Image: Kindness & Compassion Thoughts & Notes ... by Paul Smith Photo of Superintendent Paul Smith

Summer 2019

Image: Blue School/tech/Learning GraphicI consider the most important word in education to be "empowerment.” 

I am fascinated by futurists who predict that 2030 will be a landmark year that features such things as the normalization of artificial intelligence (cars, workplace), increased climate crises, dramatic political shifts, and regular space travel by the public. This date is on the horizon for us as the students of the Class of 2030 will be entering Grade 2 this fall. 

There is expected to be such a tremendous shift in the workplace and living conditions, that I am asking us to look beyond our academic expectations for children and our transferable skills of the Profile of the Graduate and work to envision life in 2030 for our students. 

My intention is to take our vision, East Hampton 2025 and project forward to East Hampton 2030 early in the school year. I hope that we can work together to look beyond a vision and actively empower students. 

In order to “empower” students, we must:

(1) understand the contexts in which our work will take place, remaining relevant by determining what students need to thrive in the future to meet their challenges and dreams given technical advancements and global issues, and

(2) identify and adopt practices that ensure that our students learn and grown in classrooms where so much more will be possible.

If we can both identify “student success” in 2030 and how will ensure “students success” in 2030, we will have taken big leap toward a vision that empowers our students. 

Empowering Students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution 

By Fernando M. Reimers in The Line 

Ford Foundation Professor of the Practice of International Education, Director of the Global Education Innovation Initiative, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Image: Interior of Cell phone graphic

The Fourth Industrial Revolution
poses new demands on leaders to make schools more relevant. Education leaders need to develop a shared vision that aligns ambitious goals with an expanded set of expectations for what students should learn in school and to translate such a vision into more relevant curriculum and more robust teacher capacities. Central to those efforts are powerful curriculum and opportunities for teachers to build new capacities. There is a body of practice, and of research evidence, which can inform efforts to transform curriculum and teacher capacity.

Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, has coined the term the Fourth Industrial Revolution to refer to the changes resulting from increased and ubiquitous automation and from the development of artificial intelligence, neurotechnological and genetic developments. These changes are creating new opportunities for unprecedented augmentation of human intelligence and productivity. But they are also creating serious challenges, such as the elimination of many of the jobs that currently exist. Responding proactively to such challenges will require a heightened commitment to placing humans at the center and empowerment as a goal.1 

Understanding how to support public education systems so they can more effectively prepare students with the necessary capacities to participate, civically and economically, in societies which are rapidly changing as a result of technological advancements and of globalization is the aim of the Global Education Innovation Initiative (GEII), a research and practice consortium with collaborators in 10 nations which I lead at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. We carry out three types of activities in GEII. First, we conduct applied research on questions of interest to policymakers. The studies we have conducted include: (1) a comparative analysis of curriculum reform in six nations; (2) a study of the effects of entrepreneurial education programs in six countries; and (3) a study of teacher professional development programs designed to support teacher capacities to educate the whole child. Second, we organize and deliver “Informed Dialogues,” which consist of convenings and expeditions designed to support learning among members of a group with a shared educational purpose. One of them was a learning expedition of 25 educators from Massachusetts who took us to examine how Singapore executes an ambitious curriculum for the 21st century, to which resulted in the publication of a book 2  in which some of the participants distilled the lessons they had learned and their implications for reform in Massachusetts. Another of these learning expeditions consisted of a two-day convening of a group of 50 education leaders to examine the challenges to bring scale reforms that aimed to broaden the goals of the curriculum. This think tank resulted in the publication of a book in which some of the participants distilled what they had learned about such challenges and their ideas to overcome them.3 More recently, we published a book distilling the lessons learned by system-level leaders of educational change.4 Finally, the GEII develops instructional materials to support teachers in designing effective instruction aligned with ambitious and rigorous goals. These instructional materials include three curriculum resources that have been adopted by public and private schools in a number of countries around the world to support global citizenship education. 

The book “Empowering Global Citizens” argues that education should be aligned with helping students understand and advance human rights and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and it offers an ambitious and rigorous curriculum to support global citizenship education from kindergarten to high school. 

