Being a future focused teacher

So, what exactly is ‘future focused teaching and learning’, and why is there a need for it? 
Well, the main concern is that we are not preparing kids for their future effectively. Many teachers have followed the ‘20th century’ way of teaching - the classroom typically is set up with desks facing the front of the room, or maybe in groups, with the teacher up the front of the classroom delivering the information (albeit with new technology such as a projector screen or interactive whiteboard), conducting question and answer sessions, and directing students though a series of activities, perhaps involving a textbook or worksheet, or an electronic version on their device. Students consume knowledge and are required to reproduce it in varying ways, however rarely actually do or create anything new with this knowledge - they are merely assessed to determine if they ‘know’ it, and then this knowledge is presumably stored up for future use. Then, regardless of whether they have succeeded in this or not, we move on to the next topic. This style of education has worked fairly well for the last century or so, in preparing people to fill various knowledge-based or specific skill-based occupations, although it is also fair to say that many kids have been left behind by this system. 
Does any of this sound familiar? It sure does for me - I mean yes, I would mix it up and include fun, student-centred activities as much as possible, and we would do research tasks and group tasks and so on. But the majority of the learning was directed and controlled by me, and this was in part due to the expectation of the school system that students undergo standardised testing - therefore, I had certain content I had to ‘get through’ in time for the test. It wasn’t until later on in my teaching practice that I began to explore a different style of teaching as advocated by 21st century learning design. 
It seems that today’s students are going to need a very different set of skills to be fully equipped to be successful in the future. Many of today’s jobs won’t exist by the time our students are entering the workforce. The pace of technology development continues to increase, and it is predicted that automation, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robotics will affect a whole range of occupations, not necessarily taking over them completely (although some might be), but definitely causing a reduction in amount of people needed to fill these jobs. This includes highly skilled, knowledge based employees, such as lawyers, financial analysts, doctors and accountants.
The good news is that a whole new range of jobs and career paths will be available - we just don’t know exactly what those jobs will be just yet. It will also be easier than ever for people to create their own jobs! So how exactly are we supposed to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist?! 
In order to navigate their way through this new world, students will need to be innovative, creative, resilient, and adaptable. They will need to be effective communicators and collaborators, with advanced emotional and social skills. They will need to be self-regulated, discerning, life long learners who can take the initiative when necessary. They will also need to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, and they will need to be able to use technology proficiently and appropriately. These are the skills that we should be focused on developing within our classrooms in order to effectively prepare our students for the future, and today’s employers are already seeking these skills in their employees. 
This all sounds great in theory, but how are we actually supposed to achieve this? After all, we have so much curriculum to cover, so how are we also supposed to dedicate valuable time to developing all of these skills on top of that? 
I think we can do this by working smarter, not harder. There are so many strategies that can help us achieve all of this and more. An example of this is project based learning, which is also often interchanged with problem or phenomenon based learning. These projects can also often be integrated across other subject areas so that the curriculum is being covered in a more efficient, yet more in-depth manner. Students are given the time to delve into these projects, especially when a degree of choice or autonomy is handed to the students so that they can really get into something that interests them, and so that they can also actually do something with that knowledge. The teacher is no longer the fountain of all knowledge, spending all lesson delivering information, but rather teachers and students can work together in a knowledge building learning environment. Knowledge is acquired on a ‘just-in-time’ basis - that is, when the student needs to know it, in order to apply it straight away and progress through the project. Project based learning allows more personalisation and differentiation of the curriculum, and gives teachers the time to work one-on-one with students at their point of need. 
Another thing that really helps is having a well-designed teaching and learning program to guide you throughout the year. Being able to create programs that help to provide relevant and meaningful contexts through which students can make important connections, can really help you to streamline the content that you are required to teach, and integrate more of a skills based approach. Getting really creative with your programs and using your problem solving skills to think outside of the box can be really rewarding and can help you to feel like you are taking control back, so that you can make your curriculum work in the best interests of your students. 
We are coming into a really exciting time in the field of education - society is advancing quickly and we need to not only keep up with the changes, but anticipate them and prepare for them. Teaching will become more important than ever and we have an amazing opportunity to develop our own skills, future proof our careers and elevate the status of teaching as an art form. The sky is the limit! 

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