By Barbara Barreda, Principal, St. Columban School     10/1/2018

If our mission as Catholic Schools is to develop faith filled, moral and ethical individuals who have the knowledge and the skills to make a difference in the world, then we need to be visionaries who can imagine our students’ futures. This is further articulated in the draft definition of curriculum adopted by the Diocese of Orange, which calls us to ensure that our curriculum is relevant, rigorous, adaptive, evolving and infused with Catholicity. How can we respond to this challenge?

The Information Age brought us ubiquitous access to knowledge and information. But today we live in the Innovation Age. While content knowledge remains important, it is not enough and will not prepare our students to succeed.  The Innovation Age calls for the ability to use knowledge in new and complex ways. The work of Tony Wagner, Sir Ken Robinson, George Couros and others help us begin to grasp the critical mindsets and skills we will need to nurture. These thinkers inspired St. Columban School to revise our Student Learning Expectations to include:

  • Being able to formulates good questions
  • Being imaginative and adaptable
  • Being entrepreneurial


What does this mean for teaching and learning today? It begins with a move from ‘what’ questions to ‘why’ questions and asking questions that have more than one answer. One step is to move from a question such as “Name 3 explorers…” to “Which explorer do you think was most important and why?” But even more importantly, we need to teach students to ask good questions.  As George Couros explains, “…all innovation starts from a question, not an answer.”  It also means learning to be comfortable with ambiguity.

At St. Columban the engineering design process is one of our focal points. Students learn to be comfortable with the iterative process and to understand there is always room for a new improved version and new ideas. It also means breaking down subject silos. In 7th and 8th grade, students work through an intensive engineering design process that applies cross-curricular skills to engineering projects. All students in Tk through 8th grade go weekly to makerspace and get first-hand experience with design thinking. Innovation in school and the workspace requires connecting  and remixing content from all subjects, including the arts, to find new solutions. As Ellen Kumata, managing partner at Cambria Associates, explained: “The challenge is this: How do you do things that haven’t been done before, where you have to rethink or think anew?”

Technology also has a role to play in meeting these challenges.  It lies not in software but in its ability to break down walls and make connections.  One example of the way we use technology is to connect with a Penguin Research Station in Antarctica, but this is only a beginning. Connecting students with global partners, with subject area experts, and helping them build networks of learning is an often untapped potential. To be innovative and prepare students to make a difference in their world we need to be willing to try new things and examine our practices with fresh eyes.

Works Cited

Couros, George. “8 Characteristics of the “Innovator’s Mindset”.” The Principal of Change, 16 Sept. 2014, Accessed 29 Sept. 2018.

Robinson, Sir Ken. “Changing Education Paradigms.” Changing Education Paradigms, TED, 11 Mar. 2014, Accessed 27 Sept. 2018. Speech.

Team ISTE. “Here’s how you teach innovative thinking.” ISTE Blog, ISTE, 19 Jan. 2016, Accessed 27 Sept. 2018.

Wagner, Tony. “Rigor Redefined.” Tony Wagner Transforming Education, Tony Wagner, 27 Jan. 2011, Accessed 27 Sept. 2018.