Future focused education

Principal's news Wednesday, 06 Apr 2022

At the recent Board and Parent evening there were questions raised about future focused education, what it means and how it relates to Shelford.

There are a number of exciting ways that learning in schools has changed in recent years and continues to develop. We look forward to continuing to engage with our teachers, students and parents in the future, to ensure that the teaching and learning programs at Shelford, balance academic rigour and challenge, with strong student engagement and innovation.

Real world learning

This is the idea of students going in to the ‘real world’ to investigate actual problems and issues and solve them or applying theoretical knowledge to real world examples. This creates a relevance and engagement for students, but also provides them with ‘real life’ skills and knowledge that they can use in future work and to bring about change.

There are abundant examples of this in our teaching and learning programs, including project-based learning, design-based challenges, work-based learning and entrepreneurial experiences. Tasks such as creating an advertisement for a real-life product, real world writing in English, coding to create a game, and using real world case studies to debate and discuss solutions in Humanities, are all such examples.

Hands on practical and experiential experiences, such as cooking, hiking, outdoor education, tree planting, beach cleaning and work experience, provide students with responsibilities, tasks and work-related life skills. Our HPA festival in the Senior School is a perfect example of a real-world task – working as a group, the Year 11 students stage a performance from script writing, casting, choreography, music, rehearsal and organisation of all aspects of the backstage process and performance; a challenging, practical event that also builds on skills and dispositions needed for the real world.

Other examples we are developing are students taking on internships within areas of the school, where they learn practical work skills and complete real-world tasks. We are also developing partnerships with organisations, so that students can obtain micro credentials in a range of areas.

Team tools and staffing

After a hundred years of teaching as an individual practice, personalised and competency-based learning has been creating the need to work in teams. In the modern era, teachers are no longer siloed in a classroom by themselves, left to find their own resources, devise their own lessons and write their own assessments. Rather, educators share their resources with other educators and are able to work as a team to design the learning for their students. The adoption of common planning, lesson resources, tools and assessments, may mean less autonomy for individual teachers, but also provides stronger support for individual teachers, who should not be creating every lesson plan from scratch and who can now benefit from a huge range of expertise and input. It also allows for consistent learning experiences for students.

Our teachers have planning sessions with colleagues, document their curriculum together and use their on-line class pages to ensure students have access to relevant resources and teaching notes. Our new Continuous Reporting Model has also enabled collaboration in relation to assessment requirements. 

The pandemic has nurtured our ability to work on-line and connect with educators locally, nationally and globally. Teachers are now able to widen their networks beyond Shelford and technology has made sharing ideas with colleagues from far afield, a possibility. 

We are developing opportunities at Shelford for our staff to work with the learning team within their own faculty but also across faculties, to deepen understanding, provide mentoring and professional learning and to develop our staff’s leadership and coaching capacities. We are fostering a community of learners at Shelford by introducing cross faculty professional learning, learning walks, classroom observations, feedback, shared professional goals, discussions and collaborative practices, to support staff development, growth and learning. 

Micro credentials

There is a global shift to demonstrated competence through acquisition of shorter form skills. Micro credentials continue to grow as frameworks for teacher professional learning. These short units of study allow teachers choice in what to learn and how to demonstrate their new capabilities. The shift to competency accelerated in the corporate sector over the last two years with skills-based hiring. Seeing declining information value in degrees, many companies began identifying job-specific success skills and updated their hiring process to attract and retain people possessing them. Over the last few years, big tech launched or updated free job skill pathways, often incorporating digital credentials. 

Skills credentialing will expand in secondary schools in the next few years as part of career-focused pathways and incorporating individual learning goals. Shelford is developing the capacity to provide its students with the opportunity to grow skills through short, intensive, varied certificate courses, such as first aid, barista and food handling and short focused content such as digital technology, or visual art, such as the use of a type of design product, or project-based skills like public speaking and presentation skills. Shelford is forging partnerships with Swinburne and Holmesglen and other tertiary institutions, in order to provide a range of experiences for our students, staff, parents and alumni alike, in the future.

Innovative classrooms

The types of learning and teaching referred to as innovative can vary but generally the literature points to inquiry based and collaborative tasks; open plan spaces that allow students to work in break out groups together on differentiated and interest-based tasks and in which the teacher is not always at the front and centre; and an increasingly individualised learning program for each student, taking in to account their strengths, areas for development and challenge. 

