Decision paralysis, The Grameen Bank, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined by Jen Dousett to discuss what the teacher of the future will look like. What threats does AI pose to learning in the future? How do we go about teaching kids that certain problems may never present a classic ‘answer’? Plus, Adam addresses the importance of strong relationships between all parties involved in a pupils learning.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Welcome back everyone to another episode of the School of School podcast here with Robin and Adam. That's per normal. Say Hi, guys.
I'm not falling for this.
Hi. You win, Adam. You said the right thing. Really excited to have Jen Dousett with us from calling Collingwood School in West Vancouver in Canada. Jen, tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do.
Sure. Hi everyone, nice to see you. I am director of Teaching, Learning and Innovation at Collingwood School, and I'm really fortunate every day to work alongside students and teachers to keep decisions focused on student learning and really keep student learning at the centre of all we do in our academic programme. It's a lot of fun, a lot of challenges, but a lot of fun.
Sounds like a big job, I have to say. Sounds like a lot of responsibility. Hey, today we're going to talk about what do we need from teachers in the future? What does a future teacher need to look like? It's quite evident that the world is changing rapidly and AI is having an impact. Robotics is having an impact on the world. The world's changing. The world of the students, that today's students as adults are going to be a lot different than it was for us. That's pretty obvious. What do we need teachers? How do we need teachers to adapt to this change?
Easy question. Just kidding. Not an easy question, Andy, but I'll do my best to talk through it with all of you. Depending on your focus, you could answer this a number of different ways, but I think a lot about relationships and relationships in education I think are becoming more and more important. And I think that teachers, there's not an option for teachers not to respect students for the unique individuals that they are, all the different identities they bring, all of their backgrounds. How are we making sure that we are teaching our learners? We say in curriculum, you have a window and you have a mirror. How are we reflecting back at students a little bit of who they are and how are we as teachers pushing them to look through a window to see history through a different lens, to read books that they've never read, to experience problems that are complex and something that they've never faced before. As teachers, I think that's number one is how do we draw in all those principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion that are so, so important, especially as students are growing up.
And then the other really big piece is how do you as an expert educator put the work in the student's hands? You know we can talk about AI, but if the students are there in front of you doing the learning, they're not going to be accessing AI. How do we plan and design lessons so students are solving real issues that they're using and drawing in really complex content and that they're challenged and they have to perform in front of you. Because, I know I'll just say one more thing and I'll stop it. They're teenagers, so they're going to take the easy route. How do we help them take a more challenging route and how do we design our lessons to make sure that that's what's happening?
Adam, Jen asked a lot of questions. What are the answers?
I'm still contemplating what's just being said, I think, and I'm doing a lot of thinking. That first thing that you said, Jen, that relationships, I think that that is so fundamental in a world establishing relationship norms in a world that's really changing, that's changed a huge amount since I was a teenager or in elementary primary school or secondary high school. And I think that's a real shift in trying to establish relationships with the children that we teach. And I think that that has to be talked about a lot. I also think that in the conversations that I've had with schools that have done incredibly well post pandemic, considering that absolutely monumental impact the pandemic had, it comes as no surprise to me that the relationships in that school with the children, the parent community, the wider community where they're strong, it seemed that the learning got back on track faster.
And I think it's something that perhaps we look at approaches to learning and thinking. If I was a brand new teacher into the classroom, I think having some sort of guidance and realising the importance of sound relationships in what you do is massive. I remember first seeing that particularly with behaviour. And you'd see some cohorts go through and there'd be a teacher says, well, why is it they're always awful for me? Why is that? And you sort of think to yourself, I know exactly why I can't say it to your face. I only just started teaching with you, but I know exactly why this person seems to have them in the palm of their hand. It's not trying to be friendly and cool and all that sort of stuff. So I actually think that that is one of the biggest things because I suppose in order to feel brave to learn in a style of which you've described and which we've spoken about previously, you need to trust that someone's got you when it goes wrong, that you're allowed to take those risks and all of those things. And you must have relationships in order for that to be there and to be prepared to fail in problem solving and all of the things that are good, start with a huge amount of failure as a general rule. So I think it's that point. I don't think it's that point around relationships is so important,
And you've nailed it too, because AI can't do that. A lot of things that AI can do and probably do it better. But in terms of building a relationship with students, AI doesn't do that. At least not yet, and hopefully never, because yeah, and that makes a huge impact on a student's learning. If they're comfortable with being able to learn or be who they are with that group of peers and with their teacher, that's a skill to have. And like you said, Adam, if you've got that skill and you can connect with your students, that'll make such a world of difference. Certainly for some students.
