Equipping for a world we can only begin to imagine
Mr JON ABBOTT HEAD OF JUNIOR SCHOOL
Traditionally, when we have discussed the notion of ‘academic care’ the focus has tended to be on the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy with subjects such as science, history and geography thrown into the mix as well. That was certainly the situation in my student years, and still remained so for the first half of my teaching career.
I now feel that, while these will always be important aspects of schooling, we need to be considering a much broader range of what quality teaching and learning comprises.
Reflecting on the word ‘care’ leads me to think about what care means, and how the areas of pastoral care, spiritual care, social and emotional care align with that of academic care.
ABOVE: DEAN GREGORY TEACHING BOYS MATHEMATICS
As a young lad moving through my school years, it was sufficient to be able to listen to my teachers, take it all in and do my best to make sense of it. I would then deliver it back as accurately as possibly or apply it to a task to show my mastery of what had been taught. That largely worked in a time where the world moved a good deal slower than now, and where much of life was predictable and stable.
Fast-forward to the current day, and what lies before us in the decades to come, where predictability and certainty will not be the norm in our world. Since the advent of the internet and all that it has led to, the rate of change in society has been astounding, and we can no longer hope that we can know what to expect three or four years from now, let alone a decade or more away. And yet this is what our current boys will face throughout their lives. The only constant will be that very little will stay as it is for long.
So, as educators in the present, what does it now mean for us to be providing ‘academic care’ for our students, when we have no certainty as to what skills, understandings, competencies and knowledge they will require in their adult lives?
I believe that it will be the attitudes and learning characteristics of individuals that will be of greatest value to them. Assisting students to see learning as something they will do throughout their lives will be a vital part of preparing them for their futures.
Professor Carol Dweck, from the psychology faculty at Stanford University, talks about the need to develop a ‘growth mindset’. She highlights a number of crucial qualities and attitudes that she feels students need to develop in order to be successful participants in a future society.
Professor Dweck stresses the importance of helping students to see mistakes as valuable learning opportunities, rather than just errors. We want them to embrace challenges and see them as opportunities for growth and improvement. We want them to be able to persist in the face of setbacks, rather than give up because something is too hard. Professor Dweck believes it is vital that we assist students to understand that effort is far more powerful than ability, and that mastery is achieved through effort and not necessarily through an innate ability.
While it will always be important to provide our children with those necessary foundational skills of being literate and numerate, I think we are now also called to assist them to develop flexibility in their thinking, and to be ready to embrace the new challenges they will undoubtedly encounter. We should be preparing them to be able to formulate their own questions to new problems and to have a wide range of skills and strategies they can then employ to go about solving them. We will want to equip our students with the capability and confidence to ‘know what to do when they don’t know what to do’!
Today, and perhaps more than ever before, it is vital that we assist these younger minds to develop positive and robust attitudes of learning.
In short, our responsibility to provide academic care now involves us preparing the current students for a world that does not yet exist, and one that we can only begin to imagine. As teachers who are charged with this task, we have to be very careful that we are not teaching the boys for our past, but preparing them for their future, whatever that may hold.