An unknown future

Last week I was scrolling through Twitter, and I came across the tweet below from Will Richardson:

As with many of the things that Will posts to Twitter, this one caused me to pause and think for a little bit. I even chose to click the like button, and then retweet it to my own followers. I think the reason that this resonated with me is when I reflect on my educational philosophy, my mindset has always been that my role as a teacher was not to make sure that every one of my students could memorize and regurgitate the materials I taught them. More importantly, I wanted to be sure that my students, if ever faced with a problem that required they know something that would have been covered in my class, are able to find the information they needed and solve that problem.

The thing that I think I figured out early in my career is that our as our world has changed in the digital age, the people who are most successful are not always the people with the fancy degree or the people who know all the facts. Instead, our society was shifting to value people who can achieve in terms of “soft skills.” (I’m not sure that I love that phrase because it implies that these skills are not necessary) Thomas Friedman has thoughts on this as well:

A few years ago I ran across a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) called the Job Outlook survey. The most recent version that I can find is the 2020 edition (click here to read more about that survey). I’ve written about versions of this survey a couple of other times on this blog (see this post or this post to learn more), so it’s interesting to see how the ratings change over time. The results of the survey lists the attributes that employers are seeking, and the percentage of respondents who answer favorably to the attribute. Here’s the top six rating for the most recent version:

So that brings me back to the quote from Will Richardson at the top. None of us can know what the future will bring for society as a whole, or for each individual student in our classrooms. But the data from businesses out there who are preparing for that unknowable future has been pretty consistent of late. The attributes listed in the results of the NACE Job Outlook survey don’t say anything about content knowledge. Instead they continue to look for employees that bring these soft skills to their workforce. So I’d say that there are some heavy implications for the systems and practices that are currently employed in education.

That leads to some questions for all of you who are here – if content knowledge is not king for the success of most of our students, what are you going to do from your position to disrupt the status quo of education? If you’re a teacher, how might this change your planning practices? Your feedback to students? The things you value for grading purposes? If you aren’t in a classroom role, but work in education in some other way, how might this information change the priorities that you focus on? And if, like me, you are a building level administrator, what are you going to do to impact the actions that teachers are taking within your school?

And we also have to address the elephant in the room when we talk about shifting learning from our traditional factory model to the types of schools that our students really need: standardized testing. Most of the attributes that employers are looking for are not something that our students can show on any form of standardized testing. If we know that to be the case, why is it that we continue to judge ourselves personally based on the outcome of what we all know is a snapshot picture of a child’s learning. While it has always been my goal to have my students as prepared as possible for a standardized test, I have never allowed that to be the soul judge of success for any of my students (or for me). As we know, our students are much more than a test score. Your classroom is so much more than a test score. Our schools are so much more than a test score.

So I really do encourage you to reflect on the skills and attributes that our students need in order to be successful, then think about the teacher moves you can make in your classroom to help them be prepared for their unknown future!

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