"We need to question the question what do you want to be when you grow up and instead ask ourselves if it is the right question."
-Jan Owen AM. FutureSchools 2017
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
If you have missed any of the articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can find them here.
I was intrigued by Jan Owen's abstract. In my experience as a primary school teacher thus far, entrepreneurship is not a common topic of discussion and so I was curious as to what I would hear that could be applied and considered through a primary education lens. Right away, Jan challenged commonly accepted norms by positing that we are asking the wrong question when we ask students what they want to be when they grow up as statistics and research demonstrate that no longer is it true that you leave school, enter a profession and then retire from that profession at the age of sixty-five.
Jan asked the audience to put their hand up if they are doing, now, the job they wanted to do when they were a child and there were only a few hands up in the audience (FYI, I wanted to be a truck driver). Today's youth will have, on average, seventeen different careers across five different industries across their working life, but that it will take them an average of four to five years to find full time work. Personally, at the age of thirty-three I have had eight careers across hospitality, industrial electrical, retail, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), and finally, education. So asking our students and our children what they want to be when they grow up is no longer an appropriate question.
The statistics in the above image are genuinely frightening. As a society, we build up university as the pinnacle of education, the point of getting good grades throughout school. Yet I have it said regularly that a Masters degree is the new Bachelors. The pushing of more and more students to university actually results in the devaluing of a Bachelor degree, meaning that to stand out academically, a Masters degree is becoming the new requirement, with the ripple effect that student debt for graduates is starting at around about AUD$25 000. On top of that, we are staying at home longer because it takes so much longer to buy a house partially because of the increased relative price of housing, but partially because around thirty percent of people are un- or under-employed.
This can be seen in the increasing casualisation of the workforce and the use of short-term contracts. I am sure we are all familiar with the huge number of teachers employed only on a casual or temporary contract basis and the challenge that they face to gain permanent employment. I myself faced that which was partially why I have left the classroom. "Ask a law student who has graduated in the last four years, Jan continued, "if they have had a job and the majority of them will say not in law."
We need to stop asking our children what they want to be when they grow up and ask them what problems they want to solve because this then changes the discussion and changes the focus of their education from getting into a particular job but of solving problems, of learning to be agile learners and thinkers and it also takes the focus from the individual to the community and I am sure we have all heard an elder in our life bemoan the youth of today at some point. This change in focus will also help to disrupt the tertiary sector where sixty percent of students are studying for industries that will see themselves disrupted significantly by automation or movement of jobs to cheaper off-shore markets. Jan spoke of the research that the Foundation for Young Australians (@fya_org) has done which shows that one in three Australians are already in flexible employment arrangements and that one in ten jobs are done remotely.
Carl Scurr observed that the flexible economy is actually one of worry and insecurity rather than being the cool gig flexible work arrangements are often perceived as. Given that there are a significant number of jobs that are able to performed remotely thanks to the modern marvels of information communication and that there are 750 million twelve to twenty-six year old in the South East Asia region, many of which will perform the same job for a fraction of the wage, we need to be teaching our children how to create jobs and to manage their careers as much as how to read and write.
Jan spoke about there being seven clusters of jobs based around what they do for the community: generators, artisans, informers, carers, coordinators, technologists, and designers. The FYA report linked above indicates that careers that fall into the carer, informer and technologist brackets are in growth and will continue to be in growth.
We need to think about a life of learning rather than life-long learning, as that is what our children face and that rather than a piece of paper showing how well you answered a series of questions in a mandated national test, that a portfolio demonstrating what you are capable of and what you have learned is perhaps a better option. This concept received immediate virtual acclaim with a significant number of tweets encompassing this idea from Jan.
On the back of this, Jan put forward a concept which I think many of us were vaguely aware of from our own experience, but which I personally have not heard explicitly put forward, and that is the idea that our skills and knowledge are more transferable than we realise, with training for one job unlocking, on average, thirteen other jobs containing related skills (See Chapter One for a more detailed explanation, including a helpful visual graphic).
