Building future workplace skills, today

The American School of Milan offers an international US-style education for children aged 3-18 from its state-of-the art campus. An IB Diploma school, it is firmly focused on building transferable skills for tomorrow’s workplace.

Think Global People Spring 2022 Issue
This article is taken from the latest issue of Think Global People magazine.
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Automation, digitisation and globalisation are changing the face of the future workplace. How we prepare today’s young people for jobs that have yet to be designed is one of the big questions educators around the world think about every day.“Looking outside the classroom, educators have begun to ask, ‘what will tomorrow’s work environment look like?’,” says Relocate Global’s Managing Editor, Fiona Murchie, introducing this brand-new webinar, which is part of Spring 2022’s International Education & Schools’ Fair. “What skillsets will be the most important for students to acquire? These are interesting questions indeed. Fortunately, we have a great panel today to move this conversation forward.”  Joining Fiona Murchie in “The Future of Work: Impact on education” are the American School of Milan’s Jane Segre, Director of Teaching and Learning, Peter Damroth, Upper Primary School Educator, Chris Briner, Science Department Coordinator and Cynthia Davis Hall, Director of Admissions and Advancement.
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Preparing students for uncertainty

The last two years have seen unprecedented disruption and uncertainty on a global scale. How schools, families, employers and young people adapted and showed enormous resilience is one of the more remarkable aspects of the pandemic.In a month marking the anniversary of the first lockdown across Europe and the inevitable reflection that brings, thoughts are turning to how the pandemic has been a valuable opportunity to look more closely at how education is delivered to students.It is a critical question, particularly as employers and employees are asking searching questions about how we work today and in future.“I think now more than ever before we are all aware of the uncertainty of the future of work for our graduates of the future,” says Jane Segre. “Many of the jobs that are going to be around when our first graders graduate do not exist yet. There is that sense of uncertainty about what exactly our students will be doing in the world of work.“Then of course there is going to be increased leisure time as well. That raises the question of how are we going to prepare the children of today for a happy life of tomorrow? There are an awful lot of question marks hanging over the world of work right now.”Fortunately, educators like the faculty at the American School of Milan are working together and with colleagues in the wider international education community to work out how best to equip students for uncertainty.“I think as schools we have a responsibility to look at what the future of work will look like and what it takes to be successful in that world,” says Chris Briner. “There will be changes. Students will need to adapt their skillsets. That’s where a lot of these ideas about being lifelong learners and the focus on soft skills and adaptability, rather than just pure content, will come to the fore.”

Learning life skills beyond the curriculum

The rapid shift to remote teaching and learning during successive lockdowns put the purpose of education into sharp relief, as well as the adaptability of individuals and institutions. It showed the capacity of schools, families and students to adapt to online learning communities, and revealed how remote syllabus content delivery can be a success.It also highlighted what makes on-campus education surrounded by peers special.“If you think that the purpose of education is to parcel up pieces of knowledge to get them inside students’ heads, for the most part online learning platforms can be quite successful,” says Jane Segre. “We know because when our students took their standardised tests in the September of the year following that semester online and they did very well. But what we did notice was the social isolation of our students, the lack of motivation and loneliness. They were so grateful to be back at school in the September of 2020.”Since the pandemic, children reporting mental wellbeing issues has skyrocketed. It also raises real and important questions for the future of hybrid working practices and human interaction in working life.Providing environments for colleagues to build social capital, have those serendipitous conversations and avoid proximity bias have already got HR thinking at a time when emotional intelligence, inclusion, collaboration, communication are critical to solving big global problems.“We need to prepare students to be both digital and physical natives and able to interact socially and able to learn in various environments and modalities,” says Chris Briner.For Jane Segre, having the school’s more than 800 students back working together on campus shows why physical school communities are so important. “We’ve just had a very intense week last week where there was this musical where over 30 students participated in this amazing extravaganza of joy. We had sports events going on and Model United Nations, MUN, and all of these things with students being together cannot be replaced online. It’s certainly made us think, what is the purpose of education?”

