Preparing our students for the complex world they will face after they graduate from our schools will require our schools and teaching practices adapt to these realities. Knowledge and content are important, just as they always have been. How our students are able to apply that information to solve the complex environmental, social, political, and ethical challenges on the horizon is critical.
For the past few months I have been fortunate to work with school directors, policy makers, and teachers in Kenya, Greece, Spain, and across the United States on ways that we can help students develop the academic, social-emotional, and critical thinking competencies they will need to be successful in their future. One of the best ways I have found to do that is to allow student to apply the design process to problems they identify through classroom connection and global learning experiences.
At the end of October I had the opportunity to keynote the Alaska Cross Content Conference (AKCCC) and spend two breakout sessions to do a deep dive into the role of teachers in preparing students in this way. *
My opening keynote focused on "Why Teachers Are More Important than Ever." As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous in our lives, characteristics that are uniquely human such as empathy, compassion, and love will become more important. Teachers, who exemplify these traits, are also in a prime position to develop them in our students.
The breakout sessions gave teachers practical tools and techniques they could use to help students develop all of the skills vital to their future success. The first, "Connected Classrooms and the New World of Learning" allowed practice with powerful tools that provide global learning experiences to students. Cultural understanding will become increasingly important as technology brings our global society closer.
A game of Mystery Skype was a highlight of the session. To show how easy it was to connect with others, we used Skype to connect with former Top-50 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, Elisa Guerra, and her daughter Annie. Participants in my session did not know where Elisa and Annie were located, and they didn't know where we were. Each group took turns asking yes/no questions in order to try and guess the others' location first.
Next I shared how easy it was to find teachers across the globe willing to connect their classes to play games like Mystery Skype, as well as Skype Lessons and Virtual Field Trips available on the Skype in the Classroom website.
The second breakout focused on how we can combine design thinking with these global experiences to empower our students to take action for social good. After exploring TeachSDGs and how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals can be used as a lens through which global problem solving could be viewed, we spent time on an activity to practice using the design process to solve a problem in a rural community in Kenya.
I've always found that teachers are best able to implement new strategies and tools when they are given time to experience them firsthand.
The world is getting more complex and technological, and our students will need to develop cultural competencies and problem solving strategies in order to be successful in their future. Combining the design process with the Sustainable Development Goals, and providing teachers the training to bring new tools and pedagogical models to students is vital.
If the educators at AKCCC and the other locations around the globe with whom I've been working are any indication, our future is bright. The enthusiasm and dedication I saw in these teachers and administrators showed me that our students are in good hands. If we provide our educators with the support they need to be successful in meeting the demands on the horizon, our students will shape the planet they will inherit from us in profound, positive ways.
*Disclosure: While Microsoft Education paid my travel expenses to attend and speak at this conference, the views expressed there and on this blog are based on my experience.