We were then given an indicator of the top skills that employers want, or rather the skills that employers want which have seen the most growth over the last three years. Digital Literacy, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the top skill, having grown in demand by 212% over three years. The next one was a surprise to me, but it does also make a lot of sense given our current population and our global region, but the demand for bilingualism has grown 181%. How many students do you know whom are studying a second language? My classroom was used for an after-school Mandarin language group one afternoon a week which consisted of five students. The third was critical thinking which has seen a 158% growth in demand and the final one was creativity which has seen a 65% increase.
Despite these four skill areas being those seeing the biggest growth in demand, the only one which really received any focus, from my perspective, is digital literacy. The foundation skills will never go away or stop being important; they are referred as foundation skills for a reason after all, yet we need to allow an opportunity for students to learn enterprise and career management skills in order for them to be properly prepared for their seventeen careers across five industries. There are particular skills embodied in career management which are needed to move across different careers and industries.
At this point Jan made an observation that I struggled to wrap my head around, which was that the FYA's research showed that if youth could demonstrate certain skills they (the employer) was willing to pay them more. Furthermore, a metric had been generated which attributed a dollar value of what this increase might look like.
The views of youth about higher education was the focus of the next phase of Jan's presentation and they were interesting. FYA research indicates that, and I hope I am remembering Jan's explanation here, 69% felt it was unaffordable, 60% wanted some sort of traineeship or apprenticeship but that it was unavailable for them. Jan commented that this figure is despite the fact that our trades are facing a startling shortage of entrants into them (I am not across this area so I would appreciate hearing from someone who is who might be able to comment on it. The only article I could find with a quick search was from 2013). Half of youth were uninspired by current jobs and 69% wanted to start their own business.
This figures present a challenge. I firmly believe that the common perception that a university degree is the natural progression from completing high school is invalid. Not only can you enter university as a mature-aged student as I did, but you can also enter any one of a vast array of other jobs both in trades (which are often more highly paid than some white-collar jobs) but a range of other areas. The ability of students in the senior years of high school to engage in a combination of academic studies through their school and a VET course through a local TAFE or other organisation is increasing and becoming more accepted.
The audience was asked how can we support and drive our students to want to succeed? Jan then mentioned High Tech High, where they have apparently removed all assessment yet their students are still performing as well as students from other high schools. I find this statement rather misleading. How do they know that their students are performing as well as those from schools around them if they are not assessing? They are clearly measuring something to make that judgement which means they have, in fact, not removed assessment at all and have merely changed the measure and not called it assessment.
The future of the career path is still uncertain in many respects. We know that we will have multiple careers, however, we do not know what they will look like. We know that many careers will be lost to automation, however, we can only guess at which ones. We suspect that by the time the youth of today are the age of their grandparents that life will be vastly different and there is unlikely to be a retirement pension, but we do not know for sure.
The future is not bleak, however. There is a world of opportunity available if you but have the tenacity to seek it out and the persistence and agility to adapt to the ever-changing vagaries of the job market your skill set is suited to. It was pointed out by @Edufolios that assessment allows us to know where the gaps are and where to grow, but that assessment does not have to continue to be the dirty word is currently seems to be, it does not have to be a mandated national test. We need a new mindset as we face a different future the audience was told, as that will allow us to transform our students with meaningful ways to learn and contribute to the future.
Jan's talk was interesting and energetic and she certainly had the crowd engaged. I think the FYA report is definitely something that I will find time to read in the coming days and she followed neatly on from Milton, albeit from a different perspective.
Thank you for reading and please leave your thoughts on Jan's presentation in the comments.
"If we are paying attention to our lives, we'll recognise those defining moments. The challenge for so many of us is that we are so deep into daily distractions and 'being busy, busy' that we miss out on those moments and opportunities that - if jumped on - would get our careers and personal lives to a whole new level of wow."
- Attributed to Robin S. Sharma
As you read this article, I will be drawing close to the end of day two with ClickView, however, as I write this, I am on the train on my way in for the start of day two. Yesterday was a huge day. It felt very bizarre to get up at my usual time, go through my usual morning routines, but then not go to school. It felt eerie to be sitting at a café in Pyrmont at 7:30 am working on the day’s article (read it here), rather than sitting in my classroom getting books and learning stations ready for the first session (literacy groups) of the day with my Stage One students.
