We were pleased to be invited to write an article on our thoughts about the future of education which was featured in the 100th anniversary edition of The Manitoba Teacher Magazine. Click the link to check out the full issue!
A Letter to the Teachers of the Future
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, it is exciting to look back to see far we’ve come in this great profession. It is also exciting to look to the future of education and think about where we will go next. Reflecting on our past and looking to our future, we have drafted a letter to the teachers of the future that expresses our wishes for the future of education.
Dear Future Teacher,
Congratulations on being part of such an esteemed profession. You are fortunate to have a career that allows you to impact the lives of young people every day. We know your education and training have been rigorous and that you are well-prepared to meet the demands of this special calling. We just wanted to let you know how far we’ve come as teachers and to encourage you to continue developing the diverse, challenging and rewarding field of education.
A long time ago, students sat in dull classrooms in rows of desks and recalled basic content that they’d memorized through rote learning. Schools were like factories, meant to churn out employees for the workforce. A shorter time ago, those classrooms grew brighter; there was flexible seating, a pursuit of student interests, and differentiated instruction to meet the needs of different students. As internet connections became more robust and technology became more prevalent, a shift began. There was less emphasis on rote memorization and more focus on fostering thinking skills. Students began to develop the skills to source and manage information, rather than just recall information. The goals of education began to change and so did the pedagogical practices of teachers.
Now we see you embracing what we once called “alternative pedagogical approaches”. You are allowing students to direct their learning through inquiry, project-based learning or problem-based learning. Your students are excited and motivated to learn because they have a real purpose for learning. They collaborate in their efforts to achieve the common goals of their projects. Your students develop a thorough understanding of various concepts related to their projects or inquiry and you marvel at the skills they build as they progress. These students are thinking deeply as they cooperate, negotiate, solve problems and make a difference in their local and global communities. We are so proud of you and your students. It is refreshing to see that students are doing work that matters while also becoming literate and numerate. This is how we envisioned education back in our day.
The other cool thing about how you teach now is the blurring between subject areas. (Do you even know what we mean when we say “subjects”?) It is incredible how your students are developing knowledge and skills in a variety of areas as they pursue projects, tackle problems and undertake inquiry! Did you know? Many of us used to split our school day into blocks of time and teach only certain content and skills during each block. Imagine…. we would teach only math skills for the first 80 minutes of the day until an obnoxious buzzer rang signaling the change to recess break, followed by another annoying buzz to indicate that it was time to teach literacy skills. These buzzers continued throughout the day and so did the changes of subject. In our time, we started to see that teaching subjects and skills in isolation was perhaps not our best approach, but we are sure glad to see you’ve got this figured out. Your approach of teaching students what they need to move forward with their projects seems so productive. It is evident that our commitment to developing numeracy and literacy skills has continued in your time, but we like how you are blending those skills with student interests. Please keep facilitating those projects, encouraging students to address authentic problems and fueling student curiosity with inquiry!
We’ve been working for a long time to extend learning beyond the classroom. We had a strong understanding of why partnerships were necessary and important, but in the early stages, partners were usually brought in to support special projects and initiatives. I’m sure you can’t believe there was a time when families, educators, community members, policymakers, experts, and other classrooms didn’t work together seamlessly and interdependently. These partnerships, supported by technology, have enhanced education in Manitoba’s schools. We are delighted to see that even remote and rural classrooms are now interconnected. Your students are learning outside of the classroom. It‘s great to see that your students are independent learners who learn and grow using online resources, the people around them and the abilities that you’ve fostered in them. This is really what we imagined when we used to talk about “turning walls into windows”.
And what about play? In our time, play-based learning was an accepted practice in Kindergarten classrooms, but we hadn’t quite figured out what playful learning looked like for learners of all ages. Looking back through the years, the disconnect between the play-based practices of Kindergarten and the teaching and learning in later grades is apparent. I’m sure you can’t imagine a time when learning wasn’t playful and engaging. We’re excited that the playful learning in your school is fueled by teacher and student passions. In your teaching practice, we see that learning is a joyful and holistic process that isn’t segmented into times for work and play. What a wonderful way to learn!
In our time, there was much debate over if and how technology should be used with learners. We stressed over implementing a balanced approach and ensuring responsible use of technology. Looking back, we are sure you recognize that this was a necessary stage for the education system to navigate, as traditional tools gave way to technology tools. We’re sure you see the uncertainty that teachers and families felt when faced with these new ways of teaching and learning. As you scan your classroom of engaged, respectful learners who understand how and when to use technology, be mindful of the turbulent past. It was a challenge to effectively infuse technology in our time and we are excited to see that students and teachers in your time find technology to be an ordinary and everyday part of life both in and out of school. We are happy to see that what we called “acceptable use” is now the norm and that the education system is truly harnessing the power of technology to improve teaching and learning.
Despite the huge changes that have taken place, there are some things that remain constant for those who seek to guide young minds. It’s funny to think that there was a time when we discussed the possibility of robots replacing teachers. It seems a foolish idea when we consider the uniquely human traits that are needed to excel as a teacher. An abundance of patience, persistence, and caring, a willingness to meet each child and family exactly where they are, and an unflagging dedication to change the world are the timeless tools of the educator. Your skills are irreplaceable.
You and your learners will face challenges that we cannot anticipate in our present times. However, please know that your work as an educator will contribute to raising a generation that is equipped to make the world a better place. When you teach your students how to think rather than what to think, you are preparing them for a future unknown. When you help raise compassionate and caring young people, you are shaping the citizens that will lead the way for many great things.
Teacher of the future, you are doing vitally important work, just as those who came before you. We understand that the pace of change can feel frustratingly slow, but know that the small steps educators take forward have immeasurable impact. Thank you for everything you do and please know that you and your students are making our dreams for the future of education come true.
Devon and Leah
Passionate teachers of the past
Caldwell, D., & Obach, L. (2019). Letter to the teachers of the future. The Manitoba Teacher, 187(6), 6–7.