America Succeeds, led by Tim Taylor (check out our recent podcast), has spent the better part of the last two years exploring the misalignment between what is being taught in schools—both K-12 and higher education—and the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required by the modern workplace. They describe the future of work as the “Age of Agility,” which became the title of a report, and a tour of more than 10 major cities, their overall effort aiming at building momentum and discourse around this important topic.

We firmly believe that one of the best ways to create meaningful and positive change is to bring people together to form a shared mission by giving them a chance to engage in productive conversation (this idea that has been at the heart of much of our recent work and advocacy—see, for example, Better Together). We were excited to be able to be a part of their two-day final event in Washington, D.C., January 24-25, and the discussions did not disappoint.

From the first afternoon of insights from school, industry, and non-profit leaders, to the full morning of engaging discussions and small-group strategizing, there was much to learn and a wide range of perspectives on how best to move forward.

Day 1 Speakers and Agenda

The first day of the event featured a great mix of recognized names and fresh voices. From Colin Seale’s inspiring call to think of genius as “being distributed equally” (and his company’s module-based approach to enabling secondary students to engage with real-life legal challenges, called thinkLaw), to Tim Taylor and Jaime Casap’s reiterated reminders that “things change slowly, then very quickly” (Casap suggested that our children will find iPhone Xs in thrift store bins for $2), it was easy to spot an undercurrent of both hope and urgency. Hope in the capacity of our young people and the creative strategies being developed by forward-thinkers to better prepare students for the future, and urgency in how we can scale these new strategies to reach more learners.

Our own Tom Vander Ark discussed the urgency behind working and thinking together, arguing that “the conversation is working,” while Urban Prep Academy principal Cory Cain argued that schools and districts can be made more agile by embracing rather than mitigating 2-year turnover periods, and inviting professionals from diverse professional backgrounds to become teachers (citing a variety of passionate educators who moved to his school from other, more lucrative fields).

Day Two Discussion

Day two brought together a core group of attendees from day one who were uniquely positioned to bring diverse ideas to a smaller group discussion of what barriers currently face preparation for the Age of Agility, and what levers and strategies might be utilized at the educator, school, and system levels to move past them. Gerard Robinson, Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, opened the discussion with a powerful call to action: “We need to move from fragility to agility… that is where we need to focus.”

A number of priorities and ideas from this discussion fell into three broad categories:

  • Creating both more opportunities for students to get out of the classroom and for industry to get into the classroom.
  • Giving students a chance to build more social capital in the professional communities they are interested in.
  • Developing better education options for non-college tracks and creating more value in (and more dialogue around the value of) non-college options.

In Conclusion

The overarching impression the event left was of the importance of cross-sector collaboration in efforts to prepare students for the future of the work. Whether it be schools collaborating with industry partners or commerce groups partnering with policymakers, they hold the power to create new agile and relevant education pathways. It is challenging to create this type of new partnership for a number of reasons—whether political, logistical, or organizational. But it is important that the conversations continue. It is working, and it will continue to enable the creation and proliferation of more innovative and impactful learning opportunities for students.

For more, see:

This post is a part of the Getting Smart Future of Work Campaign. The future of work will bring new challenges and cause us to shift how we think about jobs and employability — so what does this mean for teaching and learning? In our exploration of the #FutureOfWork, sponsored by eduInnovation and powered by Getting Smart, we dive into what’s happening, what’s coming and how schools might prepare. For more, follow #futureofwork and visit our Future of Work page.


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