That said, my first day with ClickView was incredible. Describing it as a whirlwind is, I think, an apt description. But it also is not a necessarily accurate description. I arrived in the office to a welcome pack with equipment (phone, laptop, business cards etc.) and resources (brochures, flyers, a t-shirt) and to “let’s get a coffee.” The plan for the day and overall for the week was laid out and then it was a series of quick introductions to as many people in the office who weren’t on the phone, or clearly focused on a particular task, which revealed that a significant number of people in the company had watched my Periscope last Wednesday and had read or seen my Twitter account or website. Rather humbling (and, if I am being honest, embarrassing), however, I believe that it will go a long way towards helping form the initial relationships, providing a starting point.
A series of meetings and training sessions that provided me with a starting point to understand the various software I will be using followed, as well as an overview of where to find my various data points. I have to admit to getting a little excited when I saw the richness of the data and already have a few ways I want to manipulate it to show me patterns and trends. Mrs. C21 calls me a weirdo for enjoying data. I will wear that label happily.
Lunch with a number of new colleagues and key players whom I will need to have strong relationships with to be successful followed and that almost felt like another interview, yet the questions were more…intellectually probing and it felt nice to have discussions about pedagogy, emerging trends and potential future trends or directions for education and where flipped learning and video content fits into that. Professionally stimulating I feel is an accurate description.
The afternoon was spent learning more about the team of which I am a part, what the important pieces of data are that I need to focus on amidst the plethora that is available, the agenda for the next day (today as I write) vis-à-vis meetings and how they will flow as well as a general debrief from the day.
At each point, there was a genuine interest in making sure I was getting the information I needed without being overwhelmed, at ensuring that I had questions answered satisfactorily and that I knew what was going on in general. I was given a where we have come from and why session with the CEO going over the history of the company which, although it perhaps sounds mundane and rote, was actually quite interesting and did help to contextualise some of the terminology, technology and what I have gleaned of the current and future direction of the company.
While it was a long day (I did not arrive home until 8:30 pm) and I did not get to see my daughter at all, Mrs. C21 and I are both aware and understand that the first day is always going to be a bit different, a bit longer and that there will be days where I am home comparatively early. When I got home, however, I was home and was able to go to bed not worrying about lesson plans, marking, students, parent concerns about their child, or school politics, and that alone, and the already felt reduced stress levels has made the transition out of the classroom worthwhile.
As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to hopefully meeting some of you at FutureSchools 2017 which takes place in Melbourne next week. If you have missed any of the articles I have written for that thus far, please click here.List of Blog Series
"There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them."
-Attributed to Denis Waitley
If you do not feel like reading a long-ish article, there is a tl;dr summary at the end.
In 2014 I completed my initial teaching education, having been awarded both Honours Class I and the Faculty Medal. I was then asked to write and deliver the Graduate Address at our graduation ceremony in July 2015.
I still feel about teaching the way that I did then. My Teaching Philosophy still accurately sums up why I believe in the public education system and why I want to teach. I still find great joy in seeing my students' faces light up when they get it after grappling with some new concept or skill. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my Stage Three students last year and enjoy that they still put their hands up for a high-five whenever I pass them in the corridor or the playground. This year, I am enjoying Stage One more than I thought that I would and am learning an incredible amount from my team-teaching colleague.
So why then, am I leaving classroom teaching?
I was aware, going into teaching, that it was not the nine-to-five profession that appears to be the belief in society; that there was paperwork, marking, planning, excursions, parent-teacher interviews and politics. What I did not realise, and what I do not think anybody is capable of realising until you are waist-deep in teaching is just how pervasive and all-consuming teaching is and can be. It is hard enough to feel the need to be in my room at six in the morning in order to get things set up for the day, to work out what writing groups my students need to be in today based on their writing from yesterday, to decide which students need to move up a reading level, what strategy am I going to use to engage a challenging student, and and at the end of Wednesday, to get the room tidied, the marking done and the notes up to date for my job-share partner to take over on Thursday.
