Timeless Skills for the Future

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the December 2018 issue of The Post

Before the Thanksgiving break, we welcomed grandparents and special friends to spend the morning at Post Oak and visit their related student at school. This special peek into our Montessori environments are a treat for those who are visiting and those being visited. For the majority of grandparents, relatives, and friends, what they see looks very different from the school they experienced themselves. The Post Oak prepared environments are filled with shelves of hands-on materials; there are no desks but lots of different-sized tables. Students are moving about, working in groups, and choosing each of their activities. Perhaps school should be very different in this day and age, after all, our students today will need the skills to compete with artificial intelligence and robots in the future.

In the world of education right now, people are busy trying to figure things out. I enjoy reading education journals, articles in the paper, or blogs that discuss the latest trends and the varying research about what children need to become fully grown human beings in today's world. There are a lot of opinions out there, there are a lot of theories, but there is quite a convergence of thought around things we take for granted at The Post Oak School. All that I read introduces "new" things like individualized, hands-on learning, promoting independence, and teaching students to work collaboratively, among other strategies utilized in our classrooms on a daily basis.

As our world changes and evolves, as our economy and the idea of work transforms, and as the concept of society, civility, and family goes through its own revolution, education leaders are recognizing the skill set needed to live in our world is complex, multi-faceted, and relies on our intellect, our emotional well-being, our social abilities, our understanding of humanity, and compassion for our world. But my father and his father, if they were alive today, would say this is not new. Navigating the world has always required a complex, multi-faceted skill set, and has always relied on our intellect, our emotional well-being, our social abilities, our understanding of humanity, and, of course, compassion. Schools now are better at recognizing that students need a wider and well-rounded experience than offered by a conventional program, and educators need to look at ways to enhance the learning experience.
Our guests on Grandparents' Day were invited to look closely and to notice that the students at Post Oak are practicing the same skills our grandparents understood to be critical to success in life. Despite our technologically advanced, complex world, there isn't much of a difference in what's important to be ready for the world of work, family, and community. In some ways, preparing for the future means going back to our roots, back to our grandparents' time, when education did not just equal time in school—when education happened everywhere—working on the farm or ranch, playing ball in a field after school, in the evenings on the front porch, in the city, in the country, doing chores, playing cards, and the list goes on.

Watching what the students do at Post Oak may look different than what many of us experienced in a non-Montessori school. To some, it might not look like "school," but it is easy to see that this is learning. Because at Post Oak, that is what we do—we teach children how to learn. We do this by remembering that the world is their classroom and there are lessons available in every moment of life. At Post Oak, students engage their whole selves in the learning process and can repeat and practice a skill until mastery. They are encouraged to communicate and collaborate with their peers as more than one brain leads to creative problem-solving. More importantly, they practice being a part of a community—living peacefully, working out conflicts, sharing ideas, discussing and disagreeing respectfully. Finally, they experience getting up and trying again more times than they fall or fail at something.

These last two attributes—resilience and community-mindedness—may be the most critical, as we have no idea what the world will be like in 15 years, and we need to be flexible, able to adjust to what is coming, and keep on going in spite of road bumps. The world is also a much bigger place with many more people, and we need to have infinite patience with each other as we go forward. Our students will face challenges we cannot even imagine, but so did we and so did our parents, and so did our grandparents. Post Oak students will be ready. We are going to make sure that they are rooted with skills that allow them to grow, branch out, and like the leaves on the tree—reach for the sun.