Project 2025: How Teachers Research the Future
Close your eyes and imagine your child as a 22-year-old college graduate. Now imagine them interviewing for their first full-time job – one that matches their interests and passions. What habits, skills, and expertise would set them apart?
As a faculty, we constantly keep your child’s future selves in mind as we interact with their present selves. We ask, “What can we do right now that will help our students flourish in the ‘world of tomorrow?’” This is not a new discussion, but it seems to have taken on new urgency in the last few months.
Over the summer, the entire middle school faculty read Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators, where he attempts to isolate the key skills and traits of innovative thinkers. Wagner’s research has inspired us to conduct some research of our own – research that is taking us beyond the walls of the school and helping us forge connections with other professions that our students might want to pursue.
What are we doing?
This fall, each middle school teacher identified a leader in a profession outside of K-12 education to interview. Our interview questions focus on three core areas:
- How has your profession changed in the last decade? How do you envision it changing in the next ten years?
- What skills, habits, or mindsets make people successful in your field?
- What advice would you have for a young person interested in joining your profession? What skills or experiences would help give him or her a leg up in this profession?
Our project has three goals.
First, we want to strengthen our understanding of twenty-first century skills so that we can connect with the needs of our students’ future selves and equip them with the skills they need to face the modern workforce with confidence.
Second, we want to use this new understanding to augment our academic programs and create additional innovative and robust experiences for TVS students.
Third, we hope to build connections between our school and the external community in ways that might be mutually beneficial.
This winter, we will combine our research, looking for patterns and insights. We will examine the extent to which our interviewees’ responses correlate with Tony Wagner’s “Seven Survival Skills” for succeeding in the modern age. And we will explore ways to use this information to enhance our students’ TVS experience.
I’ve had a chance to read the interviews that several of our teachers conducted, and each is truly fascinating. Here are two “sneak peaks” at the types of ideas that are starting to percolate.
First, humanities teacher Tina Harper interviewed a physicist and CEO. Among other insights, the interview contained this nugget from the interviewee’s childhood that you might find inspiring:
A game he played as a child with his family and carried on with his own children is “The Invention Game.” Participants look around the room and try to come up with a problem in the room and create as many scenarios as possible for how to fix the problem. This game was part of his family culture and helped to develop a natural curiosity and “problem seeking” lens for his day-to-day life. In the process, he developed a series of ideas about the craft of inventing as a skill much like students study the craft of writing. He would like to see the craft of inventing as a part of the curriculum in K-16 education to encourage students to believe that inventing was a normal and natural part of life.
Second, math teacher Julie Knudsen interviewed Dr. Gayle Allen, Chief Education Officer at an educational technology company called BrightBytes. Their interaction inspired Dr. Allen to write about the experience – and about her advice for students – in a blogpost she titled, “7 Skills Your Students Need for Workplace Success.” Here are three of the skills she looks for in employees:
Curious: They’re confident enough to admit they don’t know when they encounter a hurdle or face something new. They see failure as part of the learning process and part of how we improve.
Collaborative: They value teamwork and place the team above themselves. They leave their egos at the door, and they dig in to get the job done with others. They recognize the value of diverse perspectives and skills to achieve common goals.
Intellectual Horsepower: They know how to stay afloat when they get thrown in the deep end. They’re smart enough to adapt quickly in new situations, analytical enough to plan out new paths on the fly and reflective enough to conduct meaningful post-mortems that teach everyone at the company how to perform better the next time around.
These insights come from just two of the nearly 30 interviews we are conducting, and already we can see how this endeavor has yielded actionable ideas and fostered new connections. I can’t wait to share more with you once we have a chance – as a faculty – to explore the results together. In the meantime, maybe some of you will decide try to your hand at “The Invention Game.” I know I’m adding it to my parenting toolbox!