COURAGE FOR THE DEED;
GRACE FOR THE DOING

Meeting of the Minds: Educating for an Unknown Future

Melissa Tassoni
Our Panel
John W. Alexander III '92
Director, Instructional Design, San Diego State University, College of Extended Studies
Alexander works with faculty to translate their traditional course content for the online world.
 
Wendy Eiteljorg '86
Director of Educational Technology, US English & STEAM Teacher, The Shipley School
Eiteljorg '86 has worked at Shipley for 12 years, five as Director of Educational Technology. She taught in Chicago public schools before returning to Shipley as a fifth grade teacher. She loves art and tech and wishes STEAM had been a thing when she was a student.
 
Dr. Tim Lightman
Head of Lower School, The Shipley School
Before Lightman came to Shipley as Head of Lower School, he spent his career working and teaching in lab schools at Smith College, Teachers College, and Bank Street College. He believes effective teacher training is essential to educating students for the future.

Q: What skills, knowledge, and experiences will students need to thrive professionally and personally in the future?

Alexander '92: Being a life-long learner and able to pick up new concepts quickly, being able to translate highly technical concepts and principles into a language that almost anybody can understand, and having strong critical thinking skills are important. Writing is probably one of the most, if not, the most important skill students should have.

Eiteljorg ‘86: Being future ready is about having a more global perspective and an understanding that my view is not the view. Shipley’s Strategic Plan includes goals about preparing students to act in a global manner, collaborate with others, and solve problems, and I think that’s what we always want students to be able to do. Now more than ever, our kids will be doing that across languages, across continents, and across subject areas.

Lightman: Kids’ understanding and experience with information and knowledge is fundamentally different than when we grew up. They are going to need to develop higher order thinking skills. They’ll need to know how to creatively and effectively manage, analyze, and synthesize information rather than memorize it, because the information is all at their fingertips. They’re going to have to work in an increasingly diverse environment, where they’re going to have to internalize and negotiate multiple perspectives, bridge cultural divides, collaborate and problem solve. They’re going to have to see frustration and problems not as an end, but as part of the process.

These kinds of skills have to be integrated into our curriculum with the development of higher-order thinking at the forefront. We should no longer differentiate between what used to be labeled as “soft” and “hard” skills, as many of the soft skills, including social negotiating and community building, are becoming more and more critical workplace skills.
 
Q: How can we transform education today to help prepare students to succeed in the future?

Alexander '92: Educators need to provide a variety of assessments that ask students to apply concepts or create things. Students need to be creative, not just regurgitate information in multiple-choice tests.

Lightman: If we really want schools to change, the two biggest things that we have to look at are how we train teachers and how we assess students. Particularly in the public school system, assessment, at the end of the day, dictates curriculum.

Professional development and training are critical components of a successful school. Unless we train teachers to think and teach for the twenty-first century and to integrate this into their practice, it’s not going to happen.

Over the last decade, teacher training models and certification processes have become more narrowly focused, for many different reasons, and so as a school, Shipley needs to play a more focused role developing our teachers—particularly if we want it to evolve—through collaborative experiences and professional development. That means allotting time and resources to continually develop teachers, to offer opportunities for them to reflect on their practice, and introduce them to different ideas, discourses and ways of thinking.
 
Q: What are some important innovations that we’re currently seeing in education?

Alexander '92: Analytics are a really important innovation in online learning. They give teachers the ability to pinpoint exactly when students are having problems and address those problems, so that students are able to continue with the class. If students don’t feel like they’re connected or they don’t feel like they’re a part of an online class, it’s very easy for them to just drop it.

Virtual reality is an advancement that’s leading to more educational possibilities, like virtual biology dissections or virtual autopsies in medical school.
 
Lightman: The elevation of soft skills as being a critical component for professional success is an important development. I always go back to the study Google did on what makes a successful working group. They found that the most successful groups were the ones in which participants felt safest, where people could throw out ideas and be wrong, where their colleagues were supportive, empathetic, willing to listen, and able to appreciate diverse perspectives. Those were the groups that were most successful within the company. These soft skills aren’t only for making people better as human beings; they’re actually skills that are going to help them be successful professionally.
 
Q: How do you see technology changing education?

Eiteljorg '86: One way technology is changing education is in terms of online collaboration. Technology is also changing what we can ask students to do. It gives us options to have students make things that don’t require fine motor control, it allows students to share creations with a wider audience, and lets students in different classrooms collaborate in small but meaningful ways.

Shipley’s use of digital portfolios is a good example of technology in the classroom. Having the digital portfolio so kids can go back, look at their work, and see their progress is a game changer, because you can have kids reflect and revisit feedback from teachers. Not everything belongs in the digital portfolio, but giving students the ability to see the trajectory of their learning is so powerful for them.

It’s not that we can’t do these things without technology, but technology makes the workflow of it easier, puts it all in one place, and allows for so much more flexibility in storing, retrieving, and analyzing the artifacts of learning.

Personally, technology gave me back professional development at a time when I did not have time to leave my house. I had two little kids, and signing up to go to a conference and being away for the weekend was just not realistic. However, signing up for a semester-long program that was mostly online was an excellent option for me. Technology has a lot to offer there.
 
Q: What kind of challenges do you think today’s young people will face in the future? What kinds of opportunities will they have?

Alexander '92: When I graduated from Shipley and went to college, jobs were more plentiful. At that point, it was about trying to do well, getting good grades, and going to a top school. The rest would take care of itself. It’s a much different story these days, because a lot of well-educated Millenials are under-employed or not employed at all. Some people have started their own companies, which is one way to overcome the current challenges. Young people are much more entrepreneurial-minded than their predecessors and obviously more tech-savvy.

Eiteljorg: '86: I think young people today are much more connected to people whom they don’t know. Many kids are involved in social media, and while it can become obsessive and can be all about putting out an idealized version of yourself, social media allows kids to find a community that doesn’t have to be physically right around them. It lets them practice putting themselves out there.

That ability to connect with others online presents an opportunity and a challenge. It comes with a big responsibility to think about how you present yourself, to know yourself, and therefore to inform how you interact with people who you don’t know and what kinds of things you should and should not post. The character education and SEED (Social, Emotional, Ethical Development) work that we do here in support of kids knowing who they are—not just as learners, but as people—can really help them think about how to interact in a more connected, global world.
 
Q: What does the future of education hold?

Alexander '92: The future of education is going to require flexibility. It’s going to become much more personalized for students, with well-designed online classes that will allow students to learn a variety of subjects on their own, anytime, anywhere. No matter what the future holds, though, students should always gain a toolbox of skills that could be applicable in a number of areas. That way, no matter which direction they go in, they’ll have a solid foundation.

Lightman: It’s both exciting and daunting to think about the school of the future, I think about the diverse skills kids will need and, then, how do we integrate them into a curriculum that focuses on the knowledge and conceptual understanding that we want kids to develop.

One of the challenges is going to be for schools to reimagine themselves in more radical ways. That means veteran teachers and educators who have been trained in particular ways reimagining how they do things. At the same time, changes will naturally occur as younger teachers and administrators move in, bringing with them very different relationships with knowledge, information and technology, as well as different experiences, all of which will help to promote change in schools.
 
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.