periods. “It is critical that all of us continue to challenge our views of ourselves and one another,” says Timusk. “The more opportunities for dialogue and learning around identity, intersectionality and discrimination, the more our students develop agile thinking, empathy and ethical leadership. Our student-led Truth and Reconciliation Week is another example. Learning more about Indigeneity and the residential school system helps students connect to the experiences of those who have been historically marginalized and excluded.”
In addition to tackling issues of equity and inclusion, Senior School students are inspired to action in a variety of other ways: Student Council writing a proposal to have period products in the washrooms; Wellbeing Prefects organizing the first Upper School Terry Fox Run; and the Sustainability Council reviewing recycling practices at Havergal and partnering with George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, Scotland to create a video in support of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Building on the school’s “What does leadership look like?” framework, students have also been working on a personal expression of how they see themselves as leaders.
In all of these school-wide learning activities and initiatives, Havergal students are finding unique ways to embody the Portrait of a Graduate. The school’s leaders refer to it as a guide that articulates and acknowledges the ever-evolving work underway each day in the school. The ultimate aim is to graduate the future-ready learners and leaders of tomorrow.
Published April 2022