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Defining Excellence: For Today and the Future



As we’ve been discussing for the last few weeks, Einstein Academy was created to be an excellent school; so far we have looked at what that means in the area of for kids and for families and for community. This week we turn our attention to the last area: today and the future.


John Dewey, often considered the father of progressive education, once said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Though Dewey made this statement roughly 100 years ago, it is just as relevant now as it was then, perhaps even more so. Educators today are in a fascinating situation: Our education system was developed for a different world in order to prepare students for a different future (read our blog on this to learn more), yet the world is changing so quickly that it’s impossible for our current educational system to make changes quickly enough in order to design around what actually is needed. As Greek philosopher Heraclitus shared, “The only constant in life is change,” and teachers need to be prepared for that so that our students are prepared for whatever that change might be.


According to a recent poll by the Institute for the Future, 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. So how is it possible for any of our students to be ready? The answer is to focus on key skills. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has said, according to chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers, that the top 10 skills needed for future success are as follows:

  • Complex problem solving

  • Critical thinking

  • Creativity

  • People management

  • Coordinating with others

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Judgement and decision making

  • Service orientation

  • Negotiation

  • Cognitive flexibility


Einstein Academy was developed with these realities in mind. Rather than slowly shifting an educational system or program that was created for a different time, we created a program intentionally designed for this world and the world of the future. Rather than building a program around outdated curriculum, we designed a program around students and fostering the skills they will need. Rather than separating school from life, we designed a program that is based on learning for life.


At Einstein Academy, we work with students to cultivate kindness and empathy to drive impact for today and the future, believing that it is our responsibility to equip our students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to be successful, not just for today’s world, but for their world. We accomplish this through three main components:

  1. A framework of high-level standards. While our curriculum is highly differentiated and student centered, giving students an element of autonomy and authenticity, we use Colorado State standard as our basis and framework for most subjects (also using the Next Generation Science Standards and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages standards as relevant) in order to ensure our students are receiving what they need for today (such as transitioning to high school). Our method of delivery is significantly different, however, using the content outlined in the standards as a vehicle for teaching skills like the WEF outlined.

  2. An integration of future ready skills. In addition to the WEF skills mentioned above, the Colorado State standards include Colorado Essential Skills: Personal skills (self-awareness, self-direction/initiative, personal responsibility, adaptability/flexibility, perseverance/resilience), entrepreneurial skills (critical thinking/problem solving, creativity/innovation, inquiry/analysis, informed risk taking), civic/interpersonal skills (collaboration/teamwork, communication, global/cultural awareness, civic engagement, caracter), and professional skills (task/time management, career awareness, information literacy, use information and communication technologies, self-advocacy, leadership). We infuse these skills throughout our program, intentionally teaching and practicing them in different ways and giving the students real-world opportunities to apply them.

  3. Inspiration to make a difference. For us, one of the main reasons we teach anything is so that it will affect action. Our goal is that our students will take everything they learn through Einstein Academy and use it to make a positive impact on their world today, tomorrow, and into the future. By cultivating kindness and empathy, not only does it help us to create a strong, inclusive community at our school, but it also gives students the basis through which to guide their interactions with themselves, each other, and the world around them, not just while they are with us, but always.


Of all the areas we’ve discussed over the last few weeks, this is perhaps the most challenging piece to assess. How do we know our students will be successful in the future before the future arrives? If we don’t even know what kinds of jobs will be around 10 years from now, how can we possibly know what excellence looks like in preparing them for that? How can we reliably measure when there are so many unknowns?


Taking a step back, the “today” piece is much simpler. By intentionally teaching, applying, and assessing specific skills, we can understand student growth -- not only the content-specific skills outlined in the framework, but also the future ready skills such as communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. Standardized tests, multiple choice exams, and fill-in-the-blank worksheets cannot possibly tell us the information we need, so we look towards authentic performance assessments where students incorporate these skills in different (real-world) ways. We look at how they treat each other for evidence of kindness and themes in their journaling to measure empathy. We look at how they grapple with problems or how they resolve conflict or how they present their thoughts and arguments when discoursing with someone who holds a different opinion.


When looking towards the future, then, it really is just an expansion of these means of assessment. What kinds of problems are they identifying, and how are they seeking to solve them? What do they do when faced with ambiguity or adversity or challenge? What do they see as their role in making the world a better place? As we’ve discussed, there is so much about the world of tomorrow we don’t know, but we can assume these kinds of questions and skills will help ensure our students are ready.


One thing we know for certain in this ever-changing world of ambiguity is that Einstein Academy is certainly not teaching today’s students as we taught yesterday’s.