• Michelle


future of school SEL charactered
Yes, I am the fire extinguisher in this photo. The kid (now engineer) was the Head of Upper School that day.

I read an article today mourning the advent of "super-teachers." We used to be valued for our content expertise. Thanks to organizations like Khan Academy, sharemylesson.com, TES Connect, and other creators of quality, reasonably priced educational content, teaching as we know it will be obsolete sooner than we thought.

A "super-teacher" is a charismatic, engaging teacher with excellent communication skills and deep expertise. The idea is that the ease and economy of the internet will make the "best teachers" super stars of instructional video, and their "lessons" will be broadcast large scale to thousands of students across the country (or world). For students who may happen to view such content in something like a "school building," all we'll need is an adult or two to help keep the peace. Interaction with classmates and teachers will take place digitally. Isn't that wonderful!? And easy? The best teaching available to ALL STUDENTS for free, minimal planning required. Some business writers say that if you apply recent trends in most business areas to education, this is the inevitable future. Only the rich will be able to afford in-person teachers, if they want them.

I guess it would elevate teaching to NFL-player status, which is something I've often secretly wished for. A real life teacher would be a luxury, a super star.

If, as a society, we're passive about the evolution of education, I think the digital "super-teacher" future is a real possibility. I can't imagine us ever needing more than about 100 teachers to cover everything. In fact, it seems we're moving in that direction quickly. Look at the number of good, young teachers opting out of the profession for more enticing corporate or even non-profit positions. In a future where most of us work remotely and decide our own hours, why would anyone submit themselves to long hours face to face with rowdy kids, angry parents, and sparse administrative support? Oh, and for the lowest professional salary in the United States.

Parents are opting out. Home school has been on the rise, and many groups of home school parents have organized together to meet in the same place everyday and share their expertise. Am I crazy or is that just starting your own school because you're dissatisfied? This is happening.

Because RELATIONSHIPS. SOFT SKILLS. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE. A Super-Teacher, Exclusively Digital Learning Future (STEDLF) cannot prepare us for EACH OTHER. If we let STEDLF happen because of inertia, we'll produce generations of workers who don't know how to talk to each other in person, can't choose mates or even friends wisely, find themselves unable to nurture their own children, lose business deals because they can't relate to the client, and constantly offend each other, intentionally or not. Sound familiar? Would it be too alarmist to say that if we let this extreme future become reality business would grind to a halt and we'd stop reproducing as a species? That's too much. Let's just say that if we insist on educating a species of human robots, the robot humans will find it much easier to take over the planet. The AIs can't wait.

Oh, wait. You're not worried because education isn't your field and you'll be able to afford one of the 100 teachers alive for your children. You're right. Your employees, neighbors, and health-care professionals don't need relational skills. (sarcasm)

SEL poster in a classroom at Homer Plessy Elementary School in New Orleans. A poster I should probably heed.

We should all be education advocates. Because this is happening. Right now. And it's affecting your employees, your neighbors, the people who will nurse you when you're very old.

Yes, the profession of teaching is changing, as it should. We can't all create amazing content. We should share our expertise with each other. I also happen to think there's great honor and an intense sense of purpose in mentoring, coaching, facilitating, curating, all of those words being used to describe the new teaching. We should be training teachers to teach the social-emotional (#SEL) skills that shrinking institutions like church and neighborhood pass along. We need to train teacher mentors. All of this digital content presents our children with a dizzying array of choices to make; we need to teach them to make good choices and work within the social contracts around them. Because so much of a child's day is already screen time, teachers are more desperately needed to be face to face with students than to be content experts. Students reach out for our guidance at their most discouraged moments, in the instant they make bad decisions, and when they want to quit. When they know we are the adults in the room, we can teach them how to see the positive, how to repair what they've damaged, and when to soldier on. A few years ago a former student came running towards me in the grocery store. She told me I made a huge impact on her life, and even though she couldn't remember a thing I "taught" her, she cherished the memory of the day I saw she was upset and sat with her in the hallway, holding her while she cried. "You gave me hope," she said.

Eventually, just about everyone will be required to build consensus, understand a situation from a different perspective, stand up for her/himself, and respectfully disagree. These are learned behaviors, best internalized within a deliberate culture. While our society's culture is always changing and anything but deliberate, a thoughtfully run school can create a culture that teaches character. #charactered

I have nothing against video lessons. I've used them and even created a few for teaching or corporate training (which is also teaching, BTW). In addition to the "best" content out there, we need physical spaces designated for learning together and carefully trained, passionate mentors. And we need to pay those highly trained experts like they're NFL players. Or maybe just doctors.

How can you support a more careful educational evolution? Encourage a teacher or administrator. Choose small schools for your kids which support teachers with respectful workloads and pay. Teach your children the importance of social and emotional skills. Financially invest in a school or nonprofit doing the good work; over the next year, I'll point you towards several. Endow professional development programs for teachers. Volunteer at a school, face to face.

To the future!

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