This year has demonstrated in extraordinary ways that we’re preparing students for an unpredictable world. We can’t possibly envision the challenges and opportunities our students will experience in their lives beyond school. But we can know with certainty the world is changing rapidly and continuously, and we must prepare them for the unknown. While there may not be another COVID-19, there will be many surprising developments for the rising generation. We must prepare them to be confident, adaptable learners, no matter what they encounter. We can’t just focus on academic training in isolation and think that’s meeting their needs. It’s critical to have a larger vision that prepares students for the future, a vision that’s bigger than test scores, grades, diplomas, or mastering standards. My school’s Virtual Tour will focus on the keys to creating a future-driven approach to education.
I believe these five areas are essentials for every school:
- Develop a strategic approach for leadership, character, and adaptability skills.
Most schools have a systematic approach for the academic aspects of learning, as they should. We allocate funding for curriculum and professional development. We carefully assess outcomes. We monitor progress. But then, too often, we’re far less intentional about developing leadership or character in students. Adaptability skills like curiosity and creativity are not emphasized. Entrepreneurship or design thinking may not even be a consideration. But these elements of learning are just as important to a child’s future as academics. What if we balanced the experience for our students? For too many students, school does not seem relevant to their lives. It’s these aspects of learning that help students find their personal why by providing purpose and helping students see more relevance in their schooling.
- Understand that everything rises and falls with relationships.
As technology plays an increasingly larger role in society, we have to be careful not to lose our humanity. In fact, as technology increases, the need for human-only skills is increasing as well. Our students must learn to work with others effectively. They must learn to manage their emotions. The abilities to empathize, listen, connect, and embrace differences are skills on the rise. So instead of managing behaviors, our emphasis should be on teaching soft skills. As the world continues to change, we don’t know what technology might bring. But we can know for sure that if our students take with them more kindness, understanding, forgiveness, selflessness, and honesty, the world will be a better place.
- Focus on strengths, not weaknesses.
For too many students, school is a constant reminder of their weaknesses. At least it feels that way for too many. We believe that every student should be able to use their strengths every day in their school experience. But that means we have to identify those strengths and provide them with the opportunities to use them. When we help students find their strengths and use them for learning, we show them they are valued for who they are. Their confidence soars. And with increased confidence, students will want to learn more.
- Treat all students like world-changers now.
Kids want to make a difference. They want to find meaning and significance in what they’re doing. In our school, we’ve worked to increase the opportunities students have to be engaged with our community and to do things that reflect what professionals and tradespeople do outside of school. They’re running student-led businesses, solving local and global problems, interacting with experts from a variety of backgrounds, and working in apprenticeships and on consultant teams with local businesses. We’re sending a message to our students: “You make a difference. You can make your community better. You can make our school a better place, and we want to hear your perspective.”
- Leverage technology in new and creative ways.
One of the things we have to realize is that more technology alone does not necessarily mean students are better prepared. Kids are using technology more than ever before as a product of a modern world. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are learning how to use it in interesting and creative ways that will serve them well in the future. Our students need to learn how to leverage their skills with technology. We don’t want our students using technology primarily for test-prep or for passing assignments back and forth to the teacher. We want them to use technology to collaborate and communicate, to exercise their curiosity and creativity, and to take greater ownership of their learning.
During our NASSP Virtual Tour, our students and teachers will be sharing some of the ways our school is moving in the direction of this future-driven vision for learning. You’ll see some of our most innovative programs in action, and most importantly, you’ll get a sense of the energy, excitement, and enthusiasm for learning that makes the difference. We’re excited to share our school’s story with you.
This blog is part of NASSP’s Virtual Tour Series. Be sure to visit NASSP’s Facebook page on October 22 at 10:00 a.m. (ET) to participate in the live tour. Join David on Sunday evening, October 25 at 9:00 pm (ET) for a Pau Hana, an informal virtual networking session to ask questions and keep the conversation going.
David Geurin is the principal of Bolivar High School in Bolivar, MO, and a 2017 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year. He is the author of Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive in an Unpredictable World? Follow him on Twitter (@DavidGeurin).