Educators are Back on Offense Again-Here’s What We Need To Consider When Calling the Plays

Maddie Shepard

Our world moves and changes faster than it ever has.  That change requires educators to think deeply about our responsibility to prepare our learners for that future.   Here are a few facts to consider when making fundamental decisions about education.

  • Sixty-five percent of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that currently don’t exist. (Source: World Economic Forum)
  • In an analysis of 25 common skill sets today, researchers found that between 2016 and 2030, demand for social and emotional skills will grow across all industries by 26% in the United States. (Source: McKinsey)
  • Demand for higher [order] skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing, will also grow through 2030—by 19% in the United States. The same research predicts the fastest rise in the need for advanced IT and programming skills, which could grow as much as 90% between 2016 and 2030. (Source: McKinsey)
  • Seventy-nine percent of executives agreed that the future of work will be based more on specific projects than roles. (Source: Accenture)

We know the future will look wildly different than our past.  If we look closely at our classrooms, we’re still preparing kids for the now long gone industrial age.  Many schools still operate on a rigid bell schedule, much like they did in the early 1900’s.  Many schools offer a singular track to success, even though we know our learners are vastly different and diverse.  Many learners lack any real decision making power over their learning.

General education hasn’t changed meaningfully since the Industrial Age.  But it must! We need to teach and assess what we value, and what the future demands.  We need to leave behind traditions and that do not serve this end. And finally, we need to stop playing defense on education policy, and start calling our own plays.

Educators are held hostage by an archaic “Accountability system” that is based on standardized test taking and the recall of arbitrary data that is readily available on any smartphone.  Consequently, many educators do not have the freedom to teach and provide feedback on what actually matters, or what our learners value. It may be easier to assess whether students can add and subtract two-digit numbers than whether they are effective collaborators, but our learners deserve a system based on what is important to asses, not just what is cheap and easy.  To be clear, I’m not saying the former skill is not important.  I am saying both are important, yet we only assess the former, to the disadvantage of our learners.

We need to uproot traditions that don’t serve our learners or our future.  We need to put learners at the center, and leverage our relationships and training to codesign a learning path alongside learners, affording them the agency and ownership they need to be engaged, and drive their own futures.  Letter grades that tell us almost nothing about a learner should be replaced with a competency based grading system, so learners can get feedback on where they are in their skill and concept development, and so educators know clearly the next steps each learner needs. 

Finally, we need to stop telling teachers to “do as I say and not as I do”.  We must afford pre-service and current teachers the ownership and agency in their own learning and professional growth we expect them to design for our learners.  Teachers need to experience decision making authority over their learning in order to craft experiences where young learners have agency.

With educators winning big in our governor’s race, we face an opportunity.  We have an open invitation to the education policy making table now that Governor-Elect Andy Beshear and educator and Lieutenant Governor-Elect Jacqueline Coleman are leading our state.  We can play offense now. We can craft the policies that open doors and remove limits. It will take innovation and courage to leave the “it’s the way we’ve always done it” narrative behind.  If Education doesn’t change with the times, our kids will be the ones left behind.

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