How many of you owned a personal laptop computer in 1989? Did you know what one was?

1989 is the year that David Loader, Principal of Methodist Ladies’ College (PK-12 school in Melbourne, Australia) committed to every one of his students in grades 5-12 owning a personal laptop computer. This was not just a tech play or gimmick. David saw the growing portability, power, and availability of personal computers as a way to “liberate children from a failed system.” (words he used in parent newsletter). The laptop would be one element in making learning more meaningful, personal, and consistent with the unforeseen challenges his students would face in the 21st Century. The laptop would be an instrument for change that would make the visions of Dewey, Piaget, Papert, and John Holt become a day-to-day reality in his highly conservative girls school.

David Loader on cover of a book chronicling the history of educational computing

Oh, did I leave out the part about how the first school in the world to provide a laptop to every kid for the purposes of knowledge construction via computer programming was a girls school? Within two years, close to 1,000 kids and their teachers were creating interdisciplinary projects by programming in LogoWriter, the predecessor to MicroWorlds or Scratch, with their own laptops. AND he achieved this with his existing teaching staff!

David Loader’s pioneering leadership on behalf of 1:1 computing came more than two decades after Alan Kay and Seymour Papert began dreaming aloud about the “children’s machine” or “personal computer.” I got my first laptop when I began leading professional development at David’s school twenty-five years ago.

David’s visionary leadership hardly ended with inventing 1:1 computing. As a principal, he publicly fought for the rights of children to be free from the sorts of coercive and constrictive forces being imposed on schools. He embraced any idea that might bear fruit and trusted his teachers to experiment, lead, or even tell him when something was a terrible idea.

David Loader believes in the capacity of children and the competence of teachers more than any school leader I have ever met. He invested heavily in supporting teacher dreams for improving their classroom or the entire school.  As a principal, David was a keen nurturer of talent. A mutual colleague told me that David never stayed within his personnel budget.

R&D was the norm in his schools. Every tradition, brick, and bit of conventional wisdom was there to be challenged. His teachers were encouraged to rock the boat, knowing that David would support and defend them. He is an author of deeply candid and personal books about school leadership and as a community leader was a true public intellectual, never one to shy away from a  good fight. David’s first book, “The Inner Principal,” is a classic.

While at MLC, David won international recognition for the school, presided over the construction of a world-class concert hall, and established a campus in the rain forest where students would spend a ninth grade term learning about themselves, nature, and community unencumbered by the school curriculum. Soon after becoming principal of Melbourne’s Wesley College, (largest independent school in the Southern Hemisphere) David proposed buying a ghost town, building a community where eight 9th graders would live per building, care for one another, and learn in an informal context for a ninth grade tern. The Clunes campus was the result. The elapsed time between drafting his nutty plan and students learning together in their new village was 18 months!

With the possible exception of Deborah Meier, also a CMK 2015 guest speaker, David Loader is arguably the most consequential school principal of the past fifty years. Both of them are among the wisest people you will ever meet. Their thoughtfulness and fearlessness have a profound impact on other educators.

David Loader
David Loader

Now retired,  David mentors school leaders and most recently worked with the Girl Guides (Aussie girl scouts) to shape their organization’s future. He is an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne and in 2010 was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for distinguished services to education, as a principal, mentor and author.

I am beyond thrilled that David will be part of our “legends panel” at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2015 and in-residence for informal chats throughout our institute.

Learn more about David Loader and our other amazing CMK 2015 guest speakers.