The Threshold Challenge for Teachers in 2016


My favourite definition of education is this:

“Education is a conversation between one generation and the next, about what is important” ~ Sir John Jones.

The quote does, however, invite the question – “What is important?”

At a secondary school recently, I asked that very question of staff, who discussed it in small groups, and together we make a list of what they thought was important. Here’s what was listed (in no particular order):

  • Learning how to learn
  • Creativity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Resilience / Willingness to risk failing
  • Teamwork
  • Communication and presentation skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Independence
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Tolerance and understanding of others
  • A growth mindset
  • Research skills
  • Digital citizenship
  • Self-awareness / Self-assessment.

What interested me is that nobody mentioned “memorising important historic dates” or “knowing the first 20 elements of the periodic table”.  Nobody even mentioned “learning times tables”. That’s not to say that those things are no longer useful, but that nobody mentioned them, shows me that teachers know, tacitly, that some things, while still useful, are now less valuable, and other things which have always been valuable are now even more so.

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The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which, in our heart of hearts, we know have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.  Do you see what I mean? If we spend all our class time teaching creativity, communication skills and resourcefulness – we are doing them a disservice if they face an exam testing their knowledge recall in a room where communication is banned and resourcefulness is called ‘cheating’.

The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.

We have to do both, not either/or. That is one reason (of many) that the flipped learning model makes so much sense. It allows us to make sure we are covering the knowledge they will need for the exam, while freeing up significant class time for “…what is important”.  Flipped learning is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end – which end is the freedom to teach the things that matter most, in engaging ways, whether or not they are assessed on an exam.  (Until the yoke of exams is lifted off our shoulders).


If you are interested in flipping your class, or if you have already done so, but are looking for easier, cooler and more effective tools, workflows and strategies, I’ll be running a workshop in Melbourne on 19th February.  You can find the information about that workshop here.

Or if you would like me to present to your staff on this, or any other topic related to the use of ICT in education, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


5 thoughts on “The Threshold Challenge for Teachers in 2016

  1. Great post, Andrew! Interestingly, those are the exact skills recent graduates are lacking when they enter the workforce, at least according to the latest polls among employers. Learning subject knowledge still takes up the vast majority of cases time, using techniques that do not activate long-term memory (as evidenced by everyone who doesn’t remember anything they learnt in high school – as in most of us!).

    These skills are also quite difficult to teach.
    What can we as educators do? I think flipped learning is a great answer, but I fear that we’re asking too much of our students. I still don’t know why was forced to learn all the advanced maths that has contributed nothing to my career and caused me significant distress during high school.

    Perhaps the answer is to cut required curricula to the bare essentials (I know, I know…we all have a different idea of what that means) but then include those life skills in the required curriculum because I don’t think anyone can mount an argument that subject knowledge is more important than those skills. For the rest of the time, students can choose earlier on the subjects they’re actually interested in.

    To me, such a model would make the most sense.


  2. Hi Guido. I think you are right that there is a lot of stuff in the curriculum that could be cut. At some time in history, someone said “let’s cut Latin”. I’m sure that suggestion sounded as preposterous at the time. Now, few would second-guess it.

    So yes – I agree with you about that in principle. But from a practical standpoint, it’s a bit like saying let’s do away with standardised, high-stakes testing (eg. VCE, HSC, etc). A teacher doesn’t have that as an available option. Curriculum is handed down to teachers from the powers that be, just as VCE exams are. A biology teacher can’t simply choose to cut photosynthesis from the curriculum.

    In contrast a teacher can indeed choose to flip his/her class.

    Also in my experience, it puts less pressure on students, not more. saving them time – depending of course on how it’s done.

    • Thanks Andrew. It’s funny that you should mention Latin. Growing up in multi-lingual Switzerland, I took Latin until moving to Australia at the age of 17. It’s been invaluable for learning (and later teaching and doing post-grad studies in) languages but I hated it as a student 🙂

      I may be a radical but I’m all for doing away with high-stakes testing in favour of continuous low-stakes assessment and curricular choice with a focus on developing core skills instead. But of course this isn’t something that teachers can do themselves as you say. We need holistic systemic change that reflects the needs of students when they enter the workforce.

      Sounds like FL is probably the best interim solution until we get there 🙂

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