What comes to mind when you picture a classroom? Desks in rows? A teacher at the front of the room? If so, you might be surprised to discover that learning has shifted from a static, one-dimensional model to a more dynamic, openly collaborative setting. This new educational environment reflects current trends in technology and education, and it mirrors the workplace students will be entering. Many companies are adapting their physical working environment and collaborative strategies to make the most of the advances in technology and the generational shift of millennials entering the workforce.
The top five adaptations listed below are occurring in both schools and workplaces. They may seem small, but they have a tremendous impact on transforming the classroom and the modern workplace. As Abraham Lincoln said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
- Physical Environment – The skills we emphasize in K-12 should mirror the workplace students will be entering. For example, the idea that learning can only take place in a classroom while sitting at a desk is antiquated. Technology and teaching using a “flipped classroom” has transformed education. No longer is learning limited to the start and end of the school day. For example, students are reviewing teacher-made videos and online assignments in preparation for discussion and a hands-on learning experience in class. The idea that work can be done outside of the confines of a desk is reflected in the workforce as it is increasingly commonplace to telecommute. The idea that “work” takes place in a 9-5 environment at a desk is changing. In schools and in the workplace, it is the productive outcome that matters more than the physical location of “work” or designated time frame in which to complete it. When viewing the modern school and workplace, it is clearly evident that a variety of learning/working styles are considered. Couches, standing desks, and traditional desks are now viewed as not only acceptable but lauded as individuals consider the physical environment that is most productive for them.
- Collaboration – While it used to be that in classroom groups and in work teams, the collaborative work took place around a table with all parties physically present. Now collaboration can take place on a global scale with colleagues/other students around the world. Google Docs, Hangouts, Skype, even LinkedIn is a tool to connect with others on a local and global scale. Even when colleagues get together to collaborate, a set location with everyone sitting around a table is quickly becoming out of fashion. Now, “walk and talks” are more common, and there is a school of thought that the great ideas aren’t necessarily generated from everyone sitting in a room together. While walking or playing a game, innovative ideas can emerge naturally.
- Transparency/sharing. Schools used to emphasize that being a good digital citizen meant keeping everything one shares on social media private. Now, however, one’s online presence can be an asset when applying to college, looking for a job, or professionally connecting with others. Your digital footprint is like credit; having a bad credit history or no credit history does not bode well for your reputation. Having a transparent digital presence gives people a sense of who you are, what you are passionate about, and that you have nothing to hide. That’s not to say that every social networking account should be public, but a good rule of thumb for public posts is that if you are okay with it being on the front page of a newspaper or on a billboard, then it’s more likely to be fine. Another great rule of thumb is “When in doubt, don’t.” If you are wavering on a post or topic, it’s best to hold off until you are truly comfortable. Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that the positive connections that both students and employees can make by collaborating and sharing ideas in an open forum can be invaluable. Keeping everything private or not participating in social media at all denies you the opportunity to create these connections.
- Innovation/entrepreneurship. Being an innovator, and even starting a business, can begin at any age. A perfect example is Vivian Herr, who founded Make a Stand at 12-years-old in an effort to abolish child slavery. Talk with students about a problem they want to solve in the world. No matter how big or small, there will be someone else out there who is looking to solve the same problem. This skill crosses over to the workplace as employers are increasingly looking for candidates who are assertive enough to identify problems in a company, have the ability to advocate change, and are passionate about following through. Schools can nurture these skills by hosting a standing speaker series, which can open up a world of possibilities to students about the width and breadth careers can take. If you can’t get people physically to your class consider showing TED talks. There are great talks geared specifically toward kids!
- Have fun while living your passion. Rote memorization is not only antiquated but unnecessary as we have immediate access to information at our fingertips via smartphones. Schools are moving to more project-based learning, recognizing that if the learning is fun and meaningful, it is more salient. A deeper understanding of concepts has replaced memorization. Students are encouraged to explore why an answer is correct rather than simply being satisfied with getting an answer right. Employers are looking for these skills in candidates. A “book-smart” employee who lacks critical thinking skills won’t be able to take the company to the next level. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” The goal is not to memorize and regurgitate facts. When you love what you do then there are ways to teach that working can be enjoyable. Have whiteboards to (literally) draw inspiration. Host “fireside chats” with a picture of a fireplace with chairs set up around them. Keep common areas open and clean to encourage collaboration. Put questions on posters around the room to elicit thought, such as: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
What would you do if you were able to take your classroom to the next level? Take some time to think about this. Create a “hack week” project for yourself and/or even include your students! It can be fun: once they are invested, they will feel direct ownership into making their classroom a space to learn, collaborate, and work off of each others’ energy.
Another option in getting started is working with an established organization who can guide you through the classroom transformation process. We recommend checking out Room2Learn, founded by former educators, a “sharing platform and design consultancy that tailors school spaces to learning and teaching needs.” Their inspiring video and consultation services motivate the most traditional teachers and administrators to explore new learning spaces.
by: Angela Cleveland, School Counselor & Saqi Mehta, Career Counselor
Angela Cleveland is a professional school counselor/Google Certified Educator. She advocates for equal access to STEM, emphasizing the critical need to empower and support girls and minorities to access CS opportunities. Angela consults with Counselors for Computing/NCWIT, is a member of White House initiative United State of Women, and is an Executive Board Member/Webmaster for NJSCA. Angela is honored to be co-founder of ReigningIt. She is extremely passionate about providing a platform for women to share their experiences in CS and advocate for closing the gender gap in STEM.
Angela is a technology contributor to national publications, such as Edutopia, and she presents on a national level about computer science and technology. Angela’s advocacy has earned her several recognitions, most recently the “2016 Somerset County School Counselor of the Year” award. Angela has BA from William Paterson University, MSEd from the University of Pennsylvania, MA from Rider University, and MEd from The College of New Jersey. In her free time, Angela enjoys writing and is the author of several therapeutic children’s books. Learn more about Angela: www.angelacleveland.com.
Saqi Mehta received a BA from Boston University and an MSEd from the University of Pennsylvania. After starting her career doing research at Harvard University, she found her true calling in Career Counseling at MIT and Harvard Business School. She then transitioned to University Recruiting in tech and worked at VMWare and The Walt Disney Company.
Saqi now leads the University Recruiting team at Square, visiting schools around the country to bring the next generation of talent to the company. She is passionate about all things education, specifically women in tech. Saqi serves on the board of National Tech Diversity Magazine and 500 Miles. As an avid writer she is a contributing author for The Huffington Post, Daily Muse and Blavity amongst others. In any non-typing free time she is an art, interior design, and travel enthusiast.