There is an increasing focus in education on tailoring learning to student interest in order to engage them successfully. There is certainly scope for this within our academic and rigorous programs at Shelford and increasingly, teachers are able to design learning which includes tasks focused on student interest and choice and inquiry and group tasks, that enable students to work together and to present their learning in a variety of ways.

With the use of data and testing, it is possible to pitch content and skill acquisition tasks to students at their level and to develop each student individually – growth for every student, every day. Technology can support learning and it is possible to have a number of students working on a variety of tasks within one classroom, focusing on the task that best suits their capacities.

Whilst whole class explicit teaching by an expert teacher is still central to high impact teaching, as is the use of worked examples and other more traditional modes of teaching, there is increasingly a variety of tasks and learning experiences that students will experience in order to enhance their learning. 

There is generally a view that we need to move away from PowerPoint based, lecture discussion and note taking, where a student is a passive receptor of teacher centred knowledge and move to students learning content in a variety of different ways (which enhances their learning) and using class time for application and analysis; with critical and creative thinking tasks that enable students to do higher order tasks such as analysis and problem solving.

Navigating mental wellbeing/life skills 

Younger people are shifting away from long work hours and are valuing leisure time (although I do think that this is a view or circumstance of a global minority of privileged workers and not the reality of many of the world’s working poor). Schools have always cared for their students; knowing them and building rapport, is an important skill that teachers have. However, schools are now called upon to provide a much more focused, responsive wellbeing program for students to support them in managing their own wellbeing.

Can education help individuals, young and old, to develop the competencies needed to engage meaningfully across all aspects of life? Schools support students in managing fitness, sleep and mental health, explicitly teach social and emotional skills and also open up opportunities for extensive life experiences in travel, cultural awareness and appreciation and offer a broad and extensive array of opportunities to enrich students’ experience.

Shelford has expanded its Q Wellbeing program from Prep–Year 12 and is reviewing its camps, trips, tours and exchanges, as we emerge from the pandemic, with an emphasis on developing global citizenship and outlooks in our students.

Data analytics

Skill credentials will increasingly be communicated in mastery transcripts and digital learner records. There is also an increasing capacity to measure each student’s growth from year to year to inform programs and learning and target more explicitly the challenges and strength areas of each student.

The next trend in measurement is wellbeing (mental and emotional health) and wellness (positive habits and behaviours). The pandemic stressed the importance of wellbeing and the important role school can play in collecting data and sharing resources. From screen-time monitoring to wearables that track physical activity, we have more opportunities to put data into the hands of students to inform their own learning.

Leadership development

It was once thought that leaders were born not made but research now tells us that leadership qualities can be taught and developed. Schools are now called upon to provide programs and experiences that allow all students the opportunity to further their capacity to lead, as this is a fundamental requirement for the modern working world. 

Shelford provides opportunities in the junior and senior schools for students to develop skills such as self-reflection, goal setting, planning and managing projects, public speaking, coordinating meetings and other leadership skills and dispositions. We offer more formal leadership programs to Year 5, 10 and 11 students, in readiness for the roles they are applying for. Our SRC is a vehicle for student voice and agency and gives students an opportunity to learn by doing.

In 2023 we will be expanding our leadership roles for students, in order to provide more students with opportunities to lead and to recognise the breadth of talent among our students and the varied areas of the school in which students themselves can lead, contribute to decisions, work with each other and have a real impact. We look forward to continuing to foster in every student, a vision of themselves as a leader and a knowledge and understanding of their own strengths.

Future proofing for careers – developing character

Whilst academic skills remain important and content knowledge and the ability to learn new content is still a core focus of schools, there is a growing emergence of thinking that proposes that a person’s dispositions are becoming equally or more important. In the modern workplace, the ability to work with people, to collaborate, present, problem solve, deal with difficulties and persist, manage your emotions and be aware of others and act with integrity and respect, are increasingly important and valued.

Students need to have opportunities to build strength, resourcefulness, grit and adaptability. Ironically, the pandemic has indeed provided such a challenge. We as educators, while providing a safe and nurturing environment, also need to provide challenges to students. They need to learn to persevere and stick with something that is difficult; to understand that they will not always win or succeed; and they need to learn to struggle to achieve. Our positive learning culture and wellbeing programs and pastoral care focus, actively nurture kindness, optimism, hope and gratitude. These are the qualities that will set young people apart in the modern workplace.