Implicit and explicit curricula for lifelong learning

From a curriculum perspective, STEM subjects are preparing students for a more technologically advanced age. It is an area the school takes very seriously with modern laboratories and expert teaching staff.  “For me as an elementary/primary specialist science teacher here I recognise that we have a set course of study,” says Peter Damroth. “We use the Next Generation Science Standards, Next Gen. That is takes into account the explicit curriculum that I’m going to be teaching students, the knowledge that they need to know and the understanding I want them to get out of it.”But as Peter Damroth is also keenly aware, equipping students with STEM skills for the future world of work is about more than just implicit course content. “With the explicit and written curriculum, in grade four for example I want students to understand that we are going to find evidence from patterns of rocks and fossils,” Peter explains. “That’s the explicit curriculum I am teaching them.“But implicitly I also want them to know how to navigate technology; I want them to be able to be good communicators; collaborate with each other and understand the social and emotional learning that is really important. These are the kind of skills that are going to be transferable through all their subject areas and throughout their lives.“We are not preparing them for a specific career, but getting them interested in what may be, and getting them open minded and having these foundational skills so that they can be successful no matter what.” This outlook underpins some of the reflection educators at the American School of Milan have been doing since 2020 when the pandemic hit. “We certainly came out of the pandemic thinking a different way,” says Jane Segre. “It turbocharged our thinking about education and it fast-forwarded us quite dramatically.“We spent a lot of the school year 2020-21 thinking about lifelong learning skills. With our department coordinators, we identified five different areas we wanted to integrate into subject learning. These are being a ‘self-knower’ – understanding yourself, your strengths, weaknesses and knowing how to set goals that are realistic and focusing on a growth mindset. We also focused on self-management; the ability to organise yourself, your materials and your learning time. We also looked at communication and collaboration and then we looked at thinking. We are building that growth mindset for future learning and reflexivity into our school programmes.“We have done so much work with our teachers, particularly our upper schoolteachers, in helping them help students learn these lifelong skills alongside quadratic equations or anatomy or learning about Hamlet or whatever it is,” continues Jane Segre.“It was really interesting a couple of weeks ago when we spoke to our year one IB candidates, who are about 17 years old. We asked them about how school had changed for them this year. They talked about some wonderful things. About how their teachers had made them more reflective than they used to and making sure that once students’ tests are returned, students are encouraged to reflect on what went well and what didn’t go so well and set goals for future learning.”

Igniting passions

The American School of Milan is also supporting students develop the skills they need to take ownership of problems, communicate and collaborate to resolve them in an ever more complicated, connected and fast-paced world.“I do believe that in the past there was a time when a person could have read every book and be a polymath like Leonardo Da Vinci who was an expert, as in one of the world’s experts, in multiple disciplines,” says Chris Briner. “As knowledge has grown exponentially, the ability of a single human to understand it all has diminished.“It’s the collaboration between people with expertise and passion that allows human beings to do more than one individual could do. We have to give students concepts and the inner workings so they can build on them. But we also have to push the envelope for their level of specialisation. They need those critical thinking and collaboration skills to fit the pieces together and identify the problems that need solving.”“We call our subject matter 'units of enquiry' because we are trying to get our students to really wonder and delve deeper into provocations that they are thinking about,” adds Peter Damroth. “With those problems, sometimes the solutions are just understanding sometimes we don’t fully understand it yet. And that eventually we are going to continue making meaning of this by growing and learning. “Change is beautiful sometimes,” continues Peter. “Understanding that as they continue to grow and become adults, they’ll understand that they need to continue learning and growing no matter their age or circumstances.” 

Education fit for the future

“I was thinking just how impacted students all over the world have been impacted by this pandemic,” concludes Cynthia Davis Hall. “All ages, all classrooms, whether it’s early childhood or through university.“What are the benefits of this terrible thing that happened? Will these unique new skillsets of agility and flexibility translate later in the workplace? That type of impact I think definitely will be a positive thing in the workforce of the future.“I also think this generation through the pandemic has been very impacted to understand that this world is very small. We can all communicate together. This generation of students know this already; to be on a screen learning with people that are maybe 3,000 miles away.“These are some of the skillsets students today have learned and will become second nature to them, just as I think communication is essential between all of us for developing partnership and developing better learning platforms,” concludes Cynthia Davis.For now, a more broad-minded approach to university entrance requirements could help better prime the talent pipeline and meet employers’ skills needs, as well as support schools like the American School of Milan’s work in building a future-fit workforce.“Our primary responsibility is for students to get those grades so they make it through the next gateway in their education so that then they can reach the world of work,” says Jane Segre. “Until universities change you need 38 points to go and do this course at university, our hands are somewhat tied.”
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