What qualities will future teachers need?

As facts become more easily accessible, the role of the teacher is changing. Teachers of the future will need both more authority… and less authority, argues Andy Hargreaves

Many of us think a lot about the future, what it will be like to live in a world of robots, a world where there’s more technology, a world where many of the existing jobs have disappeared.

Some people think that technology, apps, or algorithms, will replace teachers. But they’re wrong. Others people think that teaching will continue exactly as it’s done for the last one hundred and fifty years – teaching from the front, question and answer, seat work, and tests. But they’re wrong too.

So what will technology do for the role of the teacher, when humanity is going through profound transformations? The teacher will need both less authority and more authority.

Less authority because any knowledge or fact can be looked up in an instant on Google or any other search engine. The teacher can no longer bluff. The teacher really has to know, or better still has to help the student come to know how to evaluate the information that is in front of them, to tell right from wrong, good from bad, true from fake, boring from interesting, shallow from deep.

This is the job of a well-prepared, not merely enthusiastic, teacher: to help the learner learn in relation to the principles of learning and in relation to the ethics of what it means to be human and in relationship with each other. This is why the teacher will need to have less authority – to be a facilitator, supporter, stimulus and guide; not a blowhard who just bluffs.

The teacher will also need more authority. One of the other things that makes us human is our love of stories, the way we pass on history from our elders and ancestors through narrative – through tales of what our great, great grandparents did; through stories of how we came as a people from another place to settle in a particular land and what we came to believe because of it. We need to hear the great plots of life, of drama, struggle and obstacles, love and loss, and tension and relief.

Teachers should still be able to set their classes on fire

This is why people watch TED talks – not an algorithm, but some somebody standing there for eighteen minutes utterly captivating the people they have in front of them.

And we want real people in front of us to do this, not just someone on YouTube. To do this, and to do it well as a teacher, you need the power of great stories: oral command; mystique and presence. Part of the joy of learning and teaching is not just in mastery but in mystery – in that moment of divine ignorance that the teacher holds like a little piece of magic just before an insight or an answer is revealed.

People will always want teachers who know some things extraordinarily well, almost more than anybody else. As a teacher, facilitate a lot, but also don’t be afraid to be a tour de force in your own area of expertise either. Expertise, wisdom and knowledge have become devalued too easily. Teachers can’t know everything or bluff, but when they really know what they are talking about, they should still be able to set their classes on fire.

So when we think of the teacher of the future and the skills, knowledge, and sheer professional capital that they will need, the question is: How do we deliberately develop these? Teachers learn best and improve most when they work with other teachers, when they have access to their practice, experience, students, knowledge, and insight.

This does not mean that all teacher development will be school-based. It needn’t be all face-to-face, either.

For instance, Michael O’Connor and I have been working with a network of 29 schools in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, where teachers may be the only teacher in their school, hours from some of the other teachers with whom they collaborate.

But if they can meet, even twice a year, it is enough to sustain stimulating and supportive online interactions where they can plan curriculum together, review each other’s practice, give feedback, and have their students communicate with each other.

Alone, none of us knows everything, but together we can know almost everything we need right now, and become more aware of what we still need to know in the future.

Andy Hargreaves is Thomas More Brennan Chair of the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and author of Collaborative Professionalism, part of the WISE 2017 research report series

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