The future of education has very little to do with teaching

The future: the road less traveled. Pic by davide ragusa

The future of education depends on you. Better indeed, on your ability to adapt.

I was fortunate enough to give a keynote at the 2nd International Conference for Innovative Education in Israel, at the Ohalo Teacher College.

Students from Ireland take science classes during daytime but that’s not an obstacle for them to watch the stars. Their telescope is connected to one in California, allowing students to enjoy the beautiful US West Coast’s sky, thanks to the Internet of Things.

In a Westchester school, in New York State, a flexible approach to the use of space provides adaptive learning experience. Students are not only allowed, but encouraged, to draw on walls and windows. They can brainstorm at a Starbucks’ like space or attend regular classes in a environment, that’s so friendly, that is hard to discriminate teachers from students.

These were some of the examples of shared by experts on how the future of education might look like.

There was a common thread in the different talks: the (education) world has changed. It’s rapidly changing and will continue to accelerate.

Yet, even though reality has changed, the way we look at reality has not. We are still applying an old lens to look at the new reality.

My presentation focused on the human factor: the need to prepare people to be more open and adaptive to the unexpected.

To thrive in change requires adopting a new mindset.

Educators Need to Let Go of Power

“Who Is In Charge?”

Students and educators are going through a major crisis.

“Who is in charge?” — is the unspoken question. Authority and expertise are not taken for granted anymore, but actually systematically challenged.

Parents and leaders are experiencing the same. A title is no longer sufficient to drive respect and obedience. Trust and authority need to be earned now more than ever.

Who is charge? Why it’s important to bring both perspectives together.

The teacher’s role has always been to “educate” students. To lead and control the teaching process as well as the curriculum. They speak from a position of authority. They “own” knowledge.

Students now want to lead their own learning journey. Taking shortcuts and a plug-and-play approach is their approach to answer a question as fast as possible. Same when it comes to learning a new skill. Students want to feel free and take control of their educational experience.

This tension needs to be resolved. Neither preserving the old model at any cost, nor killing it for the sake of changing, is the right approach.

Finding a cohesive solution, rather than taking sides, is the way to go.

Living in a Transitional World

“The future is happening today. The actions that we make today determine how our future will look.”

The access to free information, workshops, videos and tutorials is limitless. Yet, in spite of knowledge ubiquity, college tuitions are skyrocketing.

So, what’s causing that contradiction?

Higher education is still a badge of honor and -especially in the Ivy League space- its networking power can’t be matched.

But there’s something more critical going on. We are at the midst of a huge transition. Most people choose to have one foot in the present and another one in the future. Only a few want to take the leap.

We are living in a pivoting moment. There’s only one thing that we can be certain about. We know what’s not working, but no one knows for sure what’s going to work tomorrow.

That’s the real challenge that educators are facing. They are no longer subject-matter experts. Their role needs to shift from one driven by “knowledge” to one of “experimentation”.

And that’s not easy. It requires letting go of past models. To leave their comfort zone.

Letting Go of Everything

“To fill a cup you have to empty it first.” — Japanese proverb

To adopt a new lens, we need to let go of older ones first.

The biggest challenge that educators (and bosses and doctors and parents) have is to let go of power. Teachers don’t own education anymore. They need to let go of authority. And of past models. I’m not saying get rid of old models. But to let go of being attached to those long-standing paradigms.

What educators measure defines the mindset of their students. If the educational system mostly cares about scores, that’s basically the thing that kids will focus on.

The U.S. education system is a perfect example of that. Its obsession about SAT tests prioritizes scores over the experience of learning. Students’ brains are wired to score well at tests.

Scores are what matter, not learning.

What educators measure creates the wrong mindset towards education.

The New Role for Educators

“Educating the mind without educating the heart. is no education at all.” — Aristotle

Students won’t give away the joy and freedom of leading their own education. They won’t get back to a teacher-lead model.

Yet, consciously or not, students need teachers.

As I wrote here, the search for shortcuts can damage learning. That content is easily available doesn’t guarantee learning. Consider the fact that only 8.5% of google searches go past the first page. A clear proof that we are, not only lazy, but also lack depth.

The problem is not easy access to content but the inability to separate information from real knowledge. Or to double check facts and sources (what journalists are very good at).

Teachers should help curate the learning experience rather than leading it. Training students to learn, to coach them how to solve problems. To help them embrace a learner’s mindset. A teacher’s role is to prepare students to become more adaptive.

The new role for educators combines those of a coach, a curator of content and a mentor.

Like a sherpa, who shares knowledge but doesn’t tell the climber how to climb. He provide routes, tools and tips. But the climber wouldn’t make it without the help of a sherpa.

The new role of educators is to find the answers together with the children as one team.

What I Learned Visiting A Kindergarten

Every time I travel abroad, I spend time understanding the local culture. I want to to make my talks and workshops relevant.

