28 Dec Three Threads for Woodstock’s Future
Principal Dr Craig Cook looks back at his experiences on this year’s Activity Week, and forward to share what’s needed to ensure Woodstock remains distinctive into the future.
It was my privilege during Activity Week to be with the ninth graders on their village trip. While the village was only a few hours from here, culturally their reality could be a world away from the everyday Woodstock experience.
One of the overarching outcomes for students is to see how much of the world lives, in what can be a stark contrast to their own existence. For a week they put aside the comforts of dorms and home life, in exchange for exposure to the basic reality of living for many. Experiencing first-hand the effort invested in food production and managing limited water resources, and putting aside their always-on tech-savvy lifestyles, is a powerful development opportunity for our students. Immersion in and exposure to a distant and unpredictable environment helps to build resilience, empathy and discernment. In a rapidly changing world, these are essential qualities which initiatives like Activity Week are designed to elicit from our students.
For 165 years Woodstock has stood as a reference point for progressive education in India and beyond. But like our students, Woodstock is not immune to the changing nature of the world. Failure to embrace change puts any school at risk of the pitfall of cultural lag, of not keeping pace with the zeitgeist, with schooling becoming less relevant as a result. In this era of fast changing technology and myriads of social and environmental challenges, it’s imperative that we continue to look to the future.
One challenge facing every educational institution, is how to remain distinctive when so much across society globally is becoming standardised. Sociologist George Ritzer introduced the concept of ‘The McDonalization of Education’, where schools start to take on the same characteristics as fast-food restaurant chains, including efficiency, rationality, standardisation and control. These are highly desirable qualities if you’re running a fast-food chain or a car production line, but the opposite of what’s needed for a school to help students grow into free-thinking individuals who are reaching their full potential. We live in a modern world where some calculated rationality is necessary, yet we want keep the magical and mystical, because that’s what makes us human.
So, what do we need to change to ensure that Woodstock remains distinctive into the future? In my relatively short time at Woodstock, I’ve dedicated much energy to listening and learning from the most important members of our community – our staff, students, parents and alumni – who continue to shape our institution and make it unique. In order for us to continue to fulfil our mission and thrive as a school, my own observations revolve around three threads.
The first is leveraging our environment. We are blessed with an incredible natural environment. This forested hillside and our Himalayan surroundings are something that runs through Woodstock’s DNA. In my conversations with Woodstock’s alumni, a common thread is the massive impact the environment has had throughout their lives. It affords us countless educational opportunities across a wide range of areas including strengthening outdoor leadership, environmental research, STEM, and community engagement.
The second aspect is the digital realm. Creating cutting-edge digital learning spaces is incredibly important for preparing our students for university and life beyond Woodstock. Complementing students’ education with virtual spaces is already commonplace in higher education, and can help expose our students to learning opportunities far broader than those we can provide solely within the confines of our campus. The world is increasingly interconnected, and our students are digital natives, with technology a thread that runs through their lives. Further integrating the digital realm into their educational journey means we can take the best of what technology has to offer in this area.
Finally, we must embrace an interdisciplinary approach. The social and environmental challenges facing us today are too complex to be solved with a siloed approach. We need complex analysis across disciplines to find solutions to 21stcentury problems. Woodstock already has outstanding resources in this area, including the Centre for Imagination, Hanifl Centre and Community Engagement, but there’s an opportunity to create space for developing interdisciplinary mindsets across the whole curriculum.
None of these areas are new to Woodstock’s approach, and are already part of what makes the school unique. We already have strong foundations on which to build more educational opportunities. In a world of standardising education, we can’t afford to be just another international school. And as we look to plan for the future, by keeping these areas in clear focus, we will not lose sight of what makes Woodstock exceptional.
Dr Craig Cook, Principal