By Jake Varley, Elementary Principal at Berkeley International School
As educational leaders, we face great challenges. Sir Ken Robinson observes that ‘the more complex the world becomes, the more creative we need to be to meet its challenges’. For this reason, it is critical to instead look at these challenges as opportunities. Educators today stand before students with far different skill sets than previous generations. With Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2009) and Generation Alpha (born since 2010) arriving in our classrooms today armed with access to tools and resources that we could never have imagined, students are continually (and unsurprisingly) going to know more than teachers on different topics, and be a step ahead in terms of technological skills also. Today’s educators must embrace this societal-change with changes in pedagogy and professional practice.
A study recently released by Learning Generation suggests that over two billion jobs are at risk of automation in the coming decades. For this reason, education systems must change tack, redirect, and focus on preparing our youngest learners by cultivating the wide variety of skills needed for the 21st century. While academic foundations and content knowledge will continue to be important, increasingly so will competencies such as teamwork, problem solving, creativity, adaptability, empathy and resilience.
Educational institutions and organizations are now being charged with a brief to empower students with transferable skills that will hold up in today’s (and tomorrow’s) ever-changing world. With no small amount of uncertainty about the challenges that our children will face in the future, a very different type of leadership is required from today’s educators. Simply put, we must prepare our students for this uncertainty by facilitating the development of personal, social, and emotional competencies.
At Berkeley International School, we charge our students as young as first grade with service learning commitments and projects. Student-initiated and student-led service learning projects prepare students with the decision-making skills to face social and scientific dilemmas in a future that they can’t foresee. Teaching our youngest students– tomorrow’s leaders– to analyze the implications of knowledge on issues such as justice and individual rights is a key component of a 21st Century curriculum. Collaborating with their peers to identify an issue, reaching out into the community to gather real-life knowledge and experience, brainstorming solutions, overcoming failures and setbacks, and finally, achieving successes (or continuing obstacles) and reflecting on them, are crucial to the development of our future leaders. These are priceless formative experiences that create a growth mindset, a key attribute of a 21st Century learner and leader.
Now is the time to re-evaluate our approach to teaching and learning. The benefit of this mindset shift is two-fold, with recent research illustrating how young people who from an early age develop a range of social and emotional competencies, from communication to critical thinking, are actually better at content mastery and academic success. Added to this are the obvious bonuses of student engagement, the greater good to the community and society, and a generation of prepared leaders ready to tackle the issues that await us. It really is the best of both worlds.