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The Elephant NOT in the Classroom

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

The 1% of students who choose teaching as a career are exposed, day-in, day-out to teachers and the school environment for years before making their career choice. The other 99% don't enjoy this advantage.

Educators set the standards, curriculum, and expectations for all students, not just future teachers. What they do not include, the elephant missing from the classroom, was their most strategic advantage. They witnessed daily throughout their educational journey what their workday would be like if they decided to be a teacher. In fact, they experienced 12 to 16 years of work-based learning.

Teachers are not taught how to help non-teacher-bound students explore their career and life options. That job is relegated to school counselors, most of whom heroically, and hopelessly, are expected to deal with the academic, social, and (if time permits) career challenges of 500 or more students. Being university graduates, they tend to see university as 'plan A' for all students, and prioritize academic and social over career issues. Hence, millions of students graduate each year unsure what to do when the last assignment has been handed in and the final bell rings.

Helping students to prepare for life beyond school, to become life-ready, requires a shift to engaging, hands-on, personalized, real-world, project and work-based experiential learning reflecting the diversity of adult life and career roles. All subjects are best learned in the context of exploring and attempting to resolve contemporary local, national, and international issues students care deeply about, like climate change, eradication of poverty, truth and reconciliation.

Enough schools and school systems have taken the leap to personal, project-based learning to conclude that when the elephant NOT in the classroom – helping students find themselves, develop their unique gifts, acquire 21st century global competencies, and find their rightful place in the adult world - is addressed, students, parents, teachers and administrators are happier, school systems more successful, and communities more prosperous!

Canada has 13 autonomous departments of education, several hundred independent school boards/districts, 15,500 elementary and secondary schools, with 310,000 teachers and 5 million students in a highly decentralized system. As a result, transformative changes that could benefit students everywhere occur in highly localized and fragmented fashion, spread slowly if at all, and often wane when the champion moves or funding cycles sunset. Coherent, system-wide change is virtually inconceivable. That said, since all students will graduate into the same global community which demands new competencies not currently taught systematically, how can we get the elephant in more classrooms, sooner?

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