Symposium Explores the Future of Work and Education

Take a minute to imagine the world the Class of 2032 will encounter when today’s junior kindergartners graduate 13 years from now. What skills will they need to be successful? And what could they do without?
About 175 parents, alumni, faculty and staff packed into the Science Center Atrium on September 17 to ponder these questions and more during a special symposium. The evening featured a group of futurists, educators and entrepreneurs who explored the possible paths the School could take to best prepare its students for the future.

“Our job as a school is to always be thinking about how we are preparing our students for the world they’re going to inherit and the world that they’re going to lead,” explained Head of School Tom Flemma as he welcomed everyone to the event.

“That’s why, in our strategic planning and master planning process, we are spending as much time as we are trying to think ahead. What are those skills our students are going to need in a world that we can’t really predict? What are the things that are eternal—that North Shore has always focused on—and what will be foundational skills in the future? As the world becomes more technologically and digitally based, the human skills we have been fostering for 100 years—communication, problem solving, collaboration and empathy—are going to become more and more prized possessions as we go forward.”

North Shore hired the 180 Studio team, led by architect and futurist Trung Le, to enlist the entire community in helping to envision a new, multi-dimensional learning and living environment. Le is the architect of the renovated Upper School building, which was completed in 2011. The goal is nothing less than strengthening the School’s overall learning environment—not just spatially, but also culturally and pedagogically.

As symposium audience members entered the room, they were given a card and asked to write down the answers to two questions: “When contemplating the future of work in this ‘age of acceleration,’ what should North Shore consider hanging
on to and what should it let go of?” From there, they were led on a scouting expedition—the beginning of an ongoing process in the community to figure out how best to pack for the future.

“Tonight is not about certainty,” explained Sam Chaltain, a partner with 180 Studio. “Tonight is about curiosity. Better yet, tonight is about insatiability. And, if it really works—epiphany.”

The featured speakers were an eclectic group of provocateurs—an entrepreneur, an engineer, an organizer, a technology guru and a researcher/artist. “They come from radically different fields,” Sam said. “And we’ve asked them to give us a little sense of how they’re seeing the world in this moment of disorientation and how that can begin to put us in a position to better ascertain the ways in which the future path of North Shore can provide orientation to the Class of 2032.”

Each speaker had 15 to 20 minutes to elaborate on a different topic, reminiscent of a TED talk. Melissa Kauffman, executive director of the Garage at Northwestern University, talked about entrepreneurship and startups. Jon Carson, managing partner at Trajectory Energy Partners, talked about clean energy. George Aye, co-founder and director of innovation at Greater Good Studio, talked about power and privilege. Sanza Kazadi, chief technology officer at Energetically, talked about artificial intelligence. And finally, Sarah Newman, creative researcher at the meta- LAB at Harvard University and a fellow with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, talked about the intersection of research and art.

There were a few common threads throughout all the presentations. First, the world is changing very quickly and the pace at which technology is accelerating keeps getting faster and faster. Because of this, teaching students how to think is absolutely critical. Many of the jobs that current graduates aspire to—doctors, lawyers, computer programmers—may not exist a few decades from now.

To be successful in this uncertain future, students need to know how to learn, how to think critically and how to make educated guesses. In between speakers and at the end of the program, audience members were asked to respond to several other questions based on what they had heard: “What excites you? What scares you? What about your own beliefs and values have been challenged? What have you heard that resonated with you?” They answered some of the questions on notecards but also spent time in small group discussion and sharing out to the whole group.

“It was an inspiring evening,” Tom said. “It felt great to see how well North Shore Country Day is already positioned to prepare kids for what’s coming and energizing to hear how eager everyone is for the conversations ahead.”
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North Shore Country Day School is a junior kindergarten through 12th grade, college-preparatory school founded in Winnetka, Illinois in 1919.  With rigorous academic pursuit as the cornerstone, North Shore provides many opportunities for all students to excel – in the classroom and the laboratory, on the stage and the playing field, in their communities and beyond.