2021–22 Feature story

The Leaders of Tomorrow

Written by Caitlin McCormack
Students looking at the BioWall with the words "Portrait of a Grad" written on it.

An Education with Intention

One of the reasons parents choose a school like Havergal is its ability to deliver an education with intention. This allows graduates to become global citizens, capable of learning, leading and working beyond the ivy walls of the College. There are several initiatives unique to Havergal that allow the school to make such an impact. One of them is HC-X—the innovation hub for the development and the delivery of future-ready teaching and learning.

“We focus on programming to support future readiness, a key outcome of Havergal’s strategic direction,” says Director of HC-X Adam Caplan. HC-X is designed to support students and faculty through new contemporary programs and innovative learning experiences. Two such programs include Digital Wisdom and the Global Learning & Leading Diploma (GLLD).

Junior School students participate in a Digital Wisdom class in the JS Dining Hall.

Digital Wisdom

Digital wisdom is a course for students in Grades 5 to 8. Caplan describes it as a course over four years and says it’s designed to help students understand and prepare for the questions and challenges of digital culture.

“This is not a technology course or a tech-skills course, though it certainly addresses how to use various technologies in learning and in life,” Caplan explains.

He says it’s more about helping students ask and answer questions about the things they do and see online, and how these translate into their offline worlds as well.

“It just seems so relevant,” he says. “It resonates with students and families because we are all deeply enmeshed in this digital era of personal devices, virtual communication platforms and artificially-intelligent algorithms. We challenge the labelling of only the offline world as the real world. We now recognize that it’s all real, and that things that happen virtually have real-world impact on our emotions and our understanding, and on how people engage as communities. Humans collaborate with one another in many ways, both online and face-to-face.”

Caplan says the course is perfectly timed to exist right now, as students in Grades 5 to 8 gain an emerging understanding of technology and their online footprint. Increasingly, kids have more access to devices and are given more responsibility. Parents may even allow access to some types of social media.

Lindsay Norberg, Associate Head of School, explains that before the creation of the Digital Wisdom course, the school would hold workshops for kids, invite special speakers and host one-off events for students to think about their role as digital citizens. She says the thinking they need to do in this age bracket is so critical in terms of identity formation, and thinking about the impact they have on the world, that one workshop just wasn’t enough.

“What is amazing about this program is that it gives time for kids to be in a classroom with a teacher,” says Norberg. “You develop relationships, you gain a series of ideas that students can build an understanding of over time. It gives space for conversation and for students to ask questions in a way they wouldn’t in a special workshop.”

Caplan discusses the GLLD with Senior School students who are interested in pursuing the program.

Global Learning & Leading Diploma 

Another program under the HC-X umbrella is the GLLD, which began in the 2019–20 school year. Norberg describes it as a structured program where students can drive their own learning based on their interests and passions in a highly mentored learning environment. 

There are four key components of the GLLD: 

  1. experiential learning workshops and modules addressing global issues, current events and the lenses through which students learn to analyze and understand the world; 
  2. mentorship in a 1:1 relationship with a member of Havergal’s faculty;
  3. a reflective online portfolio; and 
  4. a major research project. 

These components expose students to many different global issues and challenges, which they are invited to explore in their own ways. “It’s really an extension of the education they may be getting in the classroom, a place for them to really grow some of these passions,” says Norberg.

The program is offered for students in Grades 10 to 12, pairing a small cohort of students with mentors. Modules are centred around themes of social justice, social innovation, ethical travel and cultural immersion.

“We facilitate all sorts of activities for students in the GLLD community,” explains Caplan. “One example is an Indigenous experience [module] looking at geographic borders, political or cultural borders, and some of the original peoples of different areas.” 

Garth Nichols, Vice Principal of Strategic Innovation and Design, says the program addresses some of the key current events of our time and allows students to personalize their learning in the sense that they will research what’s called a “BHAQ”—or Big Hairy Audacious Question.

“It’s almost like a mini master’s course that they take,” says Nichols. “They sit with these problems for a long time. They analyze them through so many different academic lenses, which include diverse, social and cultural viewpoints.”

Havergal as a UNESCO Associated School

Havergal further supports the ideas of global learning with its membership as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Associated School.

“It means that we are plugged into a global network of schools, research and events that keep us accountable to the mandate of UNESCO,” explains Nichols. He says this is important for students because it provokes them to think outside of their own experience.

“There’s that saying that you need to take someone else’s perspective. We like to sort of flip that on its head,” says Nichols. “We like to say, ‘You need to seek out perspectives instead of taking them.’ Because once you take something, it’s yours. And so you lose that personal connection to that perspective. We go out and we ask our students to seek out different perspectives. UNESCO plugs us into more resources to do that.”

Norberg adds that one of the amazing things about being a UNESCO Associated School is the link with a network of other schools. “It gives us opportunities to connect with other school leaders, other school projects, learn from them, be inspired by them, and share stories.”

Students on the Environmental Sustainability Council meet in the Innovation Hub to discuss initiatives for the 2021–22 school year.

Upcoming Innovations: Sustainable Futures and Ecological Learning

Another program that’s unique to Havergal, designed to create future-ready graduates, is the Sustainable Futures program. This Grade 9 course will put students in front of big questions that are related to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“Those big questions will be personalized,” says Nichols. “They will seek out the right question because questions are more important than answers at this point. Putting students in front of the right question is way more powerful than asking them for an answer.”

Nichols says exposing students to the latest research and current events gives them an opportunity to ask those big questions. They’ll then be surrounded with resources to help them explore and address that challenge or question.