To then be feeling guilty on the weekend for not getting the things I could be doing, or getting a head start on, when I should simply be enjoying time with my wife and daughter during these beautiful moments of infant joy (she is so close to crawling, and her belly laugh is the sound of pure joy) while they are there, is not how life should be lived.
In 2012 I completed my first professional experience placement. It was in a Year Six class and was actually at my current school. It was a steep learning curve, but for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I was in the right place professionally.
In 2015 and 2016, I was employed on a temporary basis, for four days a week as an RFF teacher in 2015 and three days a week in a job-share arrangement on Stage Three. We got by financially as Mrs. C21 was employed full-time. As my regular readers would be aware, however, our amazingly bright and bubbly baby girl was born in August last year, and thus we are now relying solely on my 0.6 FTE wage. It is not working.
The last few years have been challenging at my school as well. I was offered the temporary contract in 2015 as the Librarian was on long-term sick leave and ended up passing away during the Semester One holidays. I got to be that guy who took over her space and her role. No-one ever said, nor gave even a hint of negativity about me being in that role in the library. Everyone was welcoming and helpful. Despite that, I personally felt awkward and struggled with being in the Librarian's shadow and did not feel that I could really make the space my own, leaving everything up on the walls that was already there and not even going into the Librarian's office except to add library specific items to a pile.
I was offered another temporary contract for 2016, and though I was thankful to have a set class rather than be working in an RFF capacity, being employed for only three days a week was frustrating. It tightened up the options for casual work, and made it difficult to get really thoroughly and deeply stuck into anything. I did, however, learn a lot about my practice and formed some strong relationships with my students and I am proud of what I achieved last year with them, especially when I see the growth in the start of year vs end of year testing data
Additionally, the school has been undergoing a significant building project in order to remove the twelve demountable buildings and return the playground to the students to...you know, play on over the last two years. It has been a cause of significant stress, frustration, worry, and excitement across the staff. The building is now complete with only the final touches of the new playground spaces left. The teachers in those spaces are excited about the potential for what they can achieve and the new library has a new librarian who is doing an amazing job setting up after the school has been without an active library for a few years. Oh, we also had a new Principal start at the beginning of last year and multiple staff retirements which has generated a lot of change as well.
This year I was offered another three-days-per-week job-share arrangement, in a team -teaching context....in the old library. To be fair, it has been structurally changed insofar as the walls dividing the building into library/office/computer lab were removed, making it one big open space. I was apprehensive about being back in their again, however, I am confident, and have been told by some of the staff, that the previous Librarian would be proud as punch to see the space as it is now and to see the students busily working, learning and enjoying the space.
In addition to the work involved in teaching, there is also the time spent writing these articles, making the FTPL videos, and attending conferences to consider, which although separate to my teaching, I consider integral to my teaching persona. All of that wrapped up together is the context from which Mrs. C21 and I made the decision that it was time to leave classroom teaching.
A few weeks ago, I received a message from a HR Manager who said they wanted to chat to me about a position they were advertising and for which they felt I might be a good fit. It seemed to be completely out of the blue and gave enough information to have me curious and so we e-mailed back and forth over the weekend discussing some basic details of the company and the role. Things continued to move along and after some more phone-calls, Skype video-calls, a face-to-face meeting, and further e-mails and phone calls, I was formally offered a full-time, permanent position with the company.
Full time. Permanent.
Those words are like gold to a casual or temporary teacher. Mrs. C21 and I spent many hours during the whole process discussing the role, the potential, the status quo, the challenges that this role would present to me personally and us as a family and how to negotiate those challenges, and whether it was going to be good for us as a family and what the ramifications for me professionally might be. Ultimately, however, I accepted the offer to join ClickView as their NSW/ACT Education Account Advisor. In essence, I will be working with teachers to provide training, support and professional learning in schools using ClickView across NSW and the ACT.
