I have no doubt that the learning experiences our children deserve, and the skills they need, are vastly different from what we experienced as children. But the tension between the unknowable realities of the future and the comfort of a reliably perceived past are palpable. Put another way, the security of “this is the way we have always done it,” versus the uneasiness of preparing for an uncertain future can be highly disconcerting – but how do we untangle nostalgia for the past with the real needs of today to adequately prepare our children for the lives they will lead tomorrow?
I have grappled with this issue for a long time, only made more urgent since the pandemic has upended so much around what we assumed was normal schooling.
For nearly twenty years, I have studied the literature around educational change, the global economy, the future of work, and the mental health of our kids today; I have observed closely what is actually happening, and I have spoken to many experts in education, business, and psychology, among other areas. The truth is that the future is here, it’s been here for a while now – we can read about it everywhere, and we can see it happening in our lives.
So why still hold onto distant beliefs about what school, teaching, and learning should be? Why do some of us look for evidence that supports our desire to not evolve? Why do so many people let short-term anxiety about the future stall the change that will engender long-term opportunities for our children who will become adults in a world vastly different from the one of our youth? I have come to see too many parents and educators struggling with this even while the world has definitely changed.
These are tough questions. To some degree, embracing an uncertain and changing future requires an informed leap of faith. It requires trust that the professionals charged with investing their time, energy, and intellectual capacity in this endeavor have an understanding of what is needed, and that they will do right by our children. It also requires parents to take the time to become educated about the factors that have precipitated the educational change that is occurring around the world.
When schools begin to make the changes needed to prepare today’s students, some parents ask, “Will my child be prepared for high school?” I have heard this more as students get into the upper grades. This question may seem urgent, especially when our students go to high schools that, either resist the change that is needed or are beginning to change, but doing so, slowly.
If the one measure of preparedness is that our children are simply aligned with all of the other kids entering high school, and if we believe that not being completely aligned means they will not succeed, then we miss what “being prepared” means. Especially now. There is no question the available jobs will change, new ones will be invented, old ones will disappear- at an accelerated pace, and, how and where we work will also change more rapidly. The post pandemic world will give us fresh opportunities to rethink this.
Reading, writing and arithmetic remain essential; however, they are not enough. We do our children a terrible disservice if we do not teach the vital skills of effective collaboration and communication, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and design thinking. These skills are just as crucial as the “traditional” skills that prepared us when we were children.
We must open our minds and reframe what “being prepared” and what mastery of skills mean for our children. We know much more today about the spectrum of development and if we hold our students accountable to the traditional and the additional “this century” skills within outdated timelines, we set up unattainable goals. For us, at SSDS, this means that teaching all of these skills requires us to think differently about when mastery of skills occur.
Our SSDS students will develop and acquire the skills they need — but we are not raising cookie cutter kids. They do not all need to be equally successful in every single skill. Not one of us is – not you, not me. Therefore, we need to consider, embrace, and trust the change process, and focus on the more important, long-term objective of preparing our students for life, not just for the next grade level. I know that our SSDS students will be more than prepared and “ready” for high school, especially when we more accurately and broadly define the term “ready” beyond mastery of a narrow set of skills. Trust that your children are capable and that our students will not only be prepared for high school, they will also find their way and succeed in the world that awaits them, not the world that has passed.
This is an exciting time to be in education. We can and will do the work necessary to ensure our children not only continue to be prepared with the fundamentals, but also prepare them to practice the value of Tikkun Olam and be citizens in a world that has proven itself to be unpredictable, ever-changing, and filled with potential, opportunity, and hope.