Survival Skills for 2011 and Beyond

I read Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap when first thinking about our World  Perspectives Program and what kind of skills, knowledge and habits of mind our students need to prepare them for college and the world of work. Wagner’s words resonate in that he clearly thinks globally and knows the landscape our students will be entering.

Wagner is the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. Prior to this, he was the founder and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for more than a decade. Wagner consults widely to schools, districts, and foundations around the country and internationally. His previous work experience includes twelve years as a high school teacher, K-8 principal, university professor in teacher education, and founding executive director of Educators for Social Responsibility.

Hearing Tony Wagner speak recently in Greenwich, I realized that he is a teacher at heart who understands schools, students and  teaching, and uses his research and perspective to think and write about the core skills–“survival skills”–that schools should be teaching.

Wagner goes on to identify seven of these survival skills: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; curiosity and imagination.

Much of the national debate around education centers on test scores which leads, unfortunately, in my opinion, to teaching to the test, often neglecting more experiential learning and discovery, discouraging curiosity and imagination. There is certainly content which has to be covered and mastered in any subject, but let us try to find ways of assessment that are not still rooted in the 19th century but rather employ many of the skills Tony Wagner discusses.

Early in 2009, President Obama reminded Congress that, “The Countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.” We have an opportunity to educate the next generation of leaders, and we need to do it right. We would be smart to heed Wagner’s thinking around survival skills for our students and figure out how to translate them into the classroom.

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