Last week was kindergarten open house, and it was so great to have our future students and their families come into the school for a brief tour. One of the things that we had set up for students was a picture frame that said: “It’s a great day to be a Tiger” at the top, and Class of 2034 at the bottom. That’s right, the kindergarten class that will be starting this August is the class of 2034!

It’s hard for any of us to imagine what the world might look like in 2034, just 13 years away. So, to give us some perspective, let’s think back 13 years. What do you remember from 2008? That year, Eli Manning and the New York Giants beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in what was considered a huge upset after the Patriots had gone undefeated in the regular season (as an Indianapolis Colts fan, this feels like something I must include). Also, since I often think in terms of technology, I think it’s important to come back to the technology that existed in 2008. The first iPhone was released in 2007, so unless you were an early adopter of the iPhone, or you had a Blackberry, you probably didn’t have a smartphone in 2008. In the last 13 years, Apple has released 21 other models of the iPhone, sometimes releasing as many as 3 different models of the iPhone in one year. The first iPad wasn’t released until 2010! In 2008, I wouldn’t have imagined riding in a stranger’s car when I traveled somewhere – that would be hitchhiking. Now that’s called taking an Uber. In 2008, if I didn’t know how to get where I was going, I had to be sure to print a map from MapQuest so that I had directions. Now I can just use a maps app on my phone. I’m sure I could go on and on, but I think it’s safe to say that we all recognize that a lot of changes have taken place in the last 13 years.

I also think it’s worth pointing out some of the jobs that exist today that were not in existence 13 years ago. Here are a few examples: Social Media Manager; SEO Specialist; App Developer; Uber Driver; Driverless Car Engineer; Podcast Producer; Telemedicine Physician; and Zumba Instructor. This is not an exhaustive list. Just Google “Jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago” and you’ll come up with tons of hits.

The point of sharing these things is to remind us about the cycle of change. We’d all agree that our world changes quickly, and the changes only seem to come faster each year. Think about it, the students in our elementary schools today have not existed in a world before smartphones and on-demand access to music, video, and more.

So that brings me to the point of this post – as educators today, it is imperative that we exist in a future-driven mindset. What we do in our classrooms must constantly be thinking about what children will need in order to be successful, fulfilled, and healthy in all senses in their futures. This means coming to the realization that learners today are different from learners of the past and have different innate aptitudes and abilities.

I’ve said it before, but our schooling system was built based on past influences. The school year runs from the fall to the spring based on the agrarian needs of the past. This was necessary so that children could help their families work the farm in the summertime. The daily schedule and bell model were created to meet the needs of the industrial revolution and having employees who could work based on a start and end time. The bell schedule was also related to that same system of work/breaks in factories. That system is old and outdated.

Not so long ago, I would have said that change in education is a slow process. Imagine trying to turn around a giant ship in the middle of the ocean. It’s not going to turn on a dime. And until March of 2020, I would have said that education was the same way. Then we lived through a global pandemic and in a weekend, we shifted from a system that we knew into a system of emergency remote teaching. Over the course of this school year, we have shifted between a variety of different learning modes and done so with grace. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that change is possible in education, and it can happen quickly.

To be ready to meet the needs of our students, and have them prepared for their futures, we have to be aware of the shifting skills, knowledge, and behaviors that learners need. Instead of teaching students outdated skills that prepare them for our past. We have to filter our thinking through an understanding that our learners will be in a world that will continue to be transformed by technology acceleration, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and more.

My biggest take-away of what I know about the needs of our learners is that they don’t necessarily need to be content experts, but rather they need to have adaptable skills that could translate to any content. Some of those “soft skills” include problem-solving, ability to work in a team, strong work ethic, analytical/quantitative skills, written communication skills, and leadership.

What implications might this have in your classroom? How does this have you thinking of learning differently in the coming weeks, or as you move towards a new school year?

The gist of this post comes from reading An American Imperative: A New Vision of Public School. You can access the report here.

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