The book “Empowering Students to Improve the World in Sixty Lessons” explains why a renewed emphasis on global citizenship is essential in the face of rising populism and hatred. The book offers protocols to help teachers and school leaders develop school-wide strategies that support global citizenship education and global citizenship curriculum aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, which is a complement to the Human Rights Declaration in that it spells out our obligations to achieve a world that is inclusive, in peace and sustainable. 

The book “Learning to Collaborate for the Global Common Good” is an analysis of the challenges facing democracy around the world and contains a series of curriculum resources to advance dispositions and skills for democratic civic participation.

From this work developing curriculum aligned with ambitious goals, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have learned that powerful curriculum can be a powerful driver of an education that is engaging to students and teachers, because they see the relevance of what they are studying to understand the rapidly changing world around them. 

In my work with schools, districts and school networks, a key step in the process of development of curriculum is engaging educators across grades and subjects in the school in discussing which competencies, knowledge and dispositions align with a set of ambitious goals. Once there is shared vision on an ambitious set of learning outcomes for students, these teams can work to produce horizontal and vertical alignment across academic subjects and also with extracurricular activities, designing, in effect, a seamless set of learning opportunities for students aligned with a powerful vision for education. 

This process of defining ambitious goals for students, and of mapping backward the pedagogical experiences that will support students in reaching such goals is in itself an experiential form of professional development for teachers. This professional development is augmented when schools collaborate with other schools, or with institutions supporting them, such as universities or providers of professional development, constituting improvement networks with the capacity to accelerate the process of collective learning, as teachers access the collective experience and knowledge available in the network, and as they collaborate with colleagues in the network in instructional improvement aligned with similarly ambitious goals.

The power of such school networks to develop the capacity of teachers and administrators is also reflected in our most recent research study: a comparative analysis of high-quality programs of teacher professional development 5 in Chile, China, Colombia, India, Mexico, Singapore and the United States. In contexts seemingly so different, there is a veritable shared DNA of the various programs we studied. All of them reflect a conception of adult learning that sees it as socially situated and responding to current needs of teachers for learning and of the demands of their professional contexts.

The various programs of professional development we studied all involve sustained and extensive opportunities for teachers to build capacities, often extending an entire school year or spanning across multiple school years, and use multiple approaches to capacity building: learning communities, research projects, individual study, book studies, coaching, observation, peer observation and support.

Consistent with the goal of these programs to help teachers develop the capacities to support their students in developing a broad range of capacities, called by some 21st century skills, the programs develop a similarly broad range of capacities among teachers themselves, acknowledging that it is challenging for teachers to help the students gain capacities the teachers teachers to help the students gain capacities the teachers themselves lack.

All these programs follow a whole-school approach to instructional improvement rather than focus exclusively on a narrow group of teachers within the school.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution raises the skill demands for civic and economic participation, public schools remain one of the most important pathways to equalize the opportunity to attain such skills. Leaders must steer efforts to align curriculum with ambitious goals and teacher capacity to teach that curriculum. Improvement networks and partnerships are crucial to augmenting the capacity of schools to empower students to invent the future.

1. K L A U S S C H W A B , “ T H E F O U R T H I N D U S T R I A L R E V O L U T I O N ” ( N E W Y O R K : C R O W N B U S I N E S S , 2 0 1 7 ) .

2. F E R N A N D O M . R E I M E R S E T A L . , F I F T E E N L E T T E R S O N E D U C A T I O N I N S I N G A P O R E ( M O R R I S V I L L E , N C :

L U L U P U B L I S H I N G , 2 0 1 6 )

3. F E R N A N D O M . R E I M E R S E T A L . , E M P O W E R I N G A L L S T U D E N T S A T S C A L E ( S C O T T S V A L L E Y , C A :

C R E A T E S P A C E , 2 0 1 7 ) .

4. F E R N A N D O M . R E I M E R S , L E T T E R S T O A N E W M I N I S T E R O F E D U C A T I O N ( S E A T T L E , W A : K I N D L E D I R E C T

P U B L I S H I N G , 2 0 1 9 ) .