In his book, Creating Innovators: The making of Young People Who will Change the World, Tony Wagner writes, “The whole challenge in schooling is to figure out what the teacher wants. And the teachers have to figure out what the superintendent wants. It’s a compliance-driven, risk-averse culture.” The Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy has avoided this sort of culture since its inception because its mission requires a fresh approach to education delivery. We face challenges that most schools don’t.

We have kids flung all over the globe throughout the year so we decided to implement a blended model, combining online learning with face-to-face support. The online component is crucial to delivering a flexible experience while the face-to-face support looks and feels like a traditional teaching and learning model. Over seven years later, we are now discovering that blended learning is superior to the traditional brick and mortar models that we grew up with.

Because of our need for remote delivery, we require that all students have an iPad or Laptop computer. This model of one-to-one computing has catalyzed the learning process for our kids. It has caused a profound shift in the way teachers design their lessons. Our science teachers can blow minds with interactive atomic models and simulated galactic travels. Our geography folks can zoom in on an urban ‘street view’ or use flight simulator to investigate the impact volcanoes have on human communities. All of it is saved in this machine that kids walk around with. All of it is immediate and it supports their passions and curiosity.

The role of our teachers has quickly transformed from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’ as Google provides facts that teachers once stood up and lectured about. Our role as educators is to fuel innovation by posing ‘real’ problems that kids must collaborate on using critical thinking and problem solving skills. Our role is to identify the preferred learning modalities of our kids and then develop towards their strengths. Our role is to search for what the natural interests of the kids are and develop those passions. At VSSA, the common passion is snow sports, and our success has hinged on our ability to transfer the zeal for skiing and riding into the zeal for academics.

William Butler Yeats wrote, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” Above all, we must inspire. Once the flame is lit the rest is details. The bucket of knowledge will get filled because the kids have ownership of their own learning. They are empowered to know more and they are able to develop their own love of learning. Rather than asking kids to figure out what the teacher wants, we should be asking them what they are excited about learning.