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Lessons Learned For Future-Ready Education

The future of learning preoccupies the world's greatest minds and their parents. Margaret Mead once said: "The children, the young, must ask the questions that we would never think to ask, but enough trust must be re-established so that the elders will be permitted to work with them on the answers.” Central to this endeavor, is the role of the teacher. In the wake of my new book, "The African Piper of Harlem," I muse about some of the latest educational innovations and challenges.

The Future is Now

When I wrote “The African Piper of Harlem,” with its educational sub-theme, I was only vaguely aware of schools actively preparing students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Since that time, I have been reading about places like the Varmond School in Mexico, which was built from the ground up to integrate technology into every aspect of its curriculum. The founders have used an adaptive, challenge-based learning structure, incorporating cutting-edge technologies to prepare the leaders of tomorrow. The school has 3D Maker labs, interactive books, and mobile devices for all the teachers and students. Inspired by the thinking of John Couch (Apple’s First Vice-President of Education and co-author of Rewiring Education; see accompanying figures based on the book) and other visionaries, this school was designed with the mission to tap into every student’s potential.

Closer to home, Verizon is making a difference by providing free tech, free access and hands-on immersive learning in STEM for students in need (#weneedmore). Wholesale internet access to avery zip code in every city and in rural areas will accelerate student immersion in digital technologies. But putting such an infrastructure in place takes money and time. So, there is still a need for analog approaches in the real world of teachers educating students with varying economic statuses and skill levels.

In the interim, Apple has put into place “a global community of educational leaders to model the ongoing pathway for professional learning through connecting with peers around the world.”

Where are the teachers?

Here they come

And I am not ready

How could I be?

I am a new teacher and learning on the job.

(Pulitzer-Prize winning author and former teacher, Frank McCourt)

Most of the nation’s future workers and leaders are likely to emerge from the ninety percent of America’s children currently attending public schools. Some of the students will encounter variants of Mrs. Jabulani and Mr. Waters, two characters in my book. Most of them are likely to encounter variants of Frank McCourt.

In Teacher Man: A Memoir, McCourt recounted his three decades as a teacher of English and creative writing in New York City’s public schools. How does one go from almost being fired on your first day at school to having a teaching prize established in your honor? Well, in the Irish-born bard’s own words, it comes from the keen ability to turn the classroom from a potential battle-ground into a playground.

That means recognizing that each class has its own chemistry. It means knowing that sometimes the teacher will be required to be a “drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder-to-cry-on, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a conductor, a disciplinarian, a referee, a clown, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, and the last straw.”

While experts are rightly concerned at the 35% drop in teacher education enrolment between 2009 and 2014, I marvel at the stalwarts still patiently sculpting the nation’s future every day.

Efforts are afoot to improve high school networks through collaborations. But until we scale the workforce with adequately-compensated people in the mold of McCourt or other excellent educators, we may need to look to teacher holograms and online communities for more immediate solutions.

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