Innovating for Impact

Preparing Our Students for Their Futures: How We Change and Innovate Instruction, Part II

In the first four installments of this series, I emphasized the importance of innovating for future-focused education. I discussed the what, why, and how of innovative practices and instruction. In the most recent paper, I mentioned that we were going to follow in the footsteps of the nation’s most rapidly improving schools. This means focusing first on our instructional practices and then innovating our instructional organization to fit these practices. Only then do we move onto innovating what we teach—the focus of this final paper in the series.

By now, I’m sure you can see the power of leaving what we teach for last. In doing so, we are forced out of the old way of doing things. If we start first with discussing the content we’ll teach, we’ll be starting from the old 20th-century model, where content was king. Today, teaching students how to do is king. How much can really change if content continues to be the only thing driving our decisions? Now that we’ve broken our thinking out of the old 20th-century box, let’s discuss how we can innovate content for 21st-century learning.

Teaching: Seven Interrelated Shifts
It’s 2017. Most of the students in your classrooms have lived their entire lives in the 21st century. Let that soak in for a bit. They know only technology, only the Internet, only mobile devices. Can teaching what we’ve always taught possibly still make sense? What we teach needs a 21st-century update.

If we stand any chance of preparing our students for successful careers in their futures, what we teach must shift in seven interrelated ways.

Seven Interrelated Shifts

  1. From knowledge acquisition/adaptation to knowledge application/adaptation. Hopefully why this shift is a non-negotiable is more than clear. Choose content and subjects that lend themselves to application, in both real-world predictable and unpredictable situations, so that students understand that what they’re learning matters to their futures.
  2. Toward college- AND career-ready literacy. In 2015, the Successful Practices Network—a not-for-profit research organization that I chair—conducted a study to determine how the literacy requirements for 11th and 12th grade high school students compare to the text demands of a typical entry-level employee. The research found that the skills in students’ post-graduation areas of responsibility have a greater focus on technical reading and writing than our schools are teaching. In large part, this disconnect is because our literacy lessons remain pinned to traditional English Language Arts curricula, which rely heavily on fiction. How often do we need to read fiction for our jobs these days?

    Reading and writing remain essential to future-focused learning. Yet in the future, students will work in environments that rely on technical literacy skills. For students to gain these skills and achieve them at higher levels, literacy curricula must extend to include nonfiction and technical materials. In other words, it must be both college AND career ready. If we continue to emphasize literary works of fiction, we will continue to teach literacy as though we’re teaching students to read only in school. For literacy also to be career ready, all teachers must become literacy teachers.
  3. Toward data analytics. Reading comprehension, as we know, is as important as it ever was. As part of career- ready literacy, it must also expand to include data comprehension. Technology has made the collection and processing of data so simple that we’re now talking about its storage in exabytes. Data on this scale will not be consumable through text. It will be only be consumable through tables, graphs, and charts, and today’s students are going to have to know how to read these depictions of data. To be able to digest complex data, students must be able to examine smaller details than are immediately apparent, as well as see things in large scale and determine connections, patterns, and correlations in data. The skills needed for big data analytics are interdisciplinary in nature. Therefore, the organization of your instructional program must be designed to have students find information and use analysis skills that are in multiple disciplines at once.
  4. Toward innovation and creativity. Careers are no longer linear and obvious, and job skills are no longer linear and clear. In the same way that technology is forcing companies to be more flexible, adaptable, and entrepreneurial (no matter their size or age), people too must be more flexible, adaptable, and entrepreneurially minded (no matter their age) if they hope to remain valuable to employers. To help our students hone creativity, we have to infuse creativity back into our instruction.
  5. Toward more technology. Let’s face it; our students are better with most technologies than we are. Yet strategic technology use in our classrooms is not an option. Let the students teach you the basics on how to use technological devices. Then you can teach them the consequences of using that technology and how to use it smartly and shrewdly. Which brings us to this next point.
  6. Toward cautious and smart social media and online use. It’s my belief that how to teach social media and online use is tough, messy, and explosive, just as drug and sex ed were 40 years ago. Its exclusion from Common Core State Standards does not mean we can continue to ignore it. If our job is to prepare students for successful futures, we have no choice but to teach smart and safe social media and online use. We must explain to them its permanence, its pitfalls, and all its risks, not just to their college and professional careers, but also to their safety.
  7. Toward non-cognitive skills. Earlier, we went deep into why schools must change. At core, it is because technology has fundamentally changed how we work and the skills necessary for success in today’s careers. You might recall that even those tech companies doing all the disrupting get disrupted themselves. Uber disrupted the taxi and limousine industry. Yet, self-driving car technologies are on the verge of disrupting Uber. If the tech companies are always shifting, so too will all companies. Today’s employees must be generalists who can adapt and evolve again and again. They must understand the micro and macro environments of their company and be capable of working with people across functions, and often across geographies.

Start with the end in mind. If you want your teachers to accept the call to innovate, they must first know why changes are needed. Then they must understand what needs to change. Then they must understand how to change. If you want them to be the change, that’s where purposeful coaching and training, specifically chosen for alignment to your school’s goals, can have a real impact.

Schools are not failing. The world is changing around them—and fast— so schools must adapt.

Read more of Dr. Daggett's insights on innovating by empowering a culture of change. Download the complete white paper: Preparing Our Students for Their Futures: HOW We Change and Innovate Instruction, Part II


Each June, 5000+ educators come together at the Model Schools Conference to learn about these effective strategies and develop an action plan for change. The participants come with different challenges, but focus on the same future-focused question: What do our children need to know and be able to accomplish to be successful in work and life?

I invite you to explore your answers to this question at the 25th Annual Model Schools Conference, June 25–28, 2017!