The tension between the realities of the future and the comfort of a reliably perceived past are palpable. Put another way, the security of “this is the way we have always done it,” versus the uneasiness of preparing for an uncertain future can be highly disconcerting. How do we untangle nostalgia for the past with the real needs of today to adequately prepare for tomorrow?
I grapple most with this issue. In the past several years, I have spent a disproportionate amount of time reading the literature around educational change, the global economy, the future of work, and the mental health of our kids today; I have observed closely what is actually happening, and I have spoken to many people who are experts in education, business, and psychology, among other areas. I have no doubt that the learning experiences our children require, and the skills they need, are vastly different from what we experienced as children. I have been speaking and writing about this for several years. The future is here – we can read about it everywhere, and we can see it happening in our lives.
So why hold on to distant beliefs about what school, teaching, and learning should be? Why do some of us look for evidence that supports our desire to not evolve? Why do we let short-term anxiety about the future stall the change that will engender long-term opportunities for our children who will become adults in a world vastly different from the one of our youth?
These are tough questions. To some degree, embracing an uncertain and changing future requires an informed leap of faith. It requires trust that the professionals charged with investing their time, energy, and intellectual capacity in this endeavor have an understanding of what is needed, and that they will do right by our children. It also requires parents to take the time to become educated about the factors that have precipitated the educational change that is occurring around the world and at Hillel.
The sheer number of educators from public and private schools around the country and the world who have visited Hillel in the last couple of years – nearly 200! — validates our efforts. Their interest has helped us to understand that we are still ahead of most institutions, putting us out on the front lines — and at times, this can make all of us feel vulnerable.
Sometimes parents ask, “Will my child be ready for high school?” We hear this more as our students get into the upper grades. This question may seem urgent especially when our students go to high schools that, while beginning to change, are doing so, slowly.
If the only measure of preparedness is that our children are only aligned with all of the other kids entering high school, and if we believe that not being aligned means they will not succeed, then we miss what “being prepared” means. And what does it mean? That students must read, write and solve math problems at levels equal or superior to their public school counterparts? This assumes that those are the only skills kids need today.
Reading, writing and arithmetic remain essential; however, they are no longer enough. We do our children a terrible disservice if we do not teach the essential skills of effective collaboration and communication, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, design thinking and more!
We must open our minds and reframe what “being prepared” and what mastery of skills mean for our children. It means that at Hillel teaching all of these skills requires us to think differently about when mastery of skills occur. If we hold our students accountable to the traditional and additional skills within outdated timelines, we set up unattainable goals. We know much more today about the spectrum of development, and we need to change our vocabulary from “children should be able to do by X date” to “children will be ready to…” It is unfair to hold our children to benchmarks based on the “average mastery of a skill at a specific age and time,” since average is relative and so much more is expected of them.
Therefore, we need to consider, embrace, and trust the change process, and focus on the more important, long-term objective of preparing our students for life, not just for the next grade level. This approach will serve our children much more than the shortsighted approach of “Let’s get ready for the next grade.”
Readiness is a broad idea. Our Hillel students will be more than “ready” for high school, especially when we more accurately and broadly define the term “ready” beyond mastery of a narrow set of skills. More importantly, at Hillel, we are readying them for a full and meaningful life.
Our Hillel students will develop and acquire the skills they need — but we are not raising cookie cutter kids. It is a fantasy to believe that all children will reach the same benchmarks, in all skills, at the same time. They do not all need to be equally successful in every single skill. Not one of us is – not you, not me. Trust that your children are capable and that our students will not only be ready for high school, they will also find their way and succeed in the world that awaits them, not the world that has passed.