In this special guest post, John D’Auria, President of Teachers21, shares ideas on how to support our students’ development for now and into their future. This post first appeared in MASCD, Fall 2011.
This is my 39th year as an educator. When I entered the field, the personal computer had only recently been invented, and being a global partner usually meant having an international pen.
Now, eleven years into the 21st century, cellphones, Facebook, and Twitter link millions of people across the world; and the power of that instantaneous, international communication has helped to stir revolutions, topple dictators, and upend the political and power structures of nations. Yet, while technology has become a necessary ingredient in nearly all our interactions, technological expertise alone will not suffice if our young people are going to be able to flourish on the global stage of the future.
Ultimately, our students must learn to be nimble learners responding to challenges and opportunities that none of us can fore- see. I suggest four skills that will support our students’ development now and in the near future. I think these proficiencies will provide a solid foundation upon which new competencies and abilities-even those we perhaps cannot predict-can develop. Consequently, I believe that it will be advantageous for our students to hone their ability to:
1) Seek Out Diverse Perspectives. There is incredible potential when we seek out others who think differently from us. The global library of languages, cultures, and religions provides an endless set of opportunities for learning how others think and view the world. Too often, we gravitate towards like-minded people-a behavior that insulates us from expanding our perspective. When we leave our comfort zone and the confines of our local viewpoint and seek out those who think in a way that is not synchronous with our way of seeing and understanding, we often discover something new about our world. The cultures around the globe represent different values and histories, and those variations illuminate a divergent set of points of view.
For instance, in today’s global landscape, being monolingual is limiting. Learning how to speak a different language provides not only an additional way to communicate, but also a means to comprehend how others understand our shared world. Preparing for a global society requires that we become curious about how others think. Perhaps the lack of dialogue in our national discourse has its roots in a narrow educational foundation-one that did not sufficiently embrace the power and potential found in wide-ranging viewpoints. Imagine if leaders who embraced the value and benefits of seeking out diverse thinking were directing our current national debates.
2) Value Emotional Insight. For too long, we have believed that feelings need to be controlled and segregated from rational thought. Recent research into emotional intelligence helps us to appreciate that emotions often contain important data- information that our cognitive processes are slower to grasp. Feelings contain packets of insight. Learning to appreciate these signals broadens the bandwidth of perception beyond what our senses detect. As Jonah Lehrer wrote in How We Decide (2009), “The emotional brain is especially useful at helping us make hard decisions. Its massive computational power-its ability to process millions of bits of data in parallel-ensures we can analyze all the relevant information when assessing alternatives. Mysteries are broken down into manageable chunks, which are then translated into practical feel- ings.” Emotional connectivity also links us to other human beings, even when we cannot speak their language. Empathy helps us to understand that our similarities as fellow residents on this planet far outstrip our differences.
3) Embrace Creativity. The global economy thrives on inventive thinking. Seeing what is special or unique in what others view as commonplace is a valuable skill. The capacity to develop new tools, fresh approaches, and enlarged perspectives is a way of thinking all of us can embrace. We need to value creative skills and develop them in our students. This should not be the domain of a “talented” few. Our ability to solve the complex problems we face and will confront is as dependent on imagination and ingenuity-perhaps even more so-as it is on proficiency in communication and mathematics. This is a habit of mind that is most at risk in our current standardized testing environment.
Sir Ken Robinson stated, “At the moment, instead of promoting creativity, I think we’re systematically educating it out of our kids” (Robinson & Azzam, 2009, p.24). Technology has allowed us access to an incredible amount of information. The ability to organize, synthesize, and assemble that information in unique ways will become an increasingly valuable as- set. The challenges that lie ahead will require an ability to improvise, i.e., to both listen and observe carefully and simultaneously react in a manner that is responsive to the particulars of the context. These are precisely the skills exhibited by an expert jazz musician, and they provide a metaphor for the awareness, sensitivity, and openness needed to operate on the global stage.
4) Develop a Growth Mindset. While we cannot know with much certainty the exact challenges our students will face when they enter newly formed careers in this ever-shrinking world, we can be reasonably confident that they will have to solve complex problems. Additionally, regardless of the technical skills with which our students graduate, in order to prosper after they complete their schooling, they will need to constantly develop new abilities. Continual learning requires perseverance and the capacity to respond resiliently to challenges, especially setbacks and missteps.
Carol Dweck’s research on students’ ability to respond to initial failure indicates that those with the belief that their intelligence and ability can expand through hard work and the utilization of effective strategies, achieve better results than those with a fixed mindset, a belief that abilities are innate and more dependent on genetic endowment. In fact, those with a growth mindset are less stymied by the inevitable frustrations and impediments that occur when learning a new skill (Dweck, 2000, 2007).
We need to provide time and support for our students to value experimentation and strengthen their capacity to learn from mis- takes. Though errors, failure, and setbacks are not what we seek, we need not fear them, and we should learn to recycle them into new learning. These are the attributes of someone with a growth mindset. Indeed, the subtitle, The Role of Failure in Successful Design, reflects this important lesson in author Henry Petroski’s notable book titledTo Engineer is Human. Those with a growth mindset will be our nimblest learners and our most effective responders to the ever-changing needs of a global society (Petroski, 1985).
Although this inventory of skills our students will need in order to prosper as global citizens is not an exhaustive list, it reflects modular aptitudes that are adaptable, capable of linking to other new knowledge, and useful within a multitude of contexts, even in situations and conditions we cannot yet fully envision.
John D’Auria is President of Teachers21 (www.teachers21.org) and the author of Ten Lessons in Leadership and Learning. John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. John will be a featured presenter at the North American Jewish Day School Conference. For more information about the conference, click here.
Dweck, C. (2000). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development (Essays in social psychology). Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.
Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books. Lehrer, J. (2009). How we decide. Boston: Houghton Miffin Harcourt.
Petroski, H. (1985). To engineer is human: The role of failure in successful design. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Robinson K. & Azzam, A. M. (2009). Why creativity now? Educational Leadership, 67(1), 22-26.