Think back to the beginning of your college career. What did innovation look like for you? What did technology look like for you? What did learning look like for you?
I know what it looked like for me:
I’m sure that each of us could come up with a different description of what learning and innovation looked like at the beginning of our college career. Then I think back to my 5th and 6th grade years. The first time I remember using a computer was as a 6th grader. Our school put in a computer lab that year as part of a remodel. The only thing that we did with the computer was learn keyboarding skills (as far as my teacher was concerned, the computer was just a fancy typewriter).
Now let’s think about what innovation might look for our students after they graduate from college. For those of you who work with kids who haven’t even hit junior high yet (like me), it’s kind of hard to imagine, right? The sixth graders in my school will graduate from high school in 2024, and our fifth graders will graduate in 2025. We could make predictions today about what specific skills our kids may need when they graduate, but knowing how much things changed between the time I was in 6th grade and when I graduated from college, and knowing that technology is accelerating at a pace much faster than it did during my formative years in the 80s and 90s, there is no way for us to be sure what specific skills our kids will need in terms of innovation and technology.
And yet, there’s always that idea that we need to “prepare our students for a successful future.” Isn’t that what most teachers would agree is our goal? So how do we do that when we don’t know exactly what our kids need to know?
Edutopia is one of my favorite social media follows, and this is what popped up in my Instagram feed the other night:
What strikes you as you look at that graph of job growth? Look at the growth in the need for analytical skills and social skills, while there is a massive fall off in the need for an ability to complete repetitive tasks. What are you doing in your class to explicitly teach social and emotional learning to your students?
Recently I was sitting in a meeting with a family, and the teacher of the student leaned over and said to the student “When you’re here, I’m worried about expanding your heart … and your brain.” I loved how this teacher put the heart first, and how there was a pause before the brain! In a world where the answer to almost any question can be found by looking on Google or YouTube, college and career readiness isn’t going to be defined by how many factual questions your students can answer. It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to be empathetic towards others. It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to see problems in our world, and collaborate with peers to find solutions.
I’ve recently been reading the book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, and there was a quote that stood out to me:
Let us all remember that our students’ futures don’t necessarily rely on their ability to recite their math facts, to memorize 20 vocab words in this unit, to be able to identify all 50 states and capitals, or be able to list the names of the planet in order from the sun to the end of the solar system. All of those things can be answered now, in most living rooms, by asking Siri, Alexa, or Google. Also remember that academia may not be the path for every student who steps into your classroom.
There is such a diverse range of needs for the future that I believe the best thing we can do is to focus on those so called soft skills. Take the time to model what collaborative skills actually look like. Use a fish bowl activity where some students model while others observe, then have students both on the inside and the outside of the fish bowl discuss what went well and reflect on areas that they need to continue to grow. If needed, as the teacher you should give them the feedback that they need to be successful the next time they are working collaboratively.
Help your students learn how to use technology to accelerate their learning. It’s not just for consumption, but also for creation. Allow them to notice real world problems, and then help them to figure out ways to solve the problems they notice. Keep working with them on their communication skills – both written and spoken. Find ways to encourage every student not only to speak, but to lead in the classroom.
As the Friedman quote above reminds us, we are preparing our students for an unknown future. The constants for our kids will be collaboration, technology, problem-solving, communication, and the ability to be a leader. As you plan your lessons, focus on those skills. If you empower your students in all those areas, they will be ready for whatever the future holds.