Focus on the NOW, Not Always on the Future

students in hallway

We are operating in a byzantine system and need to prepare students for their future. Sound familiar? I bet it does and you may have even heard me say it before. While it is irrefutable that there is an incredible shift in the world of work and we need to rethink how we are preparing students, I also think there needs to be just as much emphasis who they are and what is relevant to them NOW.

We know that we won’t know what jobs will exist 10 years from now and that means students need to be comfortable with ambiguity and rapid change. We know we will need to augment and complement machine-enhanced technologies. We know students will need a different set of skills and be able to quickly adapt to novel and complex situations.

We also know students in front of us RIGHT NOW have deep, untapped passions, heart, hopes and dreams. They are ready to make a difference and as Tom would say, there has never been a better time than now.

If I reflect on the content I learned and skills I developed in school — sure they gave me a baseline — but ultimately things changed once I was in the working world. In all of my jobs, I have had to learn in-time skills and adapt. I think this is always going to be the case. I think we need to keep a healthy balance — eyes on the future and eyes on the now. When you do this, you realize that some of what we focus on, both for the future and for the now, can look very similar if we put the student first and not just the job they will have in the future.

When you whittle down the endless possibilities for what students might need in their future lives and work, deeper learning skills/attitudes/dispositions are always going to be in demand and at the core of what we should be helping students to develop.

Take the following three students from MET School (a Big Picture Learning School in Providence, Rhode Island) who are all doing meaningful work now that is helping them develop skills for their future.

Jodianna, who is working with refugees in Providence and abroad, is focused on current issues that she cares about NOW and that are relevant to the world and her immediate community. Through her work, she has developed incredible communication and collaboration skills.

Or take Talik, who already has started a non-profit and is vested in addressing social justice issues in our schools and classrooms. He has had to think critically about how to articulate his message, how to bring people along and how to develop meaningful workshops that help others unpack their own biases and assumptions. These skills certainly will help him in whatever job he has in the future — be he partnered with AI on a project or not.

Or Leeanna, who realizes that her work NOW has meaning and purpose. She spent time on a project helping out in a court case and in a local law office. She has learned how to learn on the job and developed an academic mindset about her work. Whether the job exists in the future or not, she learned specific writing skills that applied to a profession and that muscle will translate to many fields.

We ought to remember the importance of preparing and “getting students ready”, but also that students are in front of us right now and ready to use and apply their skills. I don’t know who I want to be when I grow up, so let’s remember that students might not either.

We can facilitate powerful learning experiences that engage them NOW and still ensure students are well on their way to whatever future they want to craft for themselves.

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Emily Liebtag

Emily Liebtag, Ed.D., is Education Reimagined's Senior Partner for Systems Transformation. Formerly, Emily served as the Vice President of Advocacy at Getting Smart.

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