I think it was Jack Ma who said recently that schools should be focusing on teaching things that machines can't do, right? Because it's ultimately inevitable that machines are going to get better at doing a lot of things that traditionally have been done by people and it's changing rapidly. And robotics is a great example. The assembly line of the past was people lined up putting in the same screw into a widget into this car that rolled past them. Those jobs don't exist anymore. That's pretty obvious. There's a lot of jobs, there's a lot of things that are going to change over time, and we don't actually know what it's going to look like. But we know for a fact that although machines can do things, and we might even call them intelligent things, call it artificial intelligence, but what they don't have is consciousness.
They don't have self-awareness and they certainly don't have emotions like empathy, and sadness, and happiness. They don't have all the social structures, but they can do remarkable things very quickly. We just have to adapt to that. We know that the children are going to need to be able to adapt in their lives rapidly because things are going to change more rapidly for them than they did for us.
I try to explain to my kids, "Hey, I worked for decades without even having a computer." They can't even imagine what that's like. What does an office look like without computers? Well, that was just normal when I started working. Obviously we had to adapt quite a lot. The internet had a tremendous impact on all our lives, but we did that. They're going to have to adapt even more. What do the schools need to do to prepare them for that? And then I guess the next question is what do teachers need to do differently in order to prepare those children for that? Because a lot of stuff that you learn becomes irrelevant pretty quickly. I learned Microsoft Doss, right? How useful is that? Right?
Or not useful in your life, right?
I'm sure I memorised mitosis at one point, but I didn't delve into that for my career, so I don't remember those facts. I think a lot of it comes down to, and this is really hard for teachers to do because we're still learning. You build up their knowledge and their understandings to a point, and then how do you offer them a chance to work on something that doesn't have a defined solution? How do you get kids to work through and present a solution based on what they've learned that might be viable and why it's viable and maybe why it isn't viable? Because I think what our students struggle with is, "Well, what's the answer?" Or they want to get a version of the right answer. And I think when students go out into the world in the future, there's not going to be a right answer to a lot of things anymore.
And if there is, humans probably won't be doing it, to be honest. How do we prepare those students and design learning experiences where we say, "Okay." Andy knows that we do a grade nine project, and this week we did, the students knew nothing about banking, they're grade nine, and they had to design a new credit system that would be financially inclusive. If you don't have a bank account, or maybe a home, or a car, you can't get a loan. Students, they don't know all the restrictions we know, and they start in a different place. You give them a little bit of starting information and then you can set them free to explore an area of interest for them. And these students didn't even know the word, actually, ironically, interest, when we started this project. And they had to go and learn all of that themselves in the context of what they were working on. That's a hard thing to design, but as we get better and better at it, we're hoping we have time. It's like a race against how do we build students that aren't going to crumble and cry because there's no answer. That to me is hugely important as a school.
Yeah, that's interesting. That's fascinating. And I guess on the back of that, just decision making in the view of uncertainty. I know for example, that this is something that I've seen my children struggle with is the ability to even make a simple decision just because there's just so many options now, and it's like, I don't know, it could be as simple as choosing something on the menu, might be almost paralysing sometimes because everything looks good, and how do you deal with that? Because I think that there's going to be a lot more of that as we move into...
And decision making can even tie into making sure kids understand bias and making sure that how are you going to decide this is credible or not credible? And I think it's structuring a little bit in what we used to do in school. Here's some information. What are the tools you're going to use? And then now let's put it in something more complex.
Do you know what? I wish we had so much more time for this, and I'm not saying that to wrap it up because my brain's just going because thinking we are touching on some really massive, massive issues. Education used to be we'll feed you the facts. You don't question the facts, you just accept them as they are. No question about morality or ethics or anything like that. Just simply, here you go. You've just talked about banking and is it fair if someone doesn't have an address that they're excluded from the banking system? Those sorts of things and those sorts of questions. And I think that that then becomes the bigger issue about views that are disproportionately represented. And we have to be more sophisticated to question the validity of a very loud voice in this arena and what does that mean morally, ethically, and what this was lots of episodes all in one, because I think that, but I think putting children in a position where you can't, I imagine a lot of the children just using your banking example, couldn't help but start to come to those sorts of questioning themselves to say, is that right?
