What were all those books for anyway? Book Review Synthesis

I’ve done a lot of reading over the last month and few days, and I’ve compiled a healthy catalogue of book reviews. I felt it was time to synthesize them into something more ‘whole’: what is the thread that runs through these books?

I’m going to connect this with my new role at Havergal as Vice-Principal of Student Engagement & Experiential Development. What does this role encapsulate; what is this role trying to do?

If we take Finland as an example of excellent education, we have to do so with caution. Finland is a primarily mono-cultural society. There is very little immigration that impact or change that culture, or shift that culture. This has many advantages to education systems: common understandings and values, a shared language and traditions, etc… However, when we have a shared culture – be it at a national level, community level, or cultural level, all of these book see the future of education as equipping students with the capacity to b curious about the worldview of others, to seek out the ‘other’ in order to better understand one’s self.

In my role, I work with students:

I work with them to engage them, which (see the def’n below) has many different definitions; however, I focus on the definition of “emotional involvement…”screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-11-37-09-amscreen-shot-2016-09-13-at-1-05-21-pm

I work to co-create and curate experiences:screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-12-55-20-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-13-at-12-56-01-pm





In order that they may develop themselves further:screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-12-58-10-pm






Havergal has declared a priority in cultivating student interests into passions, and to co-create and curate experiences that will push, challenge and shift their perspectives and ways of being and seeing the world. This brings a laser focus onto Ellen Knox’s founding question, back in the late 1800s, of Havergal:

What will you do?

This is a very powerful questions; however, I do believe that a more pressing question, and one shared by Wagner, Lichtman, Lehman, Ritchhart and others, is:

What are you doing?

Whether it be in formal schooling or not, whether it is online or not, whether it is international, national, local or even in your own school or the place you call home, it is what we are doing that create, supports, and disrupts, our worldview.

But it is becoming simultaneously easier and more difficult to engage in the world. Easier: through social media and the web, students can observe, communicate with, and experience events from  around the world. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that they are often kept at arm’s length. Difficult: the world is becoming a more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous place. Thus, it is becoming more difficult than ever for our students and our parents to take a leap, to agree to, and endorse authentic engagements through excursions, field trips, and exchanges, let alone generating these experiences for our students.

Indeed, many professionals have adopted the acronym VUCA to characterize our current reality. Coined in the 1990s by the US Military, VUCA was meant to convey the environment in which soldiers would engage during war. (Fadel, Bialik, Trilling, 13)screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-11-55-40-am

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

If our world is now thus, then it is more important than ever that our education cultivates mindset, skills and dispositions that allow us to thrive. Our future “…depends upon our values…As we begin to collectively consider alternative values that would be more globally sustainable and personally fulfilling, we are responding to both pushes, based on necessity and anxiety about the direction of our current values are taking us,” and from new, alternative points of view that could point us in new directions. (Fadel, Bialik, Trilling, 13)

I propose that we redefine VUCA for our students; that we choose to inspire, equip, engage and give permission for our students to:



Let’s give our students the mindset, skills and courage to craft a vision for and of themselves, and their future.



Let’s give our students opportunities to listen to, interact with others so that they might build the character of compassion within themselves. Let’s encourage our students to listen to understand (Lehman & Chase, 113) not to sympathize only.


To understand others, truly, we must ask big, meaningful and personal questions of others, and of ourselves. We need to develop a deep understanding, mindset and toolkit for inquiry.


Let’s give our students opportunities to know themselves across a mulitude of experiences so that they may have a holistic understanding of who they are, what they stand behind and who they stand behind. We need them to practice integrity – doing the right thing even when no one is watching; being the same person face-to-face as behind-the-screen.

We can build an education that provides students the opportunities to practice these traits of character and mindsets. We don’t want our students listening to what compassion is, we want them to practice it. We need to co-create and curate experiences that allow this to happen in our students.

That is one big insight I’ve synthesized from these readings. I am fortunate enough to be at Havergal College, whose four values are: courage, compassion, inquiry and integrity. It is a place where we are focused on cultivating these within our students.

The Forum for Change at Havergal is our mission in action. Here, every student is encouraged to know herself and to understand the impact she can have screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-12-28-15-pmin shaping the world in which she wants to live. The Forum for Change supports the school’s mission and provides school-wide education about the key forces shaping our lives. It delivers integrated programs to help students explore and engage in the world with a focus on impact and innovation. We do this through local community partnerships, exchanges and our Global Experience Program. These are powerful opportunities, carefully created for our students.


So I go back to Ellen Knox’s founding question: What Will You Do? and I ask my faculty and students to think about “What are you doing?”, “What are you asking students to do?” and “What are you being asked to do?” Because…

6 thoughts on “What were all those books for anyway? Book Review Synthesis

  1. Hey there,
    By all means borrow these ideas – they are certainly not my own! They belong to the authors of the books that I’ve been reading.

  2. Hi Garth,
    This was very interesting and inspiring. I’m reflecting on how we as educators can do all of this for our students and I think that maybe it starts with us, as role models. Having our own vision for ourselves, one that is inspiring and flexible as we head towards it, knowing that life and opportunities can shift things along the way. (And being brave enough to share some of our own journey with our students as we go along, the triumphs and the challenges too.) Having the curiosity, the courage and the compassion to connect with others and with our students, to model what understanding and authenticity might look like. Above all, having a growth mindset ourselves and being open to change is important, I think, as we help students to develop these traits in themselves.
    Thanks for such a thoughtful piece.

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