Future ready students: Adaptable, networked and able to reinvent themselves.

The last three decades have seen young people’s worlds change dramatically. Digital technologies have enhanced their capacity to access information, learning has increasingly become de-institutionalised and automation and offshoring have resulted in uncertain professional futures. CEDA’s widely reported figures forecast that up to 40 – 60% of today’s Australian jobs are likely to be replaced in 10-15 years and for Generation Z 17 jobs and 5 careers could well be the norm.

The tension between these new realities and an education system which still reinforces the traditional limits of curriculum and exams have seen repeated calls for a revolution in how we educate young people. However, whilst the prospect of education innovation has been extremely exciting, changes to education have generally been 'more of the same' and disappointment has been expressed in how little change has come about in the way we learn

To discuss this complex landscape, Stile and innovation school Collective Campus brought together some of Melbourne’s most interesting educators to host the panel discussion:  Getting Students Future Ready:  Does the K-12 Classroom as we know it make the grade?

 

Our panel was made up of:

Hamish Curry of strategy, learning and design thinking consultancy No Tosh

Bec Spink, co-founder of Code the Future, the not-for-profit teaching children how to code.

Richard Olsen, PhD candidate at Monash University and founder of The Modern Learning Canvas

Steve Brophy, Director of e-learning at Ivanhoe Grammar

Steve Glaveski, co-founder of Collective Campus and entrepreneurship for kids school, Lemonade Stand

 

What emerged from the evening was a vibrant discussion that challenged the idea of it means to be educated, questioned the traditional boundaries between schools and the wider community and also emphasised the power of networks and teacher driven change.


CHANGING THE NARRATIVE OF END OUTCOMES:  FUTURE READY = FUTURE ADAPTABLE

We need to reverse-engineer schools so that they come out as 5-year-olds.
— Steve Brophy

What does is it mean to be educated? Traditionally students have aimed to achieve high grades and emerge from the education system with credentials. However, in a world where it's harder to picture the future than ever before, it's increasingly a person's ability to embrace change, adapt and reinvent themselves that will be essential for navigating the future.

Steve Brophy reflected on this as both a father and an educator, noting that he wanted his daughter to go through the education system and emerge as she entered, with her ‘tremendous drive, capacity to problem solve, to question, energy, spark, thirst for learning’ intact. He mused that, "we need to reverse-engineer schools so that they come out as 5-year-olds".

Imagine this future where industry doesn’t really care if you have a degree, they care about other things...and while you’re at school you try all these different types of modular education...we think about what we want to do, what we’re great at and we get really awesome at that.
— Steve Glavesky

Steve Glaveski touched on the importance of developing a T-shaped person, a person who has deep knowledge in one area but has has basic literacy and knowledge in a broad range of areas. T-shaped people learn by linking and connecting different perspectives from different specialties and were favoured by McKinsey & Company when hiring consultants for their ability to foster connections that bring great ideas to the surface.

The development of this person needs to start at an early age and educators of primary school aged children shouldn't underestimate their students' ability to think about their learning.  From her experience, Bec, a primary school teacher, has found that young children are fully capable of questioning and thinking about what they're doing in class and how it's related to their education. She noted that, “there’s nothing more validating for me as a teacher when a child in my class asks questions.” 

At a senior school level though, teachers find it particularly difficult to get away from focusing on metrics and test results due to the realities of tertiary entrance testing. “The VCE kills them!” bemoaned an audience member.

It doesn't help that scrutiny of senior school outcomes has intensified over the last few decades. Increased reporting of tertiary entrance examination results and the 'backwash' effect of competition amongst students to enter high-demand courses at university has placed greater pressure on schools to produce highly visible and marketable senior school outcomes. Whilst it's recognised that the secondary-tertiary interface needs reform, there was resignation amongst the panel that 'that's the game we have to play' and realistically, reform would not likely be coming anytime soon resulting in an 'age of confusion'.

The analogy of a straightjacket was brought up in relation to the VCE, with Steve Brophy going on to ask the question, “how do you be innovative within a straightjacket?”

