hat do parents value, consider, and ask when they imagine the future of education, and the opportunities a school like WT could pursue? Last winter, we assembled a group of parent thought leaders to talk with us about the changing context of education, the economy, and the region, and to help us think about future opportunities and emphases that could build from WT’s strengths. The group was a diverse set of forward thinking, community-minded educators, entrepreneurs, global citizens, technologists, and non-profit leaders. We share here the thought-provoking insights of just a few of them.

Po-Shen Loh

Associate Professor of Mathematics, Carnegie Mellon University, Founder of Expii, National Lead Coach of USA International Mathematical Olympiad Team
Parent of Vivian, Grade 6, and Vincent Loh, Grade 4

“My role as a teacher is not simply to transmit information, but to inspire students to want to think, want to learn, want to create. Students should learn how to learn and why to learn, so that it means something to them. At Expii, we are rethinking the learning experience and solving the challenge faced around the world: how to engage learners. Our solution is a personalized learning platform powered by artificial intelligence, a free personal tutor at any learner’s fingertips that is also able to make an emotional connection. Teaching is not a precise science but an art form. It is not formulaic, but experimental. It takes real people to ask real questions and talk about real feelings. So the teaching and learning revolution begins and ends with teachers at the front line, finding ways to combine creative thinking and technology, to tackle learning in exciting new ways. One teacher, one person can make a huge impact by inspiring students to learn, to be creative, to seek challenges, to solve adventurously, and to build a society that we all are proud to live in.”

Yolanda Covington-Ward

Associate Professor of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh
Parent of Leyeti Ward, Grade 4

 “The most powerful learning occurs with applied projects; even the youngest learners can and should be challenged to use their learning to solve problems. This type of teaching provides schools with great opportunities to rethink and expand traditional subjects, to make learning relevant and current. So, for example, in a unit on, say, Africa, young children can learn not only about rural village life or wildlife; they can and should learn about and understand contemporary problems and advancements—urbanization, innovation, economic growth, migration. Doing projects on issues like these helps children see how what they are learning matters in the world outside of school. That is why I love City as Our Campus℠ as an approach to learning; kids can see how they can make a difference in the larger community.”

Illah Nourbakhsh

Professor of Robotics, The Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Director of the CREATE Lab
Parent of Mitra, Grade 8, and Nikou Nourbakhsh, Grade 6

“As the citizenry of the future, our kids are going to make change, and they will need to be fluent with data—to make sense of data and to make arguments with data. And so there’s an opportunity to move beyond the idea of using the community as a lab, to uncover and use all the data that exists about our democracy, about where we’re headed, all the issues that swirl around us. Our students could make sense of those issues, and create powerful narratives out of the data. We’re living in a place where the wealthy are becoming wealthier extremely rapidly compared to other cities. And this is creating gaps that can’t be ignored in both urban and rural Southwestern Pennsylvania. There are great opportunities for students to think about inequity, which will enervate them to try and make the changes they want to see in the world. The ultimate goal is that every child here becomes a thought leader. They’re actually making a case for what they want and in so doing, surfacing their thought leadership to the whole community.”

Sasha Heinz

Developmental Psychologist
Parent of Jack Heinz, Grade 1

“At the heart of problem solving is empathy, the ability to share someone else’s feelings and understand how other people experience the world. We have learned that social-emotional skills are just as important as cognitive skills, and that in fact they are interdependent. We integrate the head and the heart very well in the early years of Pre-K and Kindergarten, but as children get older the emphasis on social-emotional skills lessens as academics take center stage. And, frankly, clunky and old-school approaches to teaching ‘character strengths’ often seem hokey to smart kids (cue the eye roll). Research in positive and developmental psychology, however, has really caught up and there are now very thoughtful and sophisticated curriculums that help students develop the non-academic skills such as empathy, self-control, and mindfulness that will help them both do well and be well. To prepare children for this ever complex and challenging world, teaching compassion and empathy should not be seen as an ‘add on,’ but rather a fundamental competency needed to tackle the multidimensional problems in our cities, in our country, and on our planet.”

Fred Brown

CEO, Homewood Children’s Village
Parent of Asata Brown, Grade 5

“A question on my mind is: ‘How does a school look at energy and the environment as a challenge in the 21st century, then take a diverse group of kids and do something that has a global impact?’ I don’t have an answer for the global impact, I just know that last year carbon dioxide levels officially passed 400 parts per million. When I think about that, and then about kids who have very different realities, I think that this is a nexus for them. Engaging kids from different environments and guiding them to have an exchange really contextualizes learning and reality. Kids can come from different places and find that they have similar aspirations even though their realities are very different; they can discover that they connect with each other even though they may be worlds apart. So how can the equity and inclusion that WT seeks to create bring kids from different realities together to learn and solve problems together, and apply that collaborative learning in a global context?”

Marsha Lovett

Professor of Psychology, Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University
Parent of Nathan Lovett-Genovese ’17

“When we think about integrated, project-based learning—getting students to tackle gnarly, wicked problems—it’s interesting to ask, ‘What does the teaching look like?’ In this type of immersive learning, the word teacher is in quotes; students are driving their own learning, and teachers are supporting that process. And so, it’s really the students at the center, even when you’re focused on the question of teaching. Moreover, with technology as a piece of the teaching and learning puzzle, we now can make data driven decisions around education; we can instrument a lot of the learning process and then refine it. Which creates opportunities for students to be even more empowered in shaping their own learning experience with the help of that data about what’s working, what’s not. Along with student-driven learning comes the importance of meta-cognition—what students know about what they know and don’t know. Students will need to leave school with the fundamentals, with the confidence and skill to analyze, understand, articulate, and solve problems, and with the humility and capacity for self-reflection—to know what they don’t know.”