I was asked if I would miss the classroom and I absolutely will. Over the course of the e-mails, phone and Skype calls, and face-to-face meetings, however, I gained the belief that from a certain point of view, I am not leaving the classroom per se. I may not be standing in front of a room of students, but I will still be present through the teachers with whom I work. One of my personal goals as a teacher is to be able to look back and know that I have had a positive impact on the lives of my students, to be remembered with the fondness that Ms. Flexer was remembered by her students. I can certainly achieve that in my current role in the classroom. This new role gives me scope to scale that impact, and though I may not have the connections with students that I currently do, I will be able to positively influence their lives through my work with teachers.
I also feel that over the last six to twelve months that I have been at a cross roads in my teaching career. I enjoy being in the class and working with my students. I have also found that I thoroughly enjoy being able to work with colleagues to deliver professional learning opportunities and I feel that I am more comfortable and confident in that scope. I also thoroughly enjoy engaging with research and data, and miss being absorbed in reading and writing. This role, along with giving me stability and security of employment, allows me to continue to engage with education in those same three areas, whilst being encouraged to grow and develop in particular areas that interest me professionally and with scope to be creative. I said during the face-to-face meeting, and I genuinely believe it, that although this role would see me leaving the classroom, I do not feel that I am leaving teaching. I am still working with students and teachers, it is just a different context.
I will be sad to leave my current school. I had my first professional experience there, my first excursion, my first class and I feel that I am leaving positively. I am grateful to the support and encouragement of my job-share partners of this year and last year, to my team-teacher who has been a fount of professional learning so far this term, to my mentor who allowed me to blather on about whatever it was that had me excited/frustrated/tired/annoyed/cynical/worried and offered her advice and guidance, humbly and patiently.
I am looking forward to not having the will I be offered another contract for next year stress, which normally begins to set in around the start of Term Three. I am relieved that we won't be continuing to go backwards financially and the incumbent stress of being in that position. I look forward to not feeling guilty for not working on the weekends or at night. I am excited for this new journey. But most importantly, I am excited that when I am home, that I will be able to be more present with my family, that I will not miss important milestones because I am too busy programming / planning / marking / writing reports / writing rubrics / spending money on resources for the science lesson. My wife is certainly incredibly happy about me being more present than I am at the moment.
Ultimately, I had to make a decision based on what was best for my family. It just so happens that it also provides an incredible opportunity professionally. My final day in my classroom will be tomorrow, Wednesday 8 March.
As always, thank you for reading.
The tl;dr version is that I was offered a permanent, full-time position with ClickView and it is in the best interests of my family and I to take it, so I have.
The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.
-Attributed to Dan Rather
One of the reasons I decided to teach was the excitement of the moment when the dots are joined for students’ between their prior knowledge and a new understanding. Knowing that you can make such a big impact on student’s life is hugely rewarding in itself, but also rather daunting.
I was going through Kid President’s playlist on Youtube, and found a video that captures this feeling. A year one teacher, Mrs Flexer, had been teaching in the same school for forty-one years, and was retiring. Some colleagues wanted to send her off in style, and through Kid President, arranged for a variety of her former students to come back, including one man from her very first class. Many of them speak on camera, and tell how she affected their lives, and you hear one of them state that they put their success down to her. It is an incredibly touching moment, and it puts things into perspective, to know that in five, ten, twenty, forty years time, that there will be people who will still remember your name and the impact on your life.
What do you want your students this year, to say about their time with you in ten years?
“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”
-Paulo Coelho. The Devil and Miss Prym
When I enrolled to undertake the Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts degree through the University of Newcastle, it was with the certainty that yes, THIS, is what I want to be doing for the remainder of my working life. Accordingly, knowing that this was what I wanted to be doing gave me a drive and focus that I had never possessed throughout my primary or secondary education.
I pushed hard throughout my degree, other than the first semester where I floundered a little, getting used to having to utilise my brain after ten years of not using it, and came out at the other end with Honours Class I.
This evening, whilst doing some grocery shopping with my wife, I decided to check my e-mails while my wife was bagging up some mushrooms and discovered an e-mail from the university letting me know that I had been awarded the Faculty Medal. I’m absolutely chuffed to have received this award, and it comes on the back of an amazing few weeks.
I almost feel like breaking into a dance à la Christopher Walken.