Do we need teachers in the future?

Click to watch the video on the BBC site.

I’m always happy when I open my inbox and see the weekly email from Modern Learners (Will Richardson’s newsletter). It challenges my thinking and is an excellent one-stop-shop for new ideas in education. This morning the newsletter didn’t disappoint. It started with a video from BBC about the Altschool. A school with locations in California and New York run by a former Google exec and partially funded by people like Mark Zuckerberg. The aim of the school is to completely personalise learning for each kid. There are as many engineers as teachers at the school. Algorithms are learning along with the kids and helping to redefine their ‘curriculum’ all the time. Does it work? I don’t know, but I’m curious. Is it the way of the future? Is it sustainable? The founder is hoping to offer their system to every school one day. Would schools want it? Would ‘mass production’ wreck it? Is it only for the kids who are really motivated anyway? Lots of questions and certainly good questions for us to be asking as educators as we navigate the way ahead with a goal to radically change the way eduction works. The question Mr. Richardson asks after watching this video is ‘Are we too focused on “education” rather than developing learners?” I would say yes. I’m happy that schools like the AltSchool exist to start pushing boundaries and seeing what works.

Are we too focused on “education” rather than developing learners? -Will Richardson

One of the blog prompts this month was ‘What Would Will Do’ at my school based on his TED talk ‘The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools.”

It’s a fantastic video which gets to the heart of our broken school systems and the need to radically reform and rethink what it means to learn. If you’ve not watched it, it’s absolutely worth the 16 minutes! He works through the disconnect between what we call the conditions for powerful learning as educators (things like engagement, motivation, relevance, not constrained by time, etc) and the way ‘learning’ actually looks in classrooms. (see Exhibit A from my 7th grade son’s backpack)

Exhibit A: From my son’s 7th Grade Science class

So, What Would Will Do (WWWD) at my school? Exactly what he talks about in the video. Establish a clear vision for learning. Ensure this vision is clearly communicated. Then every teacher can work towards educational goals that lead them towards this goal. It should not only impact teaching but also how professional development money is spent and which purchases are made. The vision has to become real, alive, embedded and embodied by everyone. Some may be no where near this vision, but the goal they set will get them one step closer. Some may already be there and their goals too help to bring everyone forward. Celebrating those successes and establishing a support system will help catch the nay sayers and keep forward momentum.

We have a much easier task in many ways as international schools not forever bound to national curriculums and state inspections. We have a bit more freedom to create the school we believe will be the best for our learners.

So, what does the future of teaching look like? Where are you on the continuum of readiness? Does your school have a clearly defined and articulated vision? How are teachers taking that on and is there evidence in their classrooms? In his TED talk Will mentions a few schools he’s seen that really are ‘future schools’. Have you seen or worked at any schools you would label as successful future schools? My last question is one that I hear all too often from DP teachers: What about the DP exams? How will students pass those tests if we don’t jam content into them?

I’m curious to find out!




Image Credits:
1958 ... push-button classroom! by James Vaughan is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Featured Image Credit:
1958 ... push-button classroom! by James Vaughan is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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  • Reply
    Tricia Friedman
    July 27, 2017 at 17:50

    Hi Kim,

    I’m not sure if you have ever read ‘Ready Player One,’ ( a thrill for 80s nostalgia) but if you haven’t it paints an interesting picture of what school might end up being generations from now. It isn’t one that I necessarily agree with…but it had me thinking these past few weeks, and I think you’d enjoy it.

    I feel very, very (very) grateful to work at a mission-driven school. UWCSEA is more mission aligned than anywhere else I have worked (by miles). I’m still trying to understand how they’ve managed that massive win, but here are three things I’ve picked up on:

    1) Don’t compromise on the mission, and don’t set low expectations. At our PD days, and at our campus events we don’t use throw away cutlery or plates. You are encouraged to bring your own mug for coffee–and well if you don’t, no coffee for you. It is a simple thing, but it is something that I think all schools could be doing. We don’t sell plastic bottles on campus. Again, small–but speaks to our values.

    2) You need leaders who listen (really listen).
    I am so grateful to have open-minded leaders. They want feedback, and they truly take it into account. I’m sure that isn’t always easy for them to do, but they do it. It doesn’t go unnoticed.

    3) Invest in service learning
    We have a Service Learning team. Even the visual of walking past their office every day reminds us of what we are about. Every Tuesday lunch in the High School is ‘Global Concern’ time. There are literally hundreds of service learning opportunities for our students. You simply cannot have meaninful service learning if you don’t hire and you don’t make room on staff for effective Service Learning leaders. Our team is exceptional, and that isn’t a fluke of luck.

    The more I learn about the future of our world, the more I think we need more agressive, more forward thinking missions for our schools. Read this and tell me you don’t agree:

  • Reply
    Nicki Hambleton
    July 29, 2017 at 12:26

    Hi Kim,
    I must thank you first and foremost for sharing Modern Learners as I had not come across it before reading your post.
    I too am really intrigued about personised learning and how to encourage and sustain it. As Tricia mentioned above we are truly blessed in our school to have such a powerful school mission. But I want to look beyond that at what my vision is for the learning I can directly affect in my classroom. Reading “Empower” this holiday (see my post – has made me rethink my practice and putting students at the heart of the lessons empowering them to drive the content. It will be a lengthy and probably messy process but one I am determined to pursue. How do teachers at your school empower students to own their learning? I too am constantly hearing from IB teacher (my husband included who teaches IB Physics) about the need for maximum time to teach the content. What happens to creativity, personalised learning and empowerment at this level? I would be very excited to hear from IB teachers who are pushing this model in their school and how we can learn from them. Thanks again for a thought provoking and very relevant post.

  • Reply
    Roxanne Walker
    August 11, 2017 at 23:48

    Hi Kim,
    I think Will Richardson’s video was definitely worth the 16 minutes! Like Tricia, I also work at UWCSEA. I think your point about international schools having it easier than nationally driven curriculums is spot on. I’ve been overseas for so long that I often have to remind myself how fortunate I am to be in an environment that is so learning focused. UWCSEA is an environment of like-minded educators, and one of the biggest reasons I think our school mission is so prominent throughout the school is because the leaders are solid believers in the importance of PD and leading by example. I think there is still sometimes a disconnect between what parents want out of education (usually based on their own experience) and what we as educators know are the conditions of learning. This is also supported by our leadership in the many workshops available to parents on the how and why things are done the way they are at our school.
    Thanks for sharing the Modern Learners blog. I’ve added it to my blogs to check out list

  • Reply
    Valerie Koch
    August 25, 2017 at 08:55

    Dear Kim,

    I love this post. It’s something I’ve been wrestling with, too. I’m pretty good at preparing my kids to pass their DP exam, but I’m pretty sure I’m not preparing them to actually do anything. I would love to see schools formed around the ideas of solving problems and challenges in the world. How would you bring clean drinking water to an impoverished area? How would you clean up the trash in the sea? What can we do about the trash in the oceans? Etc, etc, etc. I wrote about it in this post last spring:

    There are some other schools doing cool things like this: The Evangelische Schule Berlin Zentrum and The Sudbury Valley School among them. I would so love to work at one of these schools or help turn mine into something like that.

    Best of luck with your plan this year. You never get anywhere if you don’t get started, so good on you for taking the first steps.

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