• Jennifer Smith

Change Is Here

Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are launching themselves into space this month. Branson and Bezos did not achieve success by “following the rules” or scoring high on standardized tests. Yet, they are the most successful self-made men on the planet. These men used imagination, creativity, and grit to take leaps and bounds beyond the rest of us.

How do we prepare our students to live in a world such as this? A world with space tourism? Seriously, how can we all live with ourselves if we continue to teach using a system developed over 100 years ago? What will our future look like if we do? Are we lazy, or too afraid to fail? Branson and Bezos are willing to risk their lives for progress, and we, as educators, cannot even change our curricula, methods, and standards?

To those who argue the ship of education is too difficult to turn quickly in a new direction, I offer you, the pandemic. Did we not do just that? Did we not just redesign our teaching methods, our standards, and our curriculum literally on the fly? We can no longer use the excuse that the school, the district, or the system is too large for us to usher in change quickly.

We also cannot be afraid to fail. We will fail. We will make mistakes. Do we not teach this to our students on a daily basis? We will then adjust, tweak, and redesign. Iteration is part of good design--ask any innovator. We must try ideas to see if they have merit and then tweak and improve. When my team designed our successful transdisciplinary Academy program, we never intended to have a perfect launch. We did have resounding success, but we expected to continually change and tweak the program for improvement. If we are not always striving to change and improve programs, what are we doing in education? Are we then truly educating? If we are teaching the same way we taught 20 years ago, we are teaching pre-smartphone methods. Is that educating for today’s world?

Change is constant. Any changes to standards and curriculum from this moment forward will be in constant flux. We need to adjust to that mentality. We cannot design a system that will be used for the next 100 years and maintain its relevance. Doing so and expecting such is a disservice not only to our students but to our own future. Those with the skills will survive and thrive; those without the skills will suffer.

The debate is no longer about the canon of knowledge. We are long past that argument. Knowledge is accessed within seconds now. A fifth grader can access the process of a deadly virus and have a basic understanding of why America is in lockdown within minutes. No, they will not be an expert, and they will need more education in science. However, the information is readily accessible; it is no longer tucked away in hard to find scientific journals. Students can learn this information on their own with a smartphone, and they did.

Educators now must focus on building skills. Critical thinking and creativity are key. We will need solutions to challenging problems, and we will need fast innovations like the covid-19 vaccine. Addressing climate change successfully will require creativity, critical thinking, innovation, design and iteration. How can we not build those skills in our classrooms? How can we think preparing students for standardized tests is the answer to solving our world’s problems? How can we not encourage our students to truly think and imagine?

An education should inspire students. An education should prepare them to create a better future. An education should encourage thought, discourse, and collaboration.

If Branson and Bezos can launch themselves into space, surely educators can reimagine teaching and learning.

Photo credit: NASA on Unsplash

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