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A Field Trip to Tech Valley High – More Than Just Tech

628x471In my attempt to better understand where the workplace will be in the next 10-20 years for tomorrow’s panel discussion entitled, The Technology Edge, presented by the Hudson-Mohawk Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development, I recently “attended” Tech Valley High in Albany, New York.  I figured, if we want to understand how the workplace will change and diversify we should go to the source. So, I enrolled back into high school for a morning.

Tech Valley High School was created in 2007 to provide today’s students with the skills necessary to be successful in college and in tomorrow’s workforce. The focus of the school is to provide an education on 21st Century Skills in a project-based learning environment.

Now, walking in at 9am to meet with principal Dan Liebert and business partnership coordinator Denise Zieske, I thought we would see some really cool tech and innovation going on.  What I saw and heard was even more enlightening and promising.

“Critical thinking, communication and collaboration are the core areas we focus on here at Tech Valley High,” started Principal Liebert.  I admitted, “that wasn’t what I expected to here coming to a “tech” school.”  However, the principal insisted that the school’s mission is to prepare students for the 21st century workplace. Much of that preparation and where business people investing into the school want the focus to be is not only on science, technology, engineering and math but also on interpersonal skills and having the students learn to strategically collaborate with one another.

Denise, the business partnership coordinator, also pointed out the examples of no locks on the student’s lockers or that no teacher has their own classroom, but rather a large room called the ‘bullpen’ where teachers come together and collaborate on lesson plans and classes, as ways to show that the culture of TVH is as important as the technology.  “We want to help the students build a culture of trust and responsibility,” she said.

Not that this school is without its use of technology either.  Using a project-based partnership and curriculum as a way to bring real-world application to 13-18 year olds early on, students have a one-to-one, computer-to-student use.  They are encouraged to use technology to solve problems and to answer questions.  Classrooms also embrace a ‘one ear bud in’ philosophy which is how they describe the use of a student’s personal smartphone and music in times of independent study (smartphones are discouraged during group and team learning times).

What’s really cool about this school is the close relationship it has with the surrounding business community.  The school was actually created by the local businesses in the area.  Working as a new-age BOCES/QuestStar style of school, it is not a private school, but rather is supported, just like any other school, by the tax-paying districts.  Seeing a need to build a school of the future that handles both the increasing demands of innovation, as well as building model employees, area businesses have been at work creating this school for the next generation of education.

Even the collaboration between core classes is somewhat different.  “Inventing America” is one class offered at the school which is a collaboration between English and History.  One that caught my eye (although I would probably be horrible at it) was a class where physics and business meet.  The students studied the physics of a golf course, designed their own, and met with local mini-golf course businesses throughout their semester to learn more and understand the business. “Project-based learning brings together intellectual inquiry, rigorous real-world standards and student engagement in relevant and meaningful work.” Describes TVH’s website.

Asked how the behavior and attitude of the students were, Denise reported that for the most part it’s really good.  “The autonomy and respect the students are given helps empower them to create their own clubs and organizations.  We have a J-Term (in January) where we stop regular classes and have what we call “Passion Projects” where teachers can teach whatever they are passionate about.  The students react very well to that.  Of course you will always have some bad apples, and kids will be kids, but in general the mood is good here.”

Leaving Tech Valley High later that day, I was more devoted to my message about technology in the workplace than I was before.  As Principal Liebert said early on in our discussion “technology is only the tool, the real mission is to encourage good character skills and growing a relationship with the students.”

Which leaves me (and maybe you) with the question, “why can’t we do more of this?”  Why aren’t there thousands of Tech Valley Highs all over the country? Collaboration and innovation is an integral part of Tech Valley High School.  Perhaps that’s a good place to start as we look to redefine what education should become both as a student and as an employee.


Matthew Harrington will be a featured panelist at the Hudson-Mohawk Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development’s September event, The Technology Edge. Matthew regularly presents on the new ideas emerging from the training and development industry and is considered an up-and-coming thought leader on the Millennial workforce, social media and social learning.  Read Matthew’s recent post, The Future of Learning and Development in the Workplace.

One Response to “A Field Trip to Tech Valley High – More Than Just Tech” Leave a reply ›

  • Righty it is been addressed that the need of the hour for the workplace executives – is being communicative and colloborative. But that has to be modeled on the basis of character and high ethics.

    Great insight indeed.

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