Preparing Students for an Unknown Future

I hope everyone had a chance to rest, relax and sharpen the saw a bit over the holiday.  We’re back for the final stretch of the year, it’s going to fly by!

During the holiday Amy and I traveled to Shanghai to visit friends and see how the city has changed since we left there almost three years ago.  Shanghai has been a land of opportunity for a long time now, especially over the last 15-20 years. As such, new restaurants, stores and other entrepreneurial opportunities have popped up quickly.  While we were visiting I had the chance to talk to a few of my friends who’ve been able to take advantage of this hotbed of opportunity and it got me thinking about our school mission and how we’re preparing our students for a booming world economy.

I don’t know the secret combination of all the ingredients but I think I’ve figured out the recipe for success that so many of these young entrepreneurs have followed.  It starts with an idea, or many ideas, targeted on an identified problem or void in a community. From there it takes time, effort (lots of effort), planning, organization, and what many of the people I‘ve spoken with called ‘good luck’.  I, however, believe that the ‘good luck’ factor isn’t truly named at all, we should be calling this last bit ‘preparedness’. And here is where I believe that we, as a school, come into the equation.

See, we’re the ones preparing these students.  We’re preparing them for the unknown, for the future that is still (at best) a foggy and murky idea of what their lives could possibly hold.  So how do we do that? Are good lesson plans, homework and final exams the answer? What about service learning, interdisciplinary units and Education Outside The Classroom?  What happens if we integrate ATLs, technology and TOK links into all of these things? Do any of the combinations from above prepare our students for the future?

Therein lies the biggest question – what future are we trying to prepare our students to meet successfully?  Are we content with preparing them for university? Should we be preparing them for life beyond university? What if our students don’t attend university, will they be successful?

My nudge to you this week, as we prepare for the final quarter of the year, is to start considering some of these questions.  As part of the three year Strategic Plan currently under development we are thinking about a lot of these questions and what the implications of their answers could mean for how we prepare students.  Take some time to contemplate these questions and debate them with your colleagues. I’d love to hear from you or be a part of any of these conversations, it’s fascinating stuff and there are certainly no ‘right’ answers!

 

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Future Ready Schools

What if school didn’t look like this?

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I know what you’re saying, my classroom doesn’t always look like that.  Maybe it never looks like that.

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Chairs, technology, walls…”school”.

If you asked most people (teachers, students, non-education people) what they expect a classroom to include they would have a pretty common list:  teacher, students, desks/tables, board (smart or otherwise), books, computers. And, if you really pressed them to list absolutely everything…walls! 

This, however, is where the problem lies – these constructs of a classroom and/or school are old, they are antiquated, they date back beyond my grandparents.  What else that we rely on so heavily today is done/made the same way it was 100 years ago? 50 years ago? 20? Think about it, look around you, what is one relevant thing that is the same as it was 20 years ago?  Computer? Phone? Books? The clothes you’re wearing? Nope…everything has changed – except education!

Every industry is working to improve their product; working to make them more cost-effective, make them more user friendly, make them more green, improve functionality or performance.  Yet education, by and large, remains the same.

How are we, educators who are meant to be preparing our students for the future, supposed to do justice to a process that prepares kids for a future that includes so many unknowns?  

The answer is breaking away from the deep-seated rituals that have become school.  We must offer students the chance to truly engage with their learning, get their hands dirty, and live a life of active (not passive!) learning.

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What is this was a “classroom”…everyday??

But how?  

Well, that is for each school to figure out on their own.  How are they going to commit to being a school for the future?  It will take courage, it will take forward thinking and it will take lots of time and effort.  The results, however, will easily outweigh everything. If we keep doing things the same way, we’re going to keep getting the same results.  If we’re preparing for a dynamic future, we need a dynamic present – flexible, engaging, adaptable and inspiring…

Take a look at these schools and see how they’ve already begun to challenge the construct of school and the classroom.  These are all forward thinking schools (listed here from closest to traditional to least traditional, according to me)…they’re all awesome and all have room to improve.  However, what they have in common is that they are all schools for the future!!

Perhaps your school isn’t ready or able to make such a leap forward right now, that is fine.  However, what are you doing to create a dynamic educational experience that prepares students for the future?

I was tempted to explain these programs in brief but was concerned that an oversimplification of these wonderful programs just wouldn’t be fair.  So, I’m STRONGLY encouraging you to have a look at these programs (or at least a couple) and evaluate them yourself.

Carpe Diem School in various locations

Western Academy of Beijing – Capstone Program in Beijing, China

Roosevelt Innovation Academy in Lima, Peru

Summit Public Schools San Francisco, California

Green School in Bali, Indonesia

High Tech High in various locations

Khan Lab School in Mountain View, California

NOMAD in San Francisco, California

Think Global School in…well…nowhere and everywhere at the same time (if you look at one of these, this is it!!)