High-quality teachers are a crucial part of a good education.41 Caring, capable teachers understand their students’ individual strengths and needs, and can tailor their guidance accordingly, giving each student the direction, motivation, and instruction they need in order to succeed. This will continue to be true under our vision for education in 2030.
However, teachers’ roles will need to change in response to the other changes we propose to the educational system. As the high school curriculum moves away from a fixed set of factual content toward a more flexible set of project-based studies, teachers will less often be in the position of knowing ahead of time what students will learn. Instead, they will become co-discoverers with their students. Even today, teachers engage in much less “chalk and talk” than they once did; in the future, though it will not disappear entirely, they are likely to spend even less time at this activity. Sometimes a concise explanation from a knowledgeable teacher will still be exactly what learners want and need at a particular stage in their learning journey.
As teachers spend less time in the role of information providers, they will spend correspondingly more in other, equally crucial roles as learning coaches, learning role models, and researchers. We will briefly discuss each of these roles in turn.
Teachers as Learning Coaches
The essence of a teacher’s job is to support, assist, and encourage students in the process of learning. In the high schools that we envision, this will not often involve simply giving information to the learners for them to memorize. Instead, teachers will invest most of their time and energy in creating the optimal conditions in which students can do their own learning. This is a subtle, but important, shift that is already taking place in many classrooms, but which should become the norm.
In essence, teachers will be taking on some of the same challenges as coaches of elite athletes. Athletic coaches need not just a deep understanding of their sport, but – perhaps more important – a knowledge of how to motivate their athletes to commit to the persistent, hard work needed to succeed. Similarly, teachers will need to understand the goals and aspirations of each of their students as individuals, and will need to help them develop the resiliency they will need to overcome the obstacles that arise in every learning endeavour. Indeed, this persistence in the face of difficulty is itself an important goal of learning, and a teacher must build this in every student. Only then can teachers apply their expert knowledge of the learning process to coax the most from each of their students.
Each learner should have a specific teacher who serves as his or her “learning coach” during the high school years. Learner and coach should meet one on one at the beginning of the school year to establish individual learning goals for the year, and prepare a study plan to attain those goals. Learner and coach will then meet periodically during the school year to review the learner’s progress and refine goals and plan as need dictates. Lumiar School in Sao Paulo, Brazil, already uses teachers primarily as experts in the art of learning, and brings in community members to serve as content experts.42
Many school systems already require detailed individual study plans for gifted students and for special-needs students. Every student should have such a plan and, crucially, that student should have a leading voice in setting the goals and creating the plan. Indeed, high school students should take most of the responsibility for generating their plan under the teacher/mentor’s guidance. This coaching/ mentorship system gives every learner an advocate within the system – an adult who cares about the student as an individual with unique interests, abilities, and ambitions. All students will benefit from having such an advocate, but it will be especially important for those who lack a stable, supportive home environment.
“Finnish education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, says the much lauded transformation of the Finnish education system came “at a reasonable cost.” So reasonable, in fact, that 98% of the cost of education at all levels is covered by government rather than by private sources.”