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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: Looking Into Education’s Crystal Ball

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 14, 2017 21 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

How will teaching and schools look different 20 or 30 years from now? Or will they?

In Part One, Diana Laufenberg, Matt Renwick, Dr. Nancy Sulla, Barnett Berry, PJ Caposey and Ken Halla share their predictions. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Diana, Nancy, and Matt on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Sanée Bell, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, Fred Ende, William Ayers, Coleen Armstrong-Yamamura, Bidyut Bose, Erik Palmer contribute their thoughts. I’ve also included comments from readers.

Response From Sanée Bell

Sanée Bell, Ed.D. is a middle school principal and adjunct professor who resides in Houston. Dr. Bell recognizes her impact as a leader and uses her role to inspire, motivate, and empower others. Sanée shares her thoughts on leadership on her blog saneebell.com and via Twitter @SaneeBell:

The literature is full of examples about how our public education system has not significantly changed since its inception more than 100 years ago. While in many aspects this is true, there are many areas that have changed significantly. The context by which we educate children has changed tremendously in the past 15 years. More than half of public school children are living in poverty. Social issues continue to plague our society and global world, which ultimately impact the relationships that are formed at school. Lastly, teaching is no longer an isolated profession. While there are some teachers who do not want to be connected or collaborate with others, they are in the minority. As a result of the issues I listed above, I believe that in the next twenty years the following areas will be catalysts for changing our system: Student Voice, Equity, and Teacher Engagement.

Student Voice. We are at a crossroads in our public education system. Standardization, which in my opinion is a form of oppression, has taken precedence over creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and community awareness. Students have always had a voice, but often it is not heard outside of the classroom or ever lifted from the pages they have written. Students have tools that allow them to share their perspective about issues that are important to them. These tools that capture their feelings and thoughts on social issues, either visually or through written word, allow them to amplify their voice and connect with others at anytime or from any place. Our role as educators is to teach students how to have agency and how to use their voice to make social contributions that will lead to positive change. In the next twenty years, I see teachers being able to skillfully guide students through this process by understanding how to use their content as a vehicle to help students see relevance and purpose in what they’re learning.

Equity. Twenty years from now, we will be two decades shy of the century mark of the Board vs. Board of Education decision. With more than half of our students living in poverty, it is more important now than ever before for schools to understand the sense of responsibility and urgency to provide an exceptional education to all of our country’s children. A child’s zip code should not determine the quality of education they receive. In the next twenty years, we have no choice as a county to not respond to the diverse learning needs of our students. Equity in all forms, racial, economic, experiential, etc., will continue to pervade the agenda of public education resulting in swift changes to teacher preparation programs. The institutions of higher learning will have to change how teachers are prepared to teach, by not only focusing on the pedagogical content knowledge of teachers, but preparation must also focus on educating teachers about how race, class, and how equity impacts student achievement and family engagement.

Teacher Engagement. As teachers begin to understand and appreciate the power of student voice, and become more confident in their understanding about the role that equity plays in public education, teacher engagement and commitment to the profession will increase. Teachers will take on a more vocal role when it comes to the decision-making, development and implementation of education policies. As more teachers get connected through social media, teacher awareness and voice will begin to write the new narrative of public education.

The next 20 years will be an exciting time for our teachers and students. I plan to stick around to join the movement. Are you in?

Response From Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa

Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, PhD, has taught kindergarten through university and is the former Dean of Education at the Universidad de las Américas in Quito, Ecuador, and former Director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning (IDEA) in the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. She currently conducts educational research with the Latin American Faculty for Social Science in Ecuador and teaches “The Neurobiology of Learning and Sustained Change” at the Harvard University Extension School. She is the author of Making Classrooms Better: 50 Practical Applications of Mind, Brain, and Education Science and Mind, Brain, and Education Science: A Comprehensive Guide to the New Brain-Based Teaching. Watch Dr. Tokuhama-Espinosa speak about mind, brain, and education science here, and visit her at her website:

While it’s impossible to predict the future with certainty, there are at least two things that influence student learning outcomes that have yet to make it into the regular classroom and will surely play a role in the next 20 or 30 years: technology and neuroscience.


