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What Great Teachers Know

August 6, 2015

Written by Marc Prensky for a blog post on Education Week, published November 4, 2014

Marc Prensky is a speaker and author in the field of education and the founder of the Global Future Education Foundation and Institute. He has written six books, over 100 essays and has given education-related speeches in over 35 countries. His website is marcprensky.com.

In my last post I wrote about the changing role of teachers in an age of technology — from provider and explainer of content to provider of the human skills that machines don’t provide, including respect, empathy, motivation and encouragement of students’ passions.

Here’s what today’s great teachers have already figured out.  They know:

— that they do not need to “cover” everything in the syllabus (or even all the standards) equally. They can set priorities and relative importance — allotting two weeks to some things and two sentences to others.

— that they do not need to waste their time teaching the same lesson to an entire class at once. They can find ways to have each student be doing something different and appropriate.

— that they can leverage technology strongly to do this. The best teachers do so to the max, letting all kids proceed with details on their own (and through their own passions), while making sure everyone gets the main points.

— that they get the best results from students by challenging them and saying “surprise me.”

The best teachers also realize that they need to include in their teaching huge number of skills that are crucial to success in the future and that we DON’T include in our curriculum today. Here’s a sample list:

Effective Thinking Skills. We do, of course, teach mathematical and scientific thinking systematically, and, lately — perhaps — critical thinking and a bit of collaborative problem-solving. But we rarely teach, systematically, the intellectual skills of creative thinking, design thinking, integrative thinking, systems thinking, financial thinking, judgment, transfer, inquiry, argument, aesthetics, positive mindset, self-knowledge of one’s passions, strengths and weaknesses, stress control, focus, or contemplation and meditation.
Effective Action Skills: We rarely systematically teach ANY effective action skills, including all that is known about the Habits of Highly Effective People, leadership & followership, decision making under uncertainty, prudent risk taking, patience, grit and resilience, entrepreneurship, innovation, improvisation, ingenuity, strategy & tactics, breaking barriers, project management, coaching & being coached, programming machines, making effective videos and interacting with future technologies.
Effective Relationship Skills: We do not systematically teach AT ALL communication & collaboration in teams, in families, in a community, at work, online, or in virtual worlds. We do not teach our kids, systematically, the skills of relationship-building, empathy, courage, compassion, tolerance, ethics, politics, citizenship, conflict resolution, or negotiation.
All of these things are known about and can be taught in systematic ways. All the great teachers I know think continually about these skills and how to help their kids acquire them.  But they definitely could use more help. We need to provide this.

One of the biggest ways we could help would be to delete almost all the detail that now constitutes our curriculum, while making sure that all students understand the essentials — something that today happens far too rarely.

It is important to note that information is provided as a resource.

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