The Sustainable Futures course is currently under development, but is set to launch in the 2022–23 academic year. Caplan describes it as largely themed around the challenges and opportunities of the current century. “In many ways, this Grade 9 course acts as a primer or a taste of what students might continue to explore through the GLLD, though we haven’t made that connection explicitly. There’s this idea of focusing on big challenges so students develop knowledge, skills and mindsets as part of a toolkit. They grow their agency and their sense of themselves in order to have the positive impact on the world they desire.”

“We challenge the labelling of only the offline world as the real world. We now recognize that it’s all real, and that things that happen virtually have real-world impact on our emotions and our understanding, and on how people engage as communities.”

Adam Caplan, HC-X Director

Younger learners at Havergal aren’t left behind when it comes to this future-ready programming. The HC-X team is working on an Ecological Learning program for Junior School students, which will be developed in the 2022–23 academic year.

Nichols says that Ecological Learning is an approach to teaching and learning, primarily for students in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 4, that highlights where and how curriculum positions students as part of the natural world. He says the focus is on them as part of a system of interaction, impact, cause and effect within their world.

“It’s about making use of the natural environment, utilizing human relations to that natural environment and getting to ask the big questions,” says Nichols. “It really does sit nicely within our inquiry approach in the Junior School.”

Caplan notes that there’s a lot of speculation about possible emerging futures, but he says there’s also a lot of research informing our understanding of what students will need for their future. “We can learn so much from a variety of diverse industries,” he says. “We do quite a bit of broad-based research so that we can develop lessons based on what we think might be most relevant for our students in this day and age. We’re preparing them to navigate the road ahead—whatever may come.”

Norberg agrees, adding, “We’re trying to help students develop the key skills they need to thrive into the future.”

Nichols says part of the school’s work is to make sure it’s not only researching within, but also beyond the educational sector. He says the school is creating partnerships with organizations, businesses and consultants to explore what the future of work is and what skills and mindsets are and will be in demand.

Havergal has developed a core set of attributes that it hopes to foster in its students to ensure they are ready for whatever the future holds. These characteristics are defined as the Portrait of a Graduate and include being globally-minded; inspired to action; lifelong learners; empathetic; adaptable; future-ready; digital navigators; and leaders with integrity (learn more in Portrait of a Future-Ready Graduate). “We use this Portrait of a Graduate as our guide. It’s the lens through which I make decisions about who we partner with, what programs we offer and how we develop these programs,” says Nichols. 

Grads Who Make a Difference

Alameddine (Class of 2012) feels that the support she received from her teachers at Havergal gave her the confidence to pursue her life goals.

In a digitally immersed world, Havergal graduates become alumni who focus on relationships and community-building. They offer compassionate and courageous leadership and are able to authentically connect and inspire others. Creativity, reflective thinking and optimism are defining attributes. One such graduate is Yasmin Alameddine, an alum from the Class of 2012 who is currently Engineering Project Manager on the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning group at Apple.  

“The empowerment that the school instilled in me and the fact that they really encouraged us to explore whatever we were passionate about were great,” she says about discovering her interest in technology. “There were so many interesting courses to choose from and my teachers were always available for discussions after class, which gave me the support I needed to continue down my career path.” She feels the nurturing environment that staff offered and the encouragement she received from her peers gave her the confidence she needed to pursue her life goals. “My Havergal friends are still some of my closest. I still talk to them daily and they’ve supported me through the highs and lows of life.”

Following graduation, Alameddine went to Cornell University where she studied communication. She then moved back to Toronto where she worked at IBM in partnerships management before joining Shopify to work on content development for their partnerships team. She then completed a graduate degree at Columbia University in New York City in journalism with a focus on data, where she discovered her interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Even though she graduated almost 10 years ago, she says that she still applies the lessons she learned at Havergal of cheering on her peers and pursuing her interests with enthusiasm today.

Alameddine credits the sense of community that extends past one’s time at Havergal with her strong sense of connection with the school. “I’m still in touch with some of my teachers, who have helped with career and academic advice,” she says.

A more recent alum who embodies the qualities of the Portrait of a Graduate is Antonia Knoth from the Class of 2020. Knoth currently attends Tufts University and was recently nominated as a Future Leader by A School for Tomorrow.

She says the school helped her in a lot of different ways and the focus on integrating different classes and learning styles was beneficial. “I think I was lucky to have small classes that fostered discussion,” she says. “That helped me understand the value in connecting different courses and themes to one another.”

Knoth (Class of 2020) and Nichols discuss technology conferences in early 2020.

This allows graduates to become global citizens, capable of learning, leading and working beyond the ivy walls of the College.

Knoth says she applies these cross-topic thinking skills regularly in her study of quantitative economics. She’s also making use of time-management skills, which she honed during her time at Havergal. “My teachers encouraged us to be involved in a lot of things,” she says. “That taught me to be really good at time management, which is important for university and just general day-to-day things.”

Overall, Knoth says the school was a great place to grow up and it fostered her confidence. While she says the curriculum challenged her, there were ample support systems in place to help guide students. She was one of the first students to pilot the GLLD program, which she says was a great opportunity. “It was another space to broaden your thinking, explore different things and dive into more complex themes with the opportunity to discuss these ideas within a smaller group of peers who would help me take apart what I was talking about, instead of just learning it and moving on.”

“I gained so much from Havergal’s interdisciplinary approach to education,” says Knoth of her time at the school. The school’s faculty agree with Knoth and see first-hand how their students grow academically, while learning to analyze issues and ask the big questions in an attempt to make the world a better place.

Published April 2022
2021–22 Issue