Since there’s no crystal ball, it might be a good time to focus less on the subjects we’re teaching, and more on higher-order skills. Qualities such as emotional intelligence, resilience and teamwork will help them succeed in life across a broad range of contexts. But how do you integrate this laundry list into the mandatory Maths lesson you’re teaching on a Thursday morning? Besides, the higher-order skills necessary for life as a digital nomad are going to differ quite substantially from those required to head up a large charity, so which should we prioritise?
At Rocksteady, we teach children to play music in bands, and one of our core principles is providing education that builds the whole person. We’ve spent a lot of time working on higher-order skills over the years, and we’ve noticed that the biggest impact has come from deliberately building confidence in learning and decision-making. If students are confident in their ability to learn, then they’re more likely to approach other subjects ready to absorb the information. If they gain experience weighing up a situation and making good decisions, then they’ll be able to make progress in all areas of life.
Our pedagogy reflects this by giving ample opportunity to try things and make mistakes in a safe environment, while gradually increasing levels of responsibility over time. It starts in the first lesson, when the children have to decide what to call their band (Tyrannosaurus iPad, anyone?) and choose which song to learn. After months of rehearsal, they’re asked to be creative in putting on performances for the rest of the school (a massive confidence-boost), and eventually take ownership for the parts they’re playing and how they integrate with the rest of the group. There are hundreds of little things we’ve experimented with over the years, but a surprising amount of what sticks comes down to demonstrating a measurable improvement in the children’s confidence.
Music is a brilliant way to do this, but there are many ways to integrate these principles into any subject or, indeed, the school culture at large. The key is to look at the environment you’re creating, asking whether it’s giving students the opportunity to safely make decisions and learn from them. We may not know exactly what the children of today will be doing in the future, but by building their confidence in the right higher-order skills, we can rest assured that they’ll show up prepared.
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