You can’t teach a wall

Sometimes, it can be helpful to talk about ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ as if they are two discrete concepts. Each has its own set of practicable skills, for example.

In reality, of course, they are not distinct. By definition, teaching requires someone to be learning. The only reason you can’t teach a wall is because it cannot learn.

And that’s why the most effective professional development for educators embraces the inherent entwinement of teaching and learning. When we view teaching and learning as two sides of the same coin – when we view education simultaneously through the lens of a teacher and a learner – then we can really begin to finess our classroom craft.

Literacy literacy

You know that the world is changing when new forms of ‘literacy’ are being described and taught in schools.

‘Literacy’ used to involve students developing the knowledge and skills to read, write and interpret language confidently. But that was back in the days before fake news, credit cards, and Twitter.

Of course, reading and writing are still foundational skills. But there are other ‘literacies’ emerging that may well be equally critical in the future lives of our students. Here are a few of the most important:

  • Digital literacy — skills associated with harnessing computer-based devices and services;
  • Data & Media literacy — being able to access, filter, digest and make meaning of the masses of available data and to leverage different platforms of data consumption and delivery;
  • News literacy — learning to discern between, efficiently evaluate, and effectively respond to different news sources and stories;
  • Financial literacy — being empowered to understand and harness the increasingly complex and personalised financial systems available to us;
  • Wellbeing literacy — having the skills and knowledge to nurture our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of people we care about.

Schools are pretty good, on the whole, at carefully scaffolding the learning of traditional ‘literacy’. They’ve been doing it for a while! And, now, it’s exciting to see that many progressive and responsive schools are turning their attention to tackling the challenge of teaching a new generation of literacies too – to really prepare their students for a changing world.

 

Otherwise, schools will die

At the 2019 World Government Summit in Dubai last week, Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winning psychologist and economist, delivered an enlightening and sobering prediction about the future impact of Artificial Intelligence.

“I really do not see any specific human skill that, given enough data, machines will be unable to learn…We have a brain, it’s a very, very good brain and it operates beautifully. But whatever that brain does there is going to be machinery that is going to match it and exceed it.”

This impending future is only decades away. And so it is critical that schools, leaders and educators act now to reconsider core educational priorities. Schools will only remain relevant if they can evolve to provide a platform focussed on the development of complex, creative, adaptable, and deeply human skills.

Inventing jobs

Fact: many of the jobs that students entering primary school today will be doing in 2030 don’t exist yet. The accelerating impact of technology and automation is both eliminating and creating new types of work. Depending on which study you read, the estimates of 2030 jobs that haven’t been invented yet range from 20% all the way up to 85%. And on current trends, our children of today will likely have multiple careers and continue up-skilling and re-skilling throughout their lives.

Already we’re seeing evidence of shifting work patterns. The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey shows that 43% of millennials expect to leave their jobs within two years.

So what does all of this mean for today’s educators? Perhaps the most important realisation is that we need to have a much greater emphasis on transferable skill development that enables resilience, flexibility and interconnection. Four key future-oriented skill areas are:

  • Self-efficacy – belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task through hard work, creativity and adaptation;
  • Interpersonal skills – the ability to influence, negotiate, forgive, co-create, and empathise;
  • Ethical decision making – being able to consistently behave in line with one’s core values, even when it’s inconvenient or hard;
  • Critical thinking – actively conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesising, and/or evaluating information.

This is not a complete list, but all of these will be absolutely critical factors contributing to the future success of our students.

These are skills that need lots of development, scaffolding and practice. But that’s okay – because quality teachers have recognised this and are already deeply embedding these skills into most, if not all, lessons.

You are not perfect

As we develop experience in our profession, we are able to become more independent. Our experience serves as a reference to help guide decisions. We recognise familiar situations and know how to respond. And we draw on experience to adapt to novel situations.

This independence, however, can lead to an experienced educator going to work, surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of other humans, and enjoying close personal connections, but still feeling lonely, professionally. Once we reach a certain level of experience, a kind of self-imposed expectation can set in that causes us to feel that we should just be able to ‘get on with it’. It is surprisingly rare for experienced, skilled educators to seek help with fine-tuning their skills. Sure, there might be different teams or networks designed to encourage supportive collaboration, but day-to-day, many experienced educators feel reluctant to (or don’t know how to) ask for help.

But here’s the thing. High-quality teaching is very, very complex. There are so many different interconnected skills required – everything from advanced computer skills to relationship counselling and a thousand others in between. Despite what you might think, every educator you meet is better than you at one or more of those skills. And even if you have some super-star, legendary teacher at your school who you hope to be like some day, you are better than them at one or more of those skills.

Imagine what the profession might be like if we were all able to demonstrate just a little more vulnerability and growth orientation – to be a little more willing to ask for skill-based help, guidance, and advice from each other.