Bright spots at Poly

Embedded in the very name of Polytechnic School is the word “techne,” etymologically derived from the Ancient Greek [tékʰnɛ] that is often translated as “craftsmanship,” “craft,” or “art.” Indeed, in addition to its academic excellence and its development of extraordinary intellectual acumen, the school has a long and proud history of educating children and youth to master “many crafts.”

As anyone working in a professional capacity in the world today recognizes, the most interesting and most important challenges of our era are the ones that demand a blend or synthesis of intellect and the arts. By now, the easy problems have mostly been solved.

What remains for the leaders and professionals of today and tomorrow are the knotty and non-routine difficulties— be they economic, scientific, social, political , or artistic— that require we bring to the fore extraordinary creative problem-solving capacities.   We must be able to form the right questions, empathize with the experiences of many people very different from ourselves and each other, and collaborate with diverse team-members sitting at our table or around the world.   We should be able to persist through great difficulties, try and try again while learning from each effort, and envision the unforeseen in the consequences of our actions.

All these things (and many more) are the kind of capacities and competencies that a Poly education has long provided with excellence—and that, like every school and university, it ought to be considering carefully how to provide even better in the future.

As a former 20-year California independent school educator myself, I’ve long held Polytechnic School in the highest esteem, knowing of its excellence in college preparation, whole child development, arts, and athletics.   So it was with great delight when “Poly” invited me to assist the school in this year-long enterprise to enhance the education of its students in their creative problem-solving and their innovative and entrepreneurial skills and habits.

Ultimately this project is an exercise in the continuous improvement of fulfilling the commitment it makes in the summation statement of its mission and philosophy: “the goal of Poly is to have graduates prepared to meet the complexities of a changing world with confidence and good character.” Indisputably, any preparation to meet these complexities must entail the development of the capacities described above.

One key component of my work with the #POLYSolves steering committee is to identify and surface to greater campus visibility all the ways Poly is already cultivating creative problem-solving, and deciding to do those things more intentionally, intensively, or widely. Already during my half dozen days at Poly this fall, I’ve seen literally dozens of these “bright spots,” from Science and Art (so-called “STEAM”) curriculum in the Kindergarten classroom to the innovative City of Angels curriculum in the 12th grade. Over the course of the coming year we will be sharing in various ways these many inspirational bright spots in the current Poly program.

We’re also excited to look beyond the periphery of Poly’s campus to learn from and with a wide array of expert sources and inspirational resources. Already the committee has carefully read and shared with each other about a dozen very current books on the subject of better teaching and learning creative problem-solving and innovation; soon committee members will be sharing with their colleagues and the wider community the many implications and applications of these books. This winter and spring, committee members along with administrators and other teachers in the school will visit school sites and the facilities of other innovative organizations to discover other models and practices that can support this initiative.

On behalf of the steering committee, I invite readers here and all members of the broader Poly community to join us in our work. It is our goal to use this web-page, social media channels like Twitter, and various community meetings to promote transparency for our process and share our learning. You can check back here to read our regular blog posts (which we’re aiming to post weekly), participate in the Twitter conversation at #POLYSolves (you don’t even need a Twitter account to follow the hashtag: just go to twitter.com/#PolySolves or see it scroll on this web–page), respond to our committee’s simple short survey on this site, or join us for a community conversation (to be announced later).