The Future of Education Is Already Happening (If You’re Paying Attention)

Tonight, we saw a parade of Hollywood stars talking about the future of education on XQ Live. We saw nothing about equity and funding. Nothing about policy changes that free up teachers to innovate and create. And I was left with a lingering idea.

Instead of parading around Hollywood stars to talk about the future of schools, maybe you could feature the real stars — teachers

Crazy, I know. But what if, instead of hearing celebrities talk about the future of education, we heard the stories of all of those amazing little things that are happening all over the country in our schools?

It’s tempting to look toward millionaires, celebrities, and even M.C. Hammer (who was, at one time both a celebrity and a millionaire until he lost both) to re-imagine our schools. But what if we actually paid attention to the people innovating the system from within?

This is the Future of Education

The future of education can’t be found in a gadget or an app or a program or a product. It doesn’t require a think tank full of pundits. No, the future of education can be found in your classroom. Your classroom is packed with creative potential. You have all the innovation you need right there in your room.

You have the power to make it happen.

It’s what happens when you experiment. It’s what happens when you give your students voice and choice. It’s what happens when you abandon the scripted curriculum and take your students off-road in their learning. It’s what happens when you teach to your students rather than teaching to the test. It’s what happens when you unleash the creative power of all of your students — when you make the bold decision to let them make things and design things and solve problems that they find relevant.

Sometimes it’s messy and even confusing. It often looks humble. But understand this, that every time your students get the chance to be authors, filmmakers, scientists, artists, and engineers. You are planting the seeds for a future you could have never imagined on your own. And that right there is the beauty of creative classrooms. That’s the power of innovative teachers. That is why the future of education is you.

And the future is already happening . . . if we’re paying attention.

My Perspective as a Dad

Each day I ask my kids about their school day and each day I am grateful for the things they are learning.

Here is a quick sample from a single day:

Today after school my daughter talked about a hands-on, STEM / problem-solving challenge she did in class. She talked about how it was so hard for her to figure out that she ended up in tears but now she’s hoping they do another one on Monday.

My middle son talked about how his teacher has students celebrate their “epic mistakes” and how she has them talk about what they are learning from them. “I feel like I can choose harder work because I’m not afraid of making mistakes.”

My oldest son asked me to define the difference between technology, engineering, and science. Then he shared bits and pieces of the Socratic Seminar he had in his 7th-grade engineering class.

These stories aren’t rare. Yesterday, my middle son talked about how cool it was to create his own blog. My daughter talked about the books she got to choose in the library. My oldest son was excited about how challenging his math class is and what it looked like to be in a class where grading is based on mastery rather than averaging.

The bottom line is this: amazing things are happening all the time but we’ve somehow bought into the idea that these things are ordinary simply because they happen often. But they’re not ordinary. They’re amazing. And it’s time we celebrate all of those amazing things and the teachers that are making it all happen.

Telling Better Stories

Tonight was yet another hard lesson about the way our society views teachers. We heard yet another pitch about how a magical program will fix everything. This is why it’s more vital than ever that we are telling the stories of the good things that are happening in our schools. Here are a few ideas.

  1. Share your journey through social media. For the last two years, we have had people use a hash tag for the Global Day of Design. It was so cool to watch it trend on Twitter, wedged in between two snarky hash tags related to political current events. If you clicked on what was trending, you would see mean-spirited memes, more mean spirited memes, and then suddenly a video of fourth graders making Rube Goldberg machines and then a picture from across the globe students making roller coasters. It was awesome.
  2. Have your students publish their work to a real audience. For all the fear surrounding social media, we make a mistake when we say, “avoid this” without saying, “try out this.” Too often, the goal is to avoid a digital footprint at all cost rather than finding ways to create a positive digital footprint.
  3. Partner with the community. Find ways to invite businesses, organizations, and families into your building. Instead of simply “seeing what’s happening,” they get a chance to be partners in projects and this leads to better relationships and deeper trusts.
  4. Brag about your students. Without naming names or identifying too much information, make it your goal as a teacher to tell people on Facebook or Twitter how much your care about your students along with what types of projects they are doing. Most people outside of the classroom are friends with current classroom teachers. Even if they don’t comment on the posts, they will tend to view schools more positively when they hear bits and pieces of the cool things teachers are doing.
  5. Share your story. If you’re a teacher, consider blogging. Produce a podcast. Make a video series. One of the things I’ve realized is that the media won’t invite teachers to the table. You have to choose alternative platforms where you push back against the narrative that our schools are broken and our teachers are awful.

Maybe it’s time we celebrate teachers. Maybe it’s time we invite current classroom teachers to share a vision for the future of education because, honestly, they are the ones who are already making this a reality.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated John Spencer’s story.