We now know more than ever about the role of technology in learning and in the next 20 years this knowledge will become part of basic teacher repertoire. Teachers will become more aware of studies showing how gaming enhances rehearsal rates and therefore recall and learning (e.g., Hahn & Bartel, 2014); how multi-media exposure aids both attention and memory (e.g., Buckingham, 2013); and the way in which technological platforms can be used to improve constructivist design and meet learners at their starting points, not just where the state standards start (e.g., Duffy & Jonassen, 2013). There is a lot of research showing how technology can help enhance the level of transdisciplinarity (e.g., Siemens, 2014), and how social networking can be leveraged in the average classroom (e.g., Baird & Fisher, 2005).

Use of basic technology, such as academic searches on the Internet using Google Scholar, flipping, and virtual reality will become commonplace in classrooms, teachers’ university formation as well as professional development. Most importantly, in the next 20 years we will see a shift in teacher understanding of how technology actually changes the way we should design learning experiences (Laurillard, D. (2013).

Better Understanding of the Brain and Learning Processes

Our understanding of the human brain and learning processes is now more advanced than ever. In the coming years, brain basics will be common knowledge among teachers. Hopefully, this will begin with a general rejection of neuromyths (“right vs. left brain learners"; “10 percent of brain use"; “learning styles"; etc.) (Dekker, Lee, Howard-Jones & Jolles, 2012). I predict this will be followed by the application of key principles at all levels of education. There are six basic principles of the brain and learning that all teachers will understand in the coming decades:

  1. all new learning passes through the filter of prior experiences;

  2. individual brains are differently prepared to learn different tasks;

  3. learning depends on memory and attention;

  4. human brains are as unique as human faces;

  5. the brain is a complex, dynamic and integrated system that is constantly changed by experience;

  6. the brain is plastic and malleable throughout the life span (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2014).

Never in the history of education have teachers been faced with so many opportunities for positive change. But, change begins with one and each teacher must embrace the challenges ahead.


Baird, D. E., & Fisher, M. (2005). Neomillennial user experience design strategies: Utilizing social networking media to support “always on” learning styles. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 34(1), 5-32.

Buckingham, D. (2013). Beyond technology: Children’s learning in the age of digital culture. John Wiley & Sons.

Dekker, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers n Psychology, 3(429).

Duffy, T. M., & Jonassen, D. H. (Eds.). (2013). Constructivism and the technology of instruction: A conversation. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hahn, J. E., & Bartel, C. (2014). Teaching gaming with technology in the classroom: so you want to be an educator?. Nursing Education Perspectives, 35(3), 197-198.

Laurillard, D. (2013). Teaching as a design science: Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Siemens, G. (2014). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10.

Response From Fred Ende

Fred Ende is the author of Professional Development that Sticks: How do I create meaningful learning experiences for educators? (ASCD). Ende is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES, one of New York’s 37 regional education service agencies. Connect with Fred on Twitter @FredEnde:

While it is tough to make these kind of long term predictions, I can hope that teaching and learning will look significantly different. I am hopeful that more learning will be put in the hands of the learner, and that we will feel comfortable using a variety of assessment tools to collect data and evaluate our work, without causing grief, stress, or anxiety. After all, accountability is a necessity for learning, but it must be done in ways that support the growth we want our learners, and leaders, to make.

One area that I hope changes would be around parity in how we want/expect students to learn, and how we want/expect adult learners to learn. While we are beginning to make change in our practice to support the needs of our young learners (through the incorporation of technology, personalization of learning, studying and thinking about engagement, etc.), we have lagged in making these same changes for our adult learners. Looking at the general design of professional learning shows a very lecture-heavy structure, with all staff members often participating in the same professional learning, with little or no alterations made for different learning styles, thinking patterns, or action-taking. My hope is that within the next few years we will see a shift that further underscores the “whole learner” approach to education, where regardless of whether we are talking about a first grade student or a twenty-year veteran teacher, we understand the necessity for these learners to, among other things, be consistently engaged and always challenged in the work that they do. Yes, this will make our work increasingly more difficult, but the dividends this shift will yield in school and district culture, as well as learning gains for all, are beyond measure.

Response From William Ayers

William Ayers, formerly Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has written extensively about social justice and democracy, and teaching as an essentially intellectual, ethical, and political enterprise. His books include Teaching with Conscience in an Imperfect World: An invitation, and To Teach: The Journey, in Comics:

Not long ago I picked up an “annual report” bearing the lofty title “Building 21st Century Schools/Creating the Global Citizens of Tomorrow.” I was interested to see how one large Chicago-based foundation was thinking about where we’re going.

