Adaptive Expertise 101

Author: Heather StClair  • 

Are you new to Allen Academy, or have you been here for several years?

Either way, the real question is: do you know what adaptive expertise is? Could you explain it in your own words to a friend? Prospective parent? Your extended family?

Because this philosophy and educational concept is so incredibly important to our school, let me help you on your own learning journey to better understand and articulate the salient points of adaptive expertise (AE).


First, you must believe that several things are true about the world in which we live, or at the very least, the one that our children will inherit. It’s hard to dispute, but essentially adaptive expertise is grounded in the belief that the world is growing more and more unpredictable and that it is also becoming more and more interconnected.  

As such, the two key components of AE are both a mindset and a skillset. A reliance on just one of those branches won’t hurt anyone, but to truly unleash the power of AE, the two most co-exist in a… relationship. Think of it like trying to get fit: you can work out all the time, which may help you aerobically or with your physique. But if you aren’t eating properly on top of that, you really aren’t maximizing what your body can do/can look like/how you feel about yourself.   


So how does this work in a school? For us, we believe that failure is the ultimate teacher and that a fervent vigor will ultimately instill a mindset that will carry our students through their time at Allen, through college/university life, and throughout their adulthood. But again, AE is sold short if students also do not build requisite academic, behavioral, and communication skills. While they may look different at each grade level, we are very intent on pushing our students appropriately to build both their mental mind-frame AND skills.

Our model

On one side, the skillset triangle is based on decades of research on the brain. You may know it as Bloom’s Taxonomy, or Bloom’s Taxonomy revisited. Educators are overwhelmingly convinced that these are the building blocks of true understanding and deep learning.  

While there is less longitudinal research about mindset, there is great work out there. We believe that, logically, motivation leads to innovation, and as a result, confidence and resilience are learned and strengthened. Moreover, when a relationship of trust and understanding exists between teacher and student, this iterative process only grows stronger each time a new challenge is presented. Similar to working out, there is a stretching and slight tearing of muscle, only to be built back as a stronger and more productive muscle the next time it’s used.

At Allen, what brings the two sides together is the constant process of communication and reflection. Communication might be feedback on an essay, meeting one-on-one with a teacher to discuss a book or article, getting help before or after school, or dialogue via email with a teacher. With reflection, it might come in the form of a student-led conference, an assignment that asks a student to review how they prepared for an assessment and evaluating the effectiveness of that process. What worked? What didn’t? What would you do next time? But this continual process is not reserved for assessment alone. For students, it also works for relationships between them and faculty, as well as between students. It should also work between the school and parents and grow the important core value of partnership.

My pledge to you is to always offer additional opportunities to ask questions of me or our faculty. Similarly, I will write about adaptive expertise several times throughout the year. This philosophy is critical to the success of educating our students and is at the heart of our mission at Allen Academy.  

My best,


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