As we settle, once again, into our back to school routines, we, as educators, parents and students, are reminded that some classroom routines and practices are timeless. Across our district and throughout our nation for instance, students still practice math facts. They still develop strategies to read for information and pleasure. They still learn to write for a variety of purposes and audiences, study past historic cultures, people, and places and investigate scientific phenomenon. And classroom teachers, as they always have, still emphasize the importance of creating a strong foundation for future learning by practicing the basics today. In our rapidly changing, twenty-four seven, fast-paced world, however, educators can no longer rely solely on the mastery of content but rather must also focus on the essential skills and competencies that students need to thrive and flourish once they enter the world beyond high school.
A short Youtube clip entitled “Shift Happens” was created just a few years ago and serves as a stark reminder that we are entering an uncertain future. The clip cites the following unbelievable statistics.
Did you know that:
The top in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004?
We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet?
The US Department of Labor estimates that today’s learners will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38?
This brave new world requires educators to design classroom experiences that allow and encourage students to be flexible in their thinking in order to adapt to challenges that may currently not exist. In Robbinsville, we have been working on defining essential skills that we believe students need to become productive and critical citizens. These Robbinsville Ready Skills include helping kids to become effective communicators, collaborative team members, emotionally intelligent learners, informed and involved citizens, resilient and self-directed scholars, and innovative thinkers.
This year we continue to focus on ways teachers can integrate these skills into their classroom practice.
The Robbinsville Ready Initiative is fully aligned with the work of Dr. Tony Wagner, the co-director of Change Leadership Group at the Harvard School of Graduation. In his book, The Global Achievement Gap, he emphasizes seven core competencies students need to compete in a global economy. Among the list are curiosity and imagination. Wagner writes that curiosity and imagination are what drive innovation and are the keys to effective problem solving.
“We’re all born curious, creative and imaginative,” says Wagner. “The average four-year-old asks a hundred questions a day. But by the time that child is 10, he or she is much more likely to be concerned with getting the right answers for school than with asking good questions. What we as teachers and parents need do to keep alive the curiosity and imagination that, to a greater or lesser extent, is innate in every child.”
But how do we nurture these qualities in our students? Literature and the arts are the most natural place to awaken curiosity and stimulate imagination. When students connect with a character’s struggle in text, they begin to widen their own view of the world as they see through the eyes of another. Music evokes strong emotions and has the power to open hearts and expand the listener’s consciousness. Studying a canvas or watching a performance on stage can be transformative. Literature and the arts allow students to become fully present and often provide opportunities that challenge them to see beyond what they know to what might be possible. By integrating elements of these essentials into our curriculum we enable students to initiate creative works of their own.
Educational philosopher, author, and teacher Maxine Greene writes, “One of the reasons I have come to concentrate on imagination as a means through which we can assemble a coherent world is that imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible…of all of our cognitive capacities, imagination is the one that permits us to give credence to alternative realities.”
As September begins to wane and the promise of a bright October lies within reach, we in Robbinsville Schools honor the timeless words of Drs. Wagner and Greene. We renew our commitment to nurturing the curiosity and the imagination of each of our students today and in all of the days to come.
Kathie Foster is superintendent of Robbinsville Schools.