It’s estimated that 65 percent of the jobs elementary school students will be doing don’t even exist yet, so when we think about how to ensure learners are ready for college, career and life, we have to think beyond what we currently believe about readiness. The rapidly changing nature of work and our uncertainty about what future careers will look like requires, in addition to a strong foundation in content knowledge, a greater focus on what makes learners uniquely human.
The workforce of the future is going to look totally different – to keep up, so should the classrooms of today. What are the critical social-emotional skills that learners are going to need, and what processes and practices need to be in place now to be sure they’re acquiring them?
What to Look for in Classrooms
1. Support self-discovery and experiences that inspire learning.
Who determines classroom rules and consequences, and where are they displayed? Are learners engaged in real-world problem solving? Do they collaborate with peers?
As learners move through your system, asking them what issues they would like to address instead of what career they want to pursue is one way of helping them set enduring, long-term aspirations that will weather the changing nature of work. In this case, their academic goal-setting is closely linked to their social-emotional development.
Learners like Ikonkar Kaur Khalsa of Lindsay Unified School District in Lindsay, California, who frequently travels to lead workshops on teaching tolerance and embracing diversity, is cultivating a greater sense of her own impact on the world and her responsibilities as a global citizen. “I have the opportunity to take my learning into my own hands. I’m meeting new people, seeing new cultures, so that when I get to college, I won’t have culture shock,” Khalsa said.
2. Help learners embrace ambiguity and be comfortable with failure.
Do educators foster a growth mindset? Do students have multiple opportunities and ways of showing they’ve mastered content? Do teachers feel comfortable trying new things?
Future work environments won’t have a syllabus, and tasks will likely be vague or approachable through a variety of different ways. Learners will need to have experience with uncertainty, ambiguity and risk, and the ability to recognize that failure is just part of the process. They won’t get it right the first time – and learning to balance confidence and humility will be essential for navigating an uncertain work environment in the future.
At Independent School District #92 in Farmington, Minnesota, teachers are using a design thinking process to understand that taking risks, making mistakes and failing forward is all a part of growing and learning. They are building out standards-based learning experiences where students are problem-finding and problem-solving – which includes opportunities for students to make mistakes so they can figure out how to fix them.
3. Encourage partnership with technology.
How is technology used in the classroom?
Educational technologies need to be designed, integrated and applied in the classroom in ways that support and augment the strengths of learners, facilitating deeper thinking and problem-exploring. It’s not just about creating a PowerPoint, but providing learners the opportunity to apply their technical skills and creativity to create something meaningful.
Learners at LUSD, for example, have the opportunity to design video games and record and mix music to demonstrate mastery over math, science and engineering learning targets, and the potential for cross-curriculum alignment – such as writing and researching to meet standards in English and history classes – is on the horizon.
Ideas to Reflect on Throughout the Year
1. Build Student Agency
How could I engage my teachers in developing new strategies to help students develop the skills they will need?
Promoting a continuous improvement process that provides students opportunities to self-assess, take ownership and better understand themselves as learners is a critical foundation for social-emotional readiness.
Educators at Hall-Dale High School in central Maine, Principal Mark Tinkham and his staff have begun to investigate ways to help students identify their learning assets, their strengths and work preferences, and areas where they could improve through personal learner profiles. Tools like personal learner profiles help develop expert learners by providing students with the tools and guidance they need to understand themselves and own their learning.
2. Consider how the necessary skills for readiness play out in daily teaching and learning experience.
Are there ways to incorporate social-emotional intelligence in existing teacher training programs?
When educators can see how a social-emotional framework can support their learners across the spectrum, they will want to begin doing this work.
At Navin Elementary and Marysville Early College High School in Marysville, Ohio, they are developing rubrics for educators to use to identify social-emotional learning across grade levels. At Navin Elementary, in particular, they’ve identified how their habits of mind – innovate, collaborate, and inspire – can be demonstrated even by their youngest students. Rather than lifting up and sharing photographs of historical heroes like Albert Einstein as a great inventor and inspiration, they encourage learners to see how they are demonstrating the very same skills and put their pictures in the hallways.