The Must Haves


As educators, we have an awesome responsibility.  We are charged with preparing our students for the future.  No matter what they may end up doing in the future – whether they are business people, authors, political leaders, or engaged in a trade, we have the responsibility to make sure they have the skills they need to successfully engage in the world around them and to be meaningful global citizens.  This is a responsibility I often find myself thinking about as I strive to make sure we are doing everything we can to best meet our student’s needs.

I recently found myself reflecting on this topic again.  I was at a conference and the presenter raised the question, ‘What are the ‘must haves’ our students need to make sure they are prepared for the 21st century?”  This is a difficult question.  I often think about the data telling us that most of our children will end up in jobs that are unheard of today.  If that is true, how do we make sure we are preparing students for these “unknowns?”

One of my favorite educational leaders is a professor at the University of Toronto named Michael Fullan.  I think highly of him because I find his work to be very practical and realistic for promoting effective education.  In one of his recent works, he stated, “All of the work we are doing in schools is just tinkering unless we clarify the role of collaboration and inquiry.”  I found this quote to be interesting in that it caused me to begin thinking about the role of certain skills that may be needed in the future and the importance of teaching these skills as much as we teach certain content.  

If that is the case, then what are some of those skills we need to make sure we are teaching and promoting?  In my mind, it would seem there needs to be a focus on thinking.  That might seem to be apparent, but there really is skill that goes into thinking, to pushing ourselves to see beyond the obvious, to question, and to draw conclusions.  This is important stuff!  Similarly, reasoning and problem solving should be high on our list.  Whatever jobs our students have in the future, there is no doubt innovators who are able to solve problems will be leading the way.  However, I believe we need to push further and promote the ideal of moral reasoning, encouraging our students to see themselves as fitting into the larger world, taking responsibility for what goes on there, and seeking solutions.  Collaboration seems to be key.  The world of working in isolation seems to be coming to a close.  Students who are prepared for the future will be those who know how to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas.  Finally, I think it is very evident technology is key.  It seems to be an absolute that our students must be proficient in the use technology as a tool for communication and innovation.

Some of the skills that ISY encourages and embeds in learning include: Thinking, reasoning and problem solving, collaboration, and proficiency in technology. As I think about the future, and how we can best prepare our students for success, I hope our work will be more than just the tinkering described by Fullan.


3 thoughts on “The Must Haves

  1. This is all important stuff Greg. I hope you don’t mind a bit of a lengthy response.

    There is a statement about the goals of education that stuck with me ever since I first heard it about 20 years ago that I think may resonate with you. Consider this assertion: “There are only two goals of education: empathy and critical thought.” It seems to me that this captures you focus on inquiry and collaboration.

    You write, “there really is skill that goes into thinking, to pushing ourselves to see beyond the obvious, to question, and to draw conclusions.” It may be surprising, but this is actually the central driver to my work on introducing scientific inquiry of English spelling. There is lots of research evidence supporting this work for literacy learning — and those gains are extremely important. However, for me, the more substantial effect is introducing teachers and students to the the experience of using scientific inquiry to question widely held but demonstrably false assumptions about English spelling. I often use this citation of a suffix in the Oxford as an illustration of this point:

    -tion |ʃ(ə)n|
    forming nouns of action, condition, etc., such as completion, relation.
    ORIGIN from Latin participial stems ending in -t + -ion.

    Notice the two examples Oxford gives for words with a suffix. For their hypothesis to be correct, it would require us to accept * and * as the word structures to which their suffix is added as shown by these word sums:

    rela + tion –> relation
    comple + tion –> completion

    But this is clearly a FALSE analysis. These words are demonstrably built on the words and with the reliable suffixing convention of vowel suffixes replacing final, non-syllabic s as shown by these word sums:

    relate/ + ion –> relation
    complete/ + ion –> completion

    The reason I go into that detail is that using the scientific linguistic tool of the word sum to test the analysis of these words can introduce teachers and students to the experience of USING scientific inquiry to falsify the assertion of a source we typically treat as one of the most authoritative references available on words. This is what scientific inquiry is supposed to be about. Questioning assumptions and rejecting them — regardless of their source — when that is what the evidence shows. Once teaches and students understand they can use scientific analysis to reject assertions by the Oxford English dictionary, we are more likely to leverage the scientific tools we’ve used here to challenge all sorts of other statements about spelling that don’t stand up. Structured word inquiry gives teachers and students the scientific tools to become collaborative teams of scientists who do not just accept what “experts” say about spelling — they learn to challenge those hypotheses, and come to their own conclusions based on the scientific principles that the experts were supposed to use in the first place before misleading us on the nature of our writing system.

    Along the way, it turns out that the kids who struggled most in the typical form of instruction gain the most by being introduced to the way English words are related in structure and meaning. But there is an even more generative lesson here. Once students and teaches learn to use principles of scientific inquiry (e.g. scientific inquiry seeks the deepest structures that account for the greatest number of cases) to build their own understanding of the written word that is based on evidence that they gather and test rather than simply accepting what authorities tell them — they are more likely to question authoritative assertions in any domain. Not to question it willy nilly — but with evidence. If the Oxford can be so clearly misleading in some of its claims, might this textbook be presenting a misleading historical claim? Might it be that we should question that news story even if it came from a respected source?

    While it might look like my work is about literacy — I think it is actually most crucially about building generative learning experiences for both students and teachers that foster the spirit of collaborative inquiry that you describe.


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