The authors of the report were positively giddy about the testing and sorting regime now stampeding through the nation’s public schools, as well as the vast potential of market-based school reform to crush the Indians or the Chinese in any future economic competitions. The report was--Surprise!--brutally boring.

My thoughts wandered to our wondrous, wiggly, curious, full-tilt three-year-old grandson--what the foundation cooly calls a “global citizen of tomorrow.” This particular GCoT attends a slightly shabby preschool that sparkles with energy and positive relationships. He loves his little school: the sand and the water, the garden and the climbing gear, the blocks and the books, and mostly, of course, being with his friends, all the other pint-sized GCoT’s. He and most of his group will graduate high school after 2030.

What will the world be like for him and his wee friends at that point? What will they need to know and be able to do to live full and meaningful lives? What “measurable outcomes” will prepare them to dive into the wreckage of the 21st century with hope and energy?

I’ve got no idea, and neither does anyone else—not the self-styled think-tanks cranking out their immodest reports on the future of this or that, and certainly not that self-assured foundation.

OK, wait. I do have one idea: I’d recommend that our grandson and his pals store water.

But beyond that, the challenges, problems, and opportunities they’ll face are a blizzard of possibilities, way beyond reach. Specific job-and-skills-training projections seem feeble and silly. The changes we’ve seen in the last two decades alone have been breath-taking, and the rate of change is accelerating day by day.

It’s practically inevitable when dreaming about the future to find yourself firmly in the thrall of the present: we either imagine a future much like today, except more so, or we pick a preferred strand out of the cauldron of contradiction and contestation swirling around us, and we imagine that thin thread to be the winner.

So maybe schools will be drill-and-skill factories run by teacher-bots, or maybe school funding will be be vastly uneven—like today, but more so—one school with a new state-of-the-art campus, generous resources and fantastic materials while another school just down the street would be housed in an abandoned warehouse with broken windows and a busted furnace; in one school class size would be limited to fifteen while in the other it would be allowed to balloon up to forty or more students per teacher.

Students of the privileged would get a curriculum of question-asking and problem-posing, while the others would be monitored obsessively and disciplined with a high-tech electronic management app—any deviation from the rules or procedures and the misfits would be immediately ejected—with inputs and outputs and cognitive growth measured at the end of each day.

Getting over the delusional urge to prescribe a set of skills for ready-use in 2030 or 2050 can actually liberate us to foreground and emphasize those things that will likely serve all of us, right now as well as 30 years from now. Far more than obedience and conformity, more than any bloodless version of “the basics” or any flattened sense of “skills,” stand dispositions of mind like initiative and courage, creativity and imagination, respect for oneself and the full humanity of others, inventiveness, self-confidence and compassion, curiosity and a risk-taking spirit. These are skills we desperately need now--and always.

Uncertain about where we’re going, I’m happy to fight for schools where these qualities and dispositions will count.

Response From Coleen Armstrong-Yamamura & Bidyut Bose

Coleen Armstrong-Yamamura is the Education Program Director of the Niroga Institute and uses her years of experience as an educator to bring Dynamic Mindfulness to teachers and schools around the U.S.

Bidyut Bose, PhD, is founder and director of the Niroga Institute, fostering student and community health with mindfulness-based programs, and author of Teaching Transformative Life Skills to Students.

The signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signals a shift in education policy that will inevitably send ripples of change throughout the school ecosystem for decades to come. The inclusion of social emotional learning goals in school assessment reflects the acknowledgment at the federal level of what educators knew all along: the role of schools in developing students’ social emotional intelligence is of equal importance as increasing test scores.

The ESSA has given district and school leaders an opportunity to dedicate necessary resources to the social and emotional growth of their students. When talking about social emotional learning, it is important to first differentiate between the internal emotional environment perspective and the external emotional environment perspective, both of which are important parts of an effective SEL program. The more traditional internal emotional environment view focuses on the individual student and their age-appropriate development of the personal skills of stress resilience, self-awareness, emotion regulation and interpersonal relationships.