Change, however, may come from industry and business. Employers are no longer simply looking at young people from a traditional school to tertiary pathway perspective. Steve Glaveski noted that high profile organisations such as Ernst and Young are now much more open to considering factors other than tertiary qualifications when hiring young candidates. He posed the question, "Imagine this future where industry doesn’t really care if you have a degree, they care about other things...and while you're at school you try all these different types of modular education...we think about what we want to do, what we're great at and we get really awesome at that."

"That’s what school needs to get faster at," agreed Hamish. "Helping kids find what they’re good at and feed that passion...find the strengths and just dial it up."

 

NETWORKS AND COMMUNITIES: THINKING OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM BOX 

Kids don’t need adults’ permission or assistance to become future ready...kids are ready now.
— Hamish Curry

In the digital age it is hard to argue that learning is simply restricted to 60 minutes sessions at school where the teachers are the sole gatekeepers of knowledge. Students are engaging with an array of activities and informal learning opportunities outside of the classroom and schools need to see them as part of a students' education as well as great opportunities to engage and teach. 

“Kids don’t need adults’ permission or assistance to become future ready,” noted Hamish. “Kids are ready now…they’re ready to be given real problems and be connected with the real world.”

What schools need to do is provide students with the resources to help them continue to explore their passions and seek advice when they face challenges.  For Hamish, one of the most valuable things teachers can ensure students have when they leave school is not a credential or a score but, "an entire black book of people that they know so that when stuff comes up against them, they know how to pivot, they know how to reinvent themselves because they know people who they can go and ask.”

Richard Olsen, Steve Brophy, Steve Glavesky, Bec Spink & Hamish Curry

Richard Olsen, Steve Brophy, Steve Glavesky, Bec Spink & Hamish Curry

The ability to build these networks, however, needs to be lead by teachers and teachers themselves need to be networked in order to effectively guide students. Bec expressed concern that a lot of teachers may not be ready to do this, as they aren't engaging with digital networking opportunities in a professional sense. "You go into lots of schools these days and a lot of teachers…are not using [social media] to collaborate with their peers...I think it’s important that those technological networks also become face to face.” 

Schools shouldn't discount the value of their own networks, particularly their school community, a potentially valuable source of relevant learning experiences. “We need to start to reach out more into the community and learn and find what’s going on,”  encouraged Hamish. To highlight this, he used the example of a parent, who was surprised that her child was engaging with design thinking at school, as it was what she was currently doing at her work. For him, having someone like this in the school community presents an opportunity to bring in the 'real world' so that students can see the application and relevance of what they're teachers are doing at school.

 

PARENTS: INVITE THEM IN

[We] as pedagogues need to start being braver.
— Richard Olsen

One of the greatest professional challenges for teachers can be working with parents. This was addressed by an audience member who pointed out that parents can often be the biggest roadblock to change as they think that  teachers are using their children as 'guinea pigs'. the audience member went on to ask, “how do you work with parents to change their thinking?”

“[We] as pedagogues need to start being braver,” stated Richard.  “[Teachers] should start saying what do we know as professionals? What do we know as pedagogues about learning?” He encouraged teachers not to be afraid to talk about learning and to engage with activities such as design thinking, coding and entrepreneurship which try to do more than just 'tick off a whole bunch of outcomes'. Educators need to trust their expertise because they know why what they’re doing in the classroom is valuable and what they're trying to achieve is more than just a reflection of the curriculum and outcomes.

Others noted that the practice of leaving parents at the door needs to change. Letting parents in through purposeful involvement, not just one-off exhibitions and presentation days, and having them be a part of what their children are doing in school can be a powerful way for schools to show the value of any change that they roll out.  Bec in particular, spoke of the success she's had in inviting parents to not just observe classes but actually join in and work alongside the children during coding classes.

Hamish went even further to suggest he would like to see parents brought into schools and be involved with assessment. From his experience, he’s found this to be particularly valuable and parents left with a better appreciation of what is happening at schools. Such a drastic change, however, needs to be done with a ‘slow bleed’ approach, by starting small and working on ways to get parents involved so that their comments matter and students get feedback from more of a ‘real world’ audience.

One great resource that an audience member directed everyone to was the documentary 'Most Likely to Succeed' which is about 21st century education reform at American schools. Her school had screened this documentary to their school community and found it a great way to show parents why change needs to happen.

