2018 Year In Review

Our 2018 blog series, The Future of Work, can be summed up in two words: technological innovation. What jobs will disappear as a result of innovation? What jobs will be created? What skills will students need to succeed in these new jobs, and how can we teach these skills?

Innovation is happening at such a rapid pace that we can’t definitively answer all of these questions. We don’t know if millions of workers will be displaced by machines (the Doomsday scenario). We don’t know if new, unforeseen jobs will be created (the Pivot scenario). What we do know is the pace of technological innovation means jobs are ever-evolving, forcing us to progress  along with them. Thus, our own ability to evolve must be nurtured.

The skills we teach, the way these skills are taught and even who is teaching them will all play a role in preparing students for a future where change is the only constant. We may not be able to prepare students for careers that don’t yet exist, but we can prepare them to adapt to those careers as innovation makes them a reality.

Skills Kids Need

As we mentioned when we  began this series, “The early Greeks had to look back centuries to study ancient culture, but we only need to look back a single generation to find those who lived without technologies we take for granted today” (Brown, 2017).

This is a stark example of just how quickly innovation can transform the world around us and a reminder that those who embrace innovation are more likely to succeed than those who shy away from it. This begs the question, how do we teach students to embrace innovation? The answer is surprisingly simple. We teach them to innovate.

Innovation is born of resilience, an innate curiosity that inspires a love of learning and the ability to work with diverse groups to find solutions. Therefore, we must provide opportunities for students to acquire these skills.

Resilience is achieved through failure. Ask any entrepreneur and they’ll likely tell you they learned more from their failures than from their successes, because failures required them to discover what went wrong, devise a way to improve upon their efforts and push forward with a new solution.

Tasks that are challenging but achievable, offering the opportunity for students to make mistakes and then correct them, can provide the foundation they need to navigate an ever-changing world. However, the ability to try and try again is tedious at best if it isn’t driven by a love of learning.

Humans are naturally curious, and finding the answer is exhilarating for the curious mind. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the exercise. Maybe there is more than one answer. Or maybe an answer leads to another question. By teaching children to ask questions, as many as they can come up with, we inspire them to push the boundaries of their knowledge.

As we teach children to enjoy the search for answers we must also teach them how to expand that search beyond the boundaries of age, race, gender or geography, because innovation will only increase globalization.

Technology enables us to interact on a worldwide scale, giving us the opportunity to work with diverse groups. This, in turn, helps us see a broader array of perspectives, and generates high-quality ideas. The resulting collaboration leads us to develop more effective solutions. Thus, students who learn to accept different perspectives are better equipped to navigate a global future, one driven by innovation.

Rethink School

As we all know, children are born with an innate curiosity that lends itself to skills like resilience, a love of learning and exploration of multiple perspectives. However, the desks in a row model of education we’ve utilized for over a century does little to encourage these skills.

Consider, classroom lectures lend themselves to skills like rote memorization and following instructions rather than curiosity and creativity. Given that computers have virtually eliminated the need for memorization, and can be programmed to follow instructions, our education system must shift from the desks in a row model to one that encourages reason, logic, resourcefulness and inspiration. Typically, shifts like this originate from the top down.

Schools teach what is mandated by their governing body (i.e. the district or the state), but implementing sweeping changes across an entire district, particularly at the same pace of innovation, is a tall order. Thus, schools with more autonomy, such as those operating under a portfolio or innovation model where the schools have more direct control, are better equipped to make operational decisions that benefit their students.

For example, one school may benefit from putting funds towards more teachers while another may benefit from creating  classes based on ability level not grade. By recognizing that each school within a given district has a distinct identity, and giving them the freedom to manage their operations in a way that compliments that identity, districts can help each school reach its full potential.

Updating our education system to meet the needs of today’s students may take shape at the district level, but it’s the schools themselves that are on the front lines when it comes to helping students acquire the skills they need to succeed in the careers of the future. However, because innovation occurs so rapidly schools often lag behind, incorporating new skills into lesson plans just as those skills become obsolete. One way to keep lessons current is to give students real-time exposure to the workforce.

Apprenticeships and Internships are an excellent way to give students a taste of not only different career paths, but the necessary skills to pursue that career path. Students who participate in these programs have the opportunity to learn professional skills such as communication, problem-solving and teamwork that companies value. What’s more, these programs have evolved over the years to include a variety of industries including finance, computer programming, sales, marketing and engineering.

These models use actual work experience as the foundation for building one’s skill set, helping students to understand the real-world applications of the skills they’re learning. Further, each of these models makes the student a partner in their own education, focusing on topics that interest them rather than topics a district mandates they learn in school.

Schools that don’t have an apprenticeship or internship program can still participate in lessons that have a real-world component. By inviting local businesses or community members to come into the classroom and talk about their work experience, or help teach a special project, students have the opportunity to learn about how the skills they learn in the classroom can be applied to future careers.

How Do We Get There?

Shifting our curriculum to incorporate skills that promote innovation is one way to prepare students for the future of work, but in order to change the way we teach we must also change the way we look at teaching.

Teachers may run the classroom, but that doesn’t make them solely responsible for a child’s education. Parents, coaches, school administrators and the community at large all have the opportunity to influence a child’s learning journey in a multitude of ways. The key is to recognize the impact this village can have.

Simple tasks like finishing a home project, encouraging kids to ask questions and thoughtfully discussing answers teach resilience, a love of learning and acceptance of different perspectives. Putting away the technology teaches patience and encourages conversation. Running a lemonade stand teaches sales and basic math. Volunteering at a local business teaches civic responsibility. The lessons are as endless as the people who can provide them.

Remember also that it’s not just students who value opportunities to learn. Teachers report higher job satisfaction when they receive professional development that increases their skill sets and helps them perform better. Parents have a greater appreciation for schools that offer programs to help include them in the learning process. And communities have a greater sense of pride when they are an integral part of their local schools.

Schools should be the hub of all this activity, working together to pair students, parents and neighbors for the benefit of all. Whether lessons take place in the classroom, in the home or in the community, by incorporating all the relevant parties in a student’s learning journey we can create opportunities to teach the skills that promote innovation.

Join the Conversation

Preparing for the future of work is no easy task. Not only is it a moving target, but there is currently no consensus on the best way to move forward.

Some schools favor project-based learning, others favor the desks in a row model and still others are innovating with partnerships that put students in a real-world setting to learn. All these methods have pros and cons, compounded by the fact that results will vary by student. We simply don’t know yet what the best instructional method is to teach innovation, but perhaps by shifting our thinking we can get closer to the answer.

For decades we’ve asked students what they want to be when they grow up. It’s an innocent question, but it conditions them to offer an answer that fits into a known category. Consider, if a student knows math is their strength their answer might be accounting or finance, a job they may do well in but not love. Ask that same student what they’re passionate about, and the answers are as endless as their imagination. By helping students find and pursue their passions, maybe any learning journey they take will be met with success.

How do you help students find their passion?