The external emotional environment perspective acknowledges that a child does not exist in isolation, but as an integral member in a larger community. This external perspective forces us to ask the question of how to reach the other components of the school ecosystem: teachers, administrators, families and community members. Embracing the importance of the social and emotional well-being of these other components of the school ecosystem in the student’s life promises to transform not only the classroom climate, but the home and community environment as well. The compounding effect of a child being surrounded by peers and adults—all with greater stress-resilience, self-awareness, emotion regulation and empathic relationships is of unprecedented potential and importance.

As we strive for education excellence and equity, and endeavor to close the academic achievement gap in our country and shut down the school to prison pipeline, it is essential that schools dedicate resources to building the social emotional skills of all the components of a school’s ecosystem. Dynamic mindfulness (DMind) is an evidence-based secular practice that offers students and adults an engaging and time-effective means of building these transformative social emotional skills. Regular practice of DMind has been shown to rewire the brain to respond more optimally to stress and trauma, empowering those using it, to take control of their lives and act mindfully rather than react reflexively in stressful situations.

Fundamental and permanent change requires an express acknowledgment that our students do not learn and grow in a vacuum, but in an environment full of actors that have equal potential to improve their skills for stress-resilience and trauma-healing. Although the means of objectively assessing the social emotional growth of a school’s ecosystem presents a number of challenges, that should not preclude us from using evidence-based tools like DMind to plant the seeds of revolution within our schools, students, families, and communities. It is of the utmost importance that as a society we do not miss this chance to transform our school ecosystems—and by extension, the majority of communities in the United States—into more stress-resilient and emotionally healthy environments for our nation’s children for generations to come.

Response From Erik Palmer

Erik Palmer is a professional speaker and educational consultant from Denver who ran a commodity brokerage firm before spending 21 years as a classroom teacher. Palmer is the author of Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking (ASCD, 2014), Researching in a Digital World: How do I teach my students to conduct quality online research? (ASCD, 2015), and Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology (Stenhouse, 2011). Learn more about Erik’s work at www.pvlegs.com or connect with him on Twitter @erik_palmer:

Oral communication will be by far the number one language art taught.

Actually, it is the most important and most used language art now, but we fail to recognize that. In the near future, speaking and listening will so dominant that it will be impossible to not realize their importance. How will people communicate? By writing? Nope, by Skype 4.0 or FaceTime 6.0 or ThisIsBetter 7.37. How will people text? By thumbing a small keyboard? Nope, by talking the message. How will people communicate internationally? By writing and email? A little, but mostly by speaking. Some will use digital tools such as WhatsApp 8.9 or GoToMeeting 11.14 or NotYetInvented 7.2. Some will speak their native language into a translation app and play the audio translation for foreign listeners. How will people get hired? By analyzing a novel well? Nope, by speaking well. The resume you speak into a resume-creating app will get you in the door, but your speaking will get you the job. The hiring process will involve digital speaking tools: interviews are now being done over Skype; voice-analyzing software will be a big part of hiring decisions. How will people write? By typing on a keyboard or mobile device? Nope, by speaking into voice-to-text apps. How will we research? By verbally asking a device a question and listening to the answer. You can read more of my predictions here.

Of course, all of those are happening now so it is not very bold to suggest that our future will see more verbal communication tools and an increase in their prominence. What is bold is say that we should decrease emphasis on haiku and increase emphasis on speaking. No one will ever say, “Palmer, fire off a haiku to our affiliate in Beijing,” but every day of our lives how we speak will matter. Oddly, my son had haiku units in five different grades but never had one oral communication unit. Yes, after the haiku unit, he was asked to get up and say a haiku poem, but he was never taught how to say that poem well. Lessons about word choice, yes. Lessons about syllables, yes. Lessons about where to put commas, yes. Lessons about adding life to the voice, no. Lessons about speeding up and slowing down for effect, no. Lessons about descriptive hand gestures or body gestures or facial gestures, no.

It is already true that the odds of professional and social success dramatically improve if you are well spoken. In twenty years, those who speak well will have an even bigger advantage. At some point, schools will be forced to pay attention to this reality. The favorite lessons teachers have trotted out for the last fifty or sixty years will go away, and curricula will be adjusted to specifically teach the most important language art, speaking, as much as the language arts of reading and writing.

Responses From Readers

Thanks to Sanée,Tracey, Fred, William, Coleen, Bidyut and Erik, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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