During the autumn term, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference where the keynote speaker was Lord Jim Knight, Chief Education Advisor at TES Global, visiting professor at the UCL Knowledge Lab and a member of the House of Lords. He served as an MP from 2001 – 2009, during which time he was a minister for rural affairs, schools and then employment before becoming a cabinet minister.
His speech was entitled “Education for Centurions” where he considered the prospect of those students who are now starting school living into their hundredth year and beyond. With such longevity, people will be working longer, and changing professions more frequently; some of the careers our students will pursue haven’t even been invented yet! He talked also about lifelong learning, where the current model of three separate stages of education, employment, and retirement will be replaced with continuous learning and working, with an overlap also between working and retiring. I would also add that I hope to be learning well into my retirement! Lord Knight’s message was simply this: that in a world of lifelong learning we must pass on to our students a passion for, and a joy in, learning.
Our challenge therefore as educators today is to prepare our students for this future. Adaptability, resilience, creativity, taking risks, embracing change – these are all qualities that our future workforce must possess in order to start afresh in a second or third career and reinvent themselves in another professional role. Lifelong learning will not be sufficient in this new model of overlapping learning and employment. If one is to continue to enjoy a balanced personal and professional life, embracing the changes that will come it, is a lifelong LOVE of learning which we must nurture in our students today. There is nothing more satisfying as a teacher than to have students who are engaged in and beyond the classroom and who have a passion, not just for the subject but also for learning new skills, experimenting with new ideas, extending their knowledge and improving their own personal best, whether in an MFL classroom, a science lab or on the sports field.
I have spent a fair bit of time recently accompanying my two sons to numerous university open days as they each make their choices for the next stage of their education pathway. What has struck me is the changing face of assessment at many of these institutions. Having listened to what employers want, assessment programmes have been developed accordingly. Employers are looking for so much more than the ability to pass exams; they want good communication skills, the ability to work collaboratively and the resilience to bounce back. University assessments are increasingly being designed to reflect this need, with collaborative tasks, podcasts and presentations alongside the more traditional end of course formal examination. Assessing performance and skills is becoming more popular and presents another challenge for us as secondary school educators: the need to prepare our students for those formal public exams at the ages of 16 and 18, but also to look beyond this to what employers require of the workforce of the next generation and to prepare our students accordingly.
As teachers, we also consider ourselves to be a community of professional learners, constantly seeking to improve our skills, extend our knowledge and develop our craft in the classroom. We recognise that a good teacher never stops learning, whether that is by enrolling on a professional development course, undertaking a project in school, working with colleagues or sharing good practice. On more than one occasion recently I have had to bite my tongue when, on one of the aforementioned university open days, lecturers told the assembled sixth formers and their parents that one of the main differences between their teachers at school and their university lecturers was that the latter group are actively engaged in research, whereas their teachers are not. This is just not true! Increasingly, schools are engaging in action research as part of the professional development of their staff. One aspect of my new role as School Consultant Teacher involves me conducting my own action research project and there are now a number of staff currently engaged in evidence based professional development here in school, working on projects which will directly benefit and impact on the learning of our students in our classrooms. Our students will be used to a member of staff or an inspector coming to observe a lesson, for a variety of reasons. They will be less used to groups of teachers in their lessons, but this is now happening more frequently in school as our teachers engage in action research as part of their own joint professional development. Using the Peter Dudley Lesson Study model, colleagues are working collaboratively on a number of different initiatives to enhance our students’ learning experience. So far girls have been willing participants and have welcomed staff into their lessons, recognising that we are lifelong learners and also passionate about what we do, thus modelling the behaviour and attitudes we want to instil in our students. In an age where artificial intelligence is developing rapidly, the world needs teachers like never before: passion for and involvement in lifelong learning is as crucial for the professional learning community here at Northampton High as it is for our future centurions whom we seek to educate and inspire.
Mrs Deborah Hill, Head of Languages Faculty and School Consultant Teacher
Sir Jim Knight’s keynote speech, Firefly conference November 2016
The 100 year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.
Peter Dudley: www.lessonstudy.co.uk