9:00am on March 13, 2015, was my exact favorite moment of teaching.
I know the time because of the photo I took to capture the experience. It may not look like much: 7th graders sitting in three circles, talking with adults. What they were talking about, how they came to be in this place, and the hope it gives me for the future of education are what made it special.
As part of a current events unit, we had recently been focusing on the issue of homelessness, which is a pressing topic in Eureka, California, where I was teaching. We read articles, discussed how “homeless” doesn’t always mean what we think it does, and tried to understand some of the causes of this social issue. Learning came to life, though, when we reached beyond the walls of our school.
With guidance, my students found and invited three local experts – a professor from Humboldt State University, the executive director of a local shelter, and an advocate for homeless youth – to visit our classroom for a “salon.” When they did, I witnessed the most authentic and inspiring discussion I’d ever seen in a classroom. I like to think that our preparation helped, but it was clear that engaging on a topic about which they were genuinely curious with people who understood it from real experience was the special sauce.
When I took the quiz on VibrantED to find out what role I might play in #FutureEd, I got social innovation portfolio director, which came as a surprise to exactly no one, given my interest in helping students learn to take meaningful action in the world. Reading the job descriptions on the site allowed me to imagine a world in which teachers are not expected to take on every aspect of students’ development and learning alone, where the responsibilities and titles of educators are as diverse as the individuals filling that role and the learners they serve.
I wonder what next steps my students could have taken to address homelessness in our community if my role as an educator had been different, and if helping them learn to make change in the world was my primary job? I wonder what young people in Flint, Michigan, or Recife, Brazil, could contribute to their communities’ battles against public health crises if they were seen as not only students but also active problem solvers and if educators were seen as leaders with real-world impact?
As our latest forecast highlights, involving learners in the world around them must be part of our education system if we hope to equip them with the skills and passion necessary to face the challenges of the future. That means also rethinking the roles of the adults guiding them on that journey.
If you are ready to explore possibilities for social innovation portfolio director and other future educator roles, jump ahead to 2025 at VibrantED.org.
Katie King is the Strategic Foresight Engagement Lead at KnowledgeWorks. In this role, she manages externally facing strategic foresight projects and partnerships, co-designs and delivers workshops, and contributes to KnowledgeWorks’ publications about the future of learning.