Is that okay that someone who has already affected in other areas is now being? Those morality and ethics, ethical questions start to, I guess, self-perpetuating questions based on the experiences they have.
I'm writing this down. I'm writing this down, Adam. Future [inaudible].
It's their worldview, right? They couldn't believe it. They had no idea. They were like, "What?" Because we think kids are too young to be introduced to things. But oftentimes when you engage them in something that they're really genuinely interested in, you'd be amazed at how much they'll learn that isn't required. One group came up to me and they're like, "How do you pay your hydro bill?" Because they were talking about, "What evidence can you use because you have a hydro bill?" And then they were like, "How do you pay a bill?" Just things that you think, why would a grade nine student know how that was done? I think the teacher of the future needs to be able to draw in something authentic for these students, because if they think that they're making an impact, and that's a problem that's genuinely not solved. Grameen Bank was really interesting case study for them, but they felt like they were playing a role in that. And we had people come in and present to them, and then they just weigh the pros and cons, make tough decisions, persevere through something that doesn't have a real answer. There were ups and downs, believe me. But I think they all enjoyed the journey.
It's interesting because we take so many things for granted, right? You're talking about the banking system, and we just accept that that's how it works. You need an address to get a bank account, and if you don't have a bank account, you can't pay your bills. And if you don't have a debit card or a credit card, then how can you make your way through life? And all these sorts of things, and those systems that have been built over decades, but they're going to change so rapidly now and there's going to be so many more things like that. How do they cope with that, with having these hugely complex systems that are just there, that are almost going to become entities on their own, probably largely run by machines, and they're going to have to cope with them. And a few privileged people in the world will control these things, and most of the population will just be subject to their rules. It'd be like a new society that will emerge from this. The potential for this to go wrong is massive. It could be beneficial and could be great, but it could also go so horribly wrong where equity becomes really a huge issue moving forward, more so than it is today. I don't know. It's going to be tough. I think we really need to think about what role schools play in this because it's going to be challenging.
Exactly. People are like, "Well, is that considered school?" That doesn't sound like what I would've done in school. It's just reminding, again, back to parents and making sure what those kids did in that week of learning, they probably learned more than they would've learned if I said, "Okay, here's what interest is. Here's how banks calculate things. Here's how you pull something down in a spreadsheet." It's just taught in a really different way. And I think it's reframing expectations for everyone of, it's not going to look the same, but what they're going to end up with is something hopefully a little bit more memorable. Hopefully they're grappling with the same things you just said, Andy, then they'd uncover something and then they'd be like, "Wait, maybe this isn't good."
And then they would go back to where they were. And just that learning journey in itself for students, because it used to be, "Oh, you learn a bit more." You're going on this straight arrow up. Every time you learn something more, you're getting closer to the top. Whereas these learning experiences that you go up and now you know something, and now you're way back down at the bottom, because you realise everything you learned doesn't really apply to the situation anymore. They're hard to design, but the more schools can offer those to students, I think the more we're preparing them for what they will face one day.
Yeah. And I think the emphasis needs to be on thinking and intellectual competence and social structures. And those are the things because facts and knowledge are all going to become irrelevant at some point. Look, the laws of physics are still going to remain the laws of physics, but having to remember what they are is not going to be so important because you'll just be at your fingertips at any given... They already are actually.
Yeah. Or they're important because of your role.
Imagine if I had to sit on this podcast and look everything up, you would be bored out of your mind and it'd be so tedious. But when you love something and you pursue it for your education or your career, someone would sit here and could talk to you about biology and anatomy all day long, and they wouldn't look anything up because that's what they need to not look up. Whereas for me to go like, "Oh, what's that muscle called? Boom, boom, boom. Who cares?"
It's just an interesting way of reframing. We don't have to know everything anymore, but we do have to know what we need to know to do well in whatever we're pursuing.
Yeah. And you need to know what you know and need to know what you don't know as well, which is a real challenge for some people like me who think they know everything. But anyway, I think we're probably going to wrap this one up. We could talk forever just on this one topic. Jen, it's so exciting to have you here. Thank you so much for being so generous with your time and your thoughts and everything.
Oh, thank you for having me. It's just so enjoyable and pleasurable to talk about learning and the future and school. Thank you very much.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School Podcast.