Topic: What is it that educators are supposed to be preparing kids for?
As soon as Jerry Blumengarten announced this week’s #edchat topic, I was excited. Last week we talked about teacher professional development – an interesting and worthwhile discussion but one that I had difficulty participating in since I am not a teacher or administrator. This question, on the other hand, is one that I’ve spent some time pondering recently, as I am the relatively new step-parent of a toddler who will be starting school next year.
What kind of world will this boy grow into? What will he inherit from our generation and the generation of our parents? What will he need to know in order to function, to thrive, to succeed? I’m sure I am not alone in asking myself these questions; in lying awake at night worrying about them. And I also know that the bond between teacher and student means that educators enjoy the unique privilege of worrying about these questions not just for their own children but for all their students too.
Clearly, this was not going to be a sit-by-the-sidelines sort of discussion, and indeed it wasn’t. I had a very hard time keeping up with the constantly updating stream of tweets in my #edchat column on TweetDeck (can anyone explain to me why we put the most recent updates on top?) and I’m sure I missed out on some great comments as I scrambled to catch up.
To be completely general, and more than a little glib, the consensus seemed to be that teachers should be preparing kids for “the future” – for life outside of school in “the real world.” The problem with that, of course, is that “the real world” and “the future” are both very broad terms – and they mean vastly different things to different people. Everyone has accumulated their own set of life lessons thanks to their experiences, and while many of these are important they don’t necessarily mesh into a cohesive curriculum.
Fortunately, I saw a few key elements emerge time and time again throughout the discussion, and it is those key elements that I have summarized below.
Main themes from the discussion:
- Less emphasis on test prep, even though assessments are a part of life. Frustration with standardized tests, and the pressure to “teach to the test” is something of an evergreen theme on #edchat. It never goes out of style, and there are always people who bring it up each week. This week, however, it took on a slightly different meaning. When we spend time teaching students info that they will only need for some test, we are robbing them of time that they could be using to acquire skills that they will need for later in life. Unfortunately, test taking is still a part of life in “the real world” for many professions. So are we to do away with tests altogether? Probably not the best idea, but clearly we need some change.
- How to participate in our government and hold onto a sense of community. This was one idea that I never would have thought up on my own, but nonetheless struck a chord with me when it was proposed. Technology allows us to communicate with people all around the world very easily, and that’s wonderful. It will, no doubt, be an essential skill in the future. But we can’t forget the fact that we are residents of our community and participants in our government. Students can get a sense of their communal and societal responsibilities in schools. This will also help them learn how to collaborate, which is a complex skill that can only be learned through experience.
- A desire to learn and that there are intrinsic rewards to learning. I think the best thing that my parents did for me was show me that learning is not something you ever stop doing. I was fortunate to have parents who were models of the “lifelong learner” archetype. Not all children as so lucky. While parents can (and should) play a vital role in imparting this lesson to their kids, teachers also need to work on showing students that learning is its own reward and that it doesn’t end when the bell rings. Part of this, however, is making sure that students are free to pursue their own interests and in the ways that suit them best.
- The ability to teach themselves by using available sources (like the internet). Let’s face it. There’s way more information available for free on the internet than one teacher (or even a whole school of teachers) could possibly contain. Much of it, however, is outdated, irrelevant, or just plain wrong. How does a student make sense of it all? How is a student supposed to know how to navigate the uncharted waters of the internet? This is where teachers can shine; where they can prove that a good teacher can never be replaced by a piece of technology. Teachers must show students how to teach themselves. This includes knowing where to look for quality information, how to tell the difference between a reputable source and a disreputable one, and how to create connections between something they learned online and some issue from their own life.
- Not to fear failure, but to see it as a step towards success that we all must take. I thought this was an especially poignant one when it was brought up. Just the other day I read this excellent blog post by Auren Hoffman entitled Fail to Succeed. He couldn’t be more right. Failure is nothing. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the beginning of your journey towards success. Students need to be taught to embrace their failures. To make mistakes. But above all: to learn from them. To know that they are capable of succeeding, no matter how many times they fail – as long as they are approaching a problem in the right way. This is way more empowering that just trying to teach them to have “self-esteem.”
- Teaching, as a profession, is changing – and teachers need to learn to adapt. This too, is another evergreen theme of #edchat. But it was brought up this week enough times that I thought it deserved to make the list. Given how readily available quality information and useful resources are these days, teachers are no longer the “authorities” they once were. They are (or should be) “learning facilitators” who help students grow, not droning lecturers who put them to sleep. The change is happening, whether we embrace it or not. Better to be prepared. I know that most of the participants in #edchat each week already are. But how do we get the rest of the education profession on board? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?
My favorite Tweets from the discussion:
mikevigilant: Isn’t that what our district/state/national standards are supposed to tell us? If not, what are they good for?
drdouggreen: Since we don’t know the future we need to teach them to think, solve open-ended problems and communicate well.
TeachOnTheEdge: Character, critical thinking & problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
MrsDi: My job didn’t exist when I was a young student — find your passion, follow it, get experience.
jrichardson30: To teach them to love learning about those things that matter to them!
tomwhitby: If Innovation is a goal for our students learning, shouldn’t we be using innovative teaching?
drdouggreen: Unfortunately collaboration is considered cheating in most schools.
alainphaneuf: I think educators need to teach students that learning is ABOUT making mistakes.
cybraryman1: FAIL = First Attempt In Learning!
mrsnesi: Students should be able to take information from a variety of sources/sides of arguments and develop their “own” opinion.
drdouggreen: You are more likely to love learning if it is fun.
davidwees: We should be preparing kids to be participants and leaders in our Democracy.
cybraryman1: Many children start school with a great passion to learn. We have to keep that fire burning. How?
jrichardson30: I am preparing my own kid to not sweat his grades. Want him to make sense of his learning and value it for him, not for a grade.
davidwees: I don’t see preparing students for a workforce as a primary need of education.
cybraryman1: Actually it is not “teaching” it is facilitating learning!
GaryBrannigan: Teach children how to be lifelong learners.
rliberni: We don’t ‘do’ education anymore. I think we have to collaborate with learners in gaining knowledge and understanding.
jheil65: To focus on “how are you smart,” not “how smart are you!”
birklearns: A very ethereal conversation–tough to disagree with ideology, more difficult to make it happen. Practical thoughts?
To follow the complete discussion, look for the full archive here.
New to #EdChat?
If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter. Over 400 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts:
If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat.
What do you think? Leave a comment!