Learning to Respond to Uncertainty

April 19, 2017

This piece by Jane Ehrenfeld, Inspired Teaching’s Executive Director, appeared in Inspired Teaching’s April 2017 newsletter. 

The Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution recently convened leaders from the fields of education research, practice, policy, and philanthropy at around a provocative topic: Meaningful Education in Times of Uncertainty. As we talked through this concept, a fellow participant noted that we were approaching the topic as a problem to be solved. But uncertainty is wildly unlikely to ever disappear. So rather than focus on the uncertainty itself, shouldn’t we be focusing on how to effectively teach kids how to approach uncertainty, manage it, and even turn it into opportunity?

This question hits on one of the main ideas of Inspired Teaching: that kids who are taught to be changemakers become adults who need never fear uncertainty, because they have the tools to handle it. A massive change is needed in the way we approach educating children so that we can truly prepare them for a highly uncertain world.

The retreat’s leaders emphasized that, in order to make such a massive change in the education system, we will need to “leapfrog” over perceived and historical obstacles and constraints, in order to impact millions of children around the world (particularly in developing countries and high poverty areas). At Inspired Teaching, we believe that it is imperative to make a major shift in the way we perceive and train teachers: not only must we see all teachers as changemakers, but we must also help them to be changemakers. Teachers who are changemakers not only have the ability to change whole systems, they are the best hope we have of building changemaking skills in children around the world

Change in education is not going to come from the top down, at least not without a huge push from the bottom up. And that means giving teachers the skills and tools they need to effectively identify the areas where change is needed, and to bring change to their peers, their schools, their broader communities, and beyond. At Inspired Teaching, our aim is not simply to make a difference in a few classrooms; we are working to bring about holistic change in the education landscape. We equip teachers with engagement-based classroom practices, and we empower them to lead their colleagues, schools, and districts toward a future where every student has an Inspired Teacher.

We continue to engage Inspired Teachers as changemakers after they complete our training programs. This month, we began work with a collaborative of local education leaders and practitioners, convened by Ashoka, with the aim of shifting the education landscape in Washington, DC, so that every young person becomes a changemaker. Inspired Teachers were heavily involved, contributing their ideas and energy, identifying systemic barriers, and recognizing where their skills and expertise can support their peers. In the collaborative, they are able to build their own skills and leverage their power as changemakers.

To bring about a world in which we collectively respond positively and productively to uncertainty, we need to build our individual skills as changemakers. We need to be critical and creative thinkers, problem solvers, effective and empathetic collaborators, and lifelong learners. These are the skills of an Inspired Teacher, and they are the skills that an Inspired Teacher builds in his or her students.

In the coming weeks and months, we will stay involved with these fellow changemaking organizations. Stay tuned for an upcoming essay series published by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education, including my essay on engagement and changemaking, and look forward to news about Ashoka’s locally based education collaborative. We thank you for continuing to support Inspired Teaching, and all of the changemakers in your lives, dedicated to building a better future for our young people.

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