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Teaching in the 21st Century

Written by Nick Zosel-Johnson, Lower School Director.

The first iPhone came out in 2007. Prior to this, no one had imagined a world with smartphones. Twelve years later, our students today cannot imagine a world without smartphones.

A preschool student today will graduate in the year 2034. We cannot fully imagine what the world will look like in 15 years.

And yet, our mission calls upon us to nurture and challenge our students to develop the character, creativity, and skills to successfully navigate the future with confidence.

OUR MISSION: To inspire active, joyful learning while nurturing and challenging our students to develop the character, creativity, and skills to successfully navigate the future with confidence.

Read more about CWA’s new mission

“Navigate” is a powerful metaphor—and it’s one that comes from a Charles Wright parent, who used it when asked what they hoped for their child’s future. “Navigate” implies that students will be able to successfully operate in a world that looks very different from the place we know today.

So how do we get there? The answer is a robust liberal arts education that helps students attain the character, creativity, and skills to operate in an uncertain world.


Strong skill development forms the foundation of each student’s education at CWA. Through carefully aligned curriculum, CWA students learn to read, write, think, and do math at the highest levels. Our students become scientists, artists, performers, and athletes under the thoughtful guidance of their teachers and coaches.

What looks like scribbles in preschool becomes analytical essay writing in high school. Basic counting eventually transitions into calculus. “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” becomes the Academy Singers.

And fingerpaints give way to ceramics, printmaking, and perspective drawing. In between these stages, students have access to a team of committed and skilled educators who carefully lay out the next challenge. Each discipline is developed through a carefully coordinated and planned preschool-12th grade experience.


In addition to skill development, CWA students develop the character traits of strong learners. The research is clear that students who develop a growth mindset go on to lead more productive lives. Our students understand that strong learning is hard and that failure is a necessary and important part of learning. Over the years, our students internalize the concept of productive struggle. This learning occurs in the classroom, on the field, on the hiking trail, or performing on stage.

It’s moments like when fourth grade students wake up to a collapsed tent in the middle of the night on a camping trip. Despite the howling wind, the students rebuilt their tents and survived to tell the tale as a closer, more connected, and confident group of students.

It’s moments like a formerly shy and reserved Middle School student deciding to run for co-leader in their eighth grade year and receiving a standing ovation from their peers.

It’s moments like a scrappy team of 25 football players going 9-2 despite the odds. This team will never forget the feeling of being under the lights and achieving as a collective.

And yes, it’s academic moments like when a high school student struggles to understand how to interpret a p-value in AP statistics.

These moments add up to create students who are resilient, well-adjusted, connected, and thoughtful problem solvers.


When you combine strong skill development with a carefully honed resilience, the scene is set for creative thinking. A recent example illustrates this point.

Eighth grade students in Christopher Hoppin’s art class went through the design-thinking process last fall to create a piece of “wearable art” for their clients, which included CWA faculty, staff, and seniors in the Upper School. These students first learned important empathetic interviewing skills in order to elicit stories from their clients that would form the inspiration for their piece. These works of art went through several iterations as each student struggled to match the vision and personality of their client. And these life-sized, wearable pieces—ranging from a vase of flowers to a fly-fishing lure to an eight-foot-tall whale’s tail—made their way down the runway at the “Beyond Gucci: Wearable Art” fashion show in December.

At CWA, we believe a broad liberal arts education that develops character, creativity, and skills best prepares students for whatever is coming next. With that preparation, they can be adaptable, learn new skills, and create things we can’t even imagine.

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