The most revealing experience was when I visited an Israeli kindergarten.

I have a particular sixth sense. Every time I get into a new room –an office or a house- I immediately get its energy. I can easily detect if people are enjoying or suffering working at that particular place.

The moment I entered this kindergarten, in the Meron Golan Kibbutz, I could feel the energy, the passion, the good vibes. Yet, the place was empty. There were no kids running or playing around. They just all left for lunch.

As I walked around the large space, it looked messy. Yet, the messiness, had a particular order, it made sense. Like a wall filled with pictures of a flower that showcased the essence of creativity.

Not all flowers are equal.

As you can see on the above images, every flower is unique. All the kids were asked to draw a flower. They were provided with the same petals. Yet each interpretation was unique.

If we look at these flowers through the eyes of an adult, we could hinder creativity. For example, to default to the one that looks closer to an actual flower. Thus disregarding the most abstracts versions.

The adult or knowledgeable perspective is how creativity gets killed at schools. Instead of letting kids express their own voice, teachers want to define how it should sound.

And that’s precisely the biggest threat: the system waters down self-expression as kids move their way up the educational stages.

Creativity is not about finding multiple solutions (or various flowers). Creativity is about self-expression.

Unfortunately, the education system operates under the premise of correct answers. This mindset hurts children’s ability to express freely, killing the main source of creativity.

Why Kindergartens Are Creative Labs

“The future: the road less traveled.”

The relationship between kids and teachers at kindergartens looks more symmetric compared to elementary or high school. They behave as a team. They co-create the learning experience. There’s no right or wrong answer, everything is learning. Here’s why.

1. Ignorance is freedom, curiosity is pure motivation

Kids don’t need to prove anyone right. They don’t care, or even realize, that they know something. Having an empty mind -free of perfect answers- can only spark questions. Curiosity is the best driver towards experimentation. Constantly challenging things is the best way to adapt to a changing reality.

2. Creativity is a personal thing

Self-expression is the biggest driver. Kids draw flowers differently, not to differentiate from others, but because they see the world differently. True learning comes from bringing together diverse perspectives. Promoting self-expression is not easy but opens more windows for discovery. A fast-changing world demands multiple solutions, not just one.

3. Joy is a key driver of creativity

Kindergarten kids have fun. Learning is not seen as a task but as a fun experience. It’s messy, it’s unexpected and judgment free. When learning and joy are part of one seamless experience, the focus shifts from getting the best grade to enjoying learning. An adaptive mind requires to focus on learning rather than being stuck on past achievements (or grades).

4. Learning is not about the right answer but experimentation

When their conversations with kids focus mostly on grades and scores, parents are promoting a right-or-wrong mindset. Instead of encouraging discovery and learning, they train their kids to look for external approval. In a world that’s unpredictable what’s right today might become wrong tomorrow and the other way around. Exploring is more important than knowing the answer.

Stretch Beyond The (Education) Comfort Zone

Past generations were trained under the “right answer” model. We were all taught formulas, rules, processes and to “memorize” the correct answer.

We are shifting from a moment in time where manuals and best practices are becoming obsolete.

We’ve spent our live chasing for the perfect answer and, once we found it, we realized that the questions have changed.

I don’t want to start a debate if the “know the right” answer approach ever worked. What I can say for sure is that it’s not working today.

We live in an era of entrepreneurship and ingenuity. Multiple players can solve a problem through very different solutions. And none is better than the rest, there are simply more options for us to choose from.

A great reminder of how, not only the world changes, but how imperfect life is. And that learning is a lifelong journey.

Adaptability: The New Education Paradigm

The following is the real challenge for educators: How might we prepare students to be more adaptive?

We are all educators and students, depending on the subject matter. That’s why we need to eliminate hierarchies and roles. And work as one team.

We need to start by adopting a beginner’s mindset:

  • Acknowledging our ignorance and liberate ourselves from the pressure of being right.
  • Curiosity should drive the search for new solutions.
  • Compassion means recognizing we are not perfect, being okay with making mistakes.
  • Resilience is strength, developing adaptability requires a lot of energy to deal with frustration and constant changes.

The new adaptability paradigm requires learning new soft skills:

  • Problem solving & Creativity
  • Leadership & Decision-making
  • Cross-learning & Collaboration
  • Learn by doing & Playing

These are not “nice to have”, but critical skills to becoming more adaptive.

We need to better equip “students” to adapt to an ever-changing world.

The future of education has very little to do with knowledge. It’s a mindset thing.

Adaptability is the new MBA. Those who learn to adapt are better prepared to win.

You better get started.

Before You Go

Gustavo Razzetti is the founder of Liberationist, a school that prepares people to thrive in change. You can connect with him on Medium, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Turn adaptability into a competitive advantage: Check our upcoming “Thrive in the Unexpected” workshop.

Don’t forget to share this post!