 

TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIAL MEDIA: TEACHABLE MOMENTS

To date, the general attitude of educators and policy makers towards social media has been to ban or limit young people from engaging with it for fear that it will negatively impact learning. Despite these efforts, children seem to be engaging with social media at a young age anyway, so increasingly the conversation has shifted to be one of providing students with the skills to navigate social media in a healthy and responsible manner and make them better social networkers. 

Bec recommended that all teachers should be using social media in the classroom, as it provides 'teachable moments' to show students how to use it, "it’s about what you do and what you say and how you use it in the classroom that counts…you’re modelling that it’s about the networking.” 

The worst thing that schools can do is apply blanket bans. "The biggest mistakes tend to happen when people rush in and say, right we're banning Facebook, we're taking off mobile phones," argued Hamish. "Instead of seeing what opportunities there might be."

The hero should be pedagogy.
— Steve Brophy

In addition to this, simply banning and ignoring social media is a way to shut out existing problems that have simply been exposed by technology.  Using the example of cyberbullying, Hamish noted that children have always bullied each other, it's just that technology exposed the degree to which it is happening. What frustrates him, however, is that rather than engaging with and tackling the issue, a lot of schools simply choose to, "shut the screen, turn it off and act like it doesn't exist." 

Technology is also present in the classroom in the form of educational technology. Teachers are now spending significant portions of class time using technology for instruction and a majority of teachers recognise the importance of integrating technology in their classrooms. The educational technology industry has also grown significantly in the past few years with recent figures indicating that investment in edtech soared to record figures in 2015.

This has resulted in a lot of choice for teachers as well as a lot of confusion as teachers navigate their options. Steve Brophy pointed out that the focus needs to shift away from technology and towards a 'pedagogy first' approach, stressing that, "the hero should be pedagogy." Before making any choices in relation to the educational technology they use, teachers need to think about, "the learner that we’re trying to develop" and from there decide on the, "the tools or the path."

 

CHANGE STARTS WITH EMPOWERING TEACHERS

We need to change the rhetoric that teachers are doing poorly...and start trusting them.
— Steve Brophy

For change to happen, it was emphasised that greater trust had to be placed in teacher expertise so that they can be empowered as agents of change.

Public opinion often subjects teachers to a great deal of criticism with little value placed on their work and this kind of rhetoric can leave many teachers feeling uninspired and unmotivated about what they do. As noted by Steve Brophy, "we need to change the rhetoric that teachers are doing very poorly...and start growing the professional judgement of teachers and start trusting them." 

Schools where leadership and teachers form a 'perfect marriage' find themselves better placed to do really innovative and interesting things as greater trust is placed on teacher judgement and vision.  In describing her relationship with her school leadership, Bec spoke very positively about the trust that had been placed in her:

"Whoever the leadership is at your school...they're the people who can change things...I'm really lucky at my school my principal has given me free reign to do what I want to do and try what I want to try...and then talk to me along the way... or trust in the networks that I have and that I've gone and asked people the right kind of questions. I'm released out of the classroom full-time in order to support other teachers...to try new things."

Steve Brophy also considered himself to be at a school which was 'the right fit' and has been given room, support and time to grow.  He spoke of the trust that had been placed in him by his school's leadership and how it had bred a team where, "reciprocal trust really empowers people...they allow me to be me, understanding that I bring pros and cons." For teachers wanting to bring change, they have to find schools that are 'the right fit' and if they're not at these kinds of places, it may be time to move somewhere that gives you the room to grow as a professional.

I’m really lucky at my school my principal has given me free reign to do what I want to do and try what I want to try.
— Bec Spink

To end, the panel encouraged the audience to 'find their people' and find great mentors. They also highlighted the importance of finding and keeping great teachers, "they're people who are great at building quality relationships, they're people who are great with parents, they're great with pedagogy".  Rather than having them simply move to roles that take them out of the classroom, "we need to find ways to keep good teachers in the classroom."

 

If you'd like to see the whole 1 hour and 30 minute conversation, you can catch the Periscope live stream of the evening on Katch below:

As you're watching, if you're wondering why everyone is shouting 'bingo!' see this Wikipedia article on buzzword bingo. It might be the perfect game for your next conference! :)

We'd love to hear more about your thoughts on the topics brought up by the discussion, as well as your own experiences preparing students to be future ready, so please comment below! 

 

Jean Kang I Stile Education