Finding purpose/creating change makers

Young people are driven by a desire to live a life with purpose. They are motivated strongly by their values and ethics and seek to be involved in activities that align with their beliefs. It is incumbent on schools to support students in managing their identity and focus; and to help them to seek clarity and focus. 

The next trend in learning goals is incorporating agency and purpose, citizenship and contributing to community. Change-making, is what schools and programs are incorporating, claiming that they are making students better leaders and the world a better place and including passion and goal setting as competencies. 

To help a young person find their purpose, and live a sustainable, fulfilling life, is increasingly seen as part of the role of a modern education. In our assemblies, service learning and wellbeing programs and other aspects of the school, we work to ensure that Shelford students understand the world around them and their role in it; that they gain an understanding of the decisions and choices that they make that have an influence and of the power they have to make change. We see our students as change makers and seek to actively develop their views, stances and ideas, so that they can have the courage of their convictions and principles and think and act, as people of principle and integrity.

New economy skills

The ability to adapt, innovate, create and be entrepreneurial, is increasingly required by business. New business ideas in the technological space require a different mindset to the traditional professions. Quick thinking, flexibility, identifying a gap or need and meeting that need and often, technical and coding skills, entrepreneurial skills, such as gaining finance, ‘pitching’ ideas to investors, business management skills, human resource skills and an awareness of governance and risk management.

Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills, OECD, in an article entitled Don’t look up, look forward: How are global trends shaping education? posited that in education, we should ask ourselves more what competencies are needed for participating in an increasingly intangible economy. What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values do we need for generating new ideas and products? Or for organising and governing new ways of working and producing? And what is the role of new technologies in facilitating learning?

We are currently reviewing several entrepreneurial and innovation programs that we will embed in Shelford’s programs in the coming years to continue to develop our students as problem-solvers and brave and courageous, entrepreneurial individuals, with the confidence and capacity to enter the business world successfully.

Digital navigation skills

PISA (the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment) shows that South Korea is the only OECD country where more than half of the 15-year-olds are fit for the digital world, like figuring out fake news. The majority of students have limited digital navigation skills. What (digital) skills and attitudes are needed to effectively evaluate the quality and trustworthiness of information? Critical literacy will support students to manage the wealth of information available in the digital sphere. Our programs, both academic and wellbeing, promote the student as thinker, de-coder of information and critic and we are mindful of the need to develop within them a healthy intellectual scepticism around ideas posited in the new media.

Environmental education

Education is key to provide all citizens not only with an understanding of the science behind the climate crisis but also its socio-demographic, political and moral implications. Moreover, education can make a fundamental contribution by offering learners the space to take direct action in their communities while fostering pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours. This is a key focus for Shelford in our future planning; to incorporate environmental education in all areas of the curriculum.

Hybrid learning 

A take away from the remote learning periods for educators was that many students enjoyed aspects of remote learning and in fact thrived in this environment. This does not entail simply adding online educational platforms, resources and materials to face-to-face education, or replacing it with online classes. Instead, a big challenge is to craft a continuum of face-to-face and distance learning which integrates different initiatives, platforms, resources, strategies and activities, to enhance the learning experience of each student. This involves balancing opportunities for access to high-quality content, in a way that gives students, as well as teachers, the opportunity to learn.

The majority of stakeholders – students, parents and teachers – describe a blended learning model or a hybrid learning model, as an ideal situation for the future. Digital and data literacy, independent thinking, time management/personal organisation and resilience are the top education outcomes for students using a hybrid learning model. These skills and competencies align with future skills needs. 

Given that both physical and digital learning environments can lead to the development of different skillsets, hybrid learning could become the new norm for schools. It is imperative that we take with us these lessons in the future and provide a range of learning experiences for our students, including asynchronous tasks, on line material such as videos, streaming, discussion groups and online and in class assessments and tasks. This is how universities, further education, work place-based learning and even many workplaces, will continue to operate in the future and it clearly enables students to grow and learn.

Continuous learning

In future careers, students will be continually learning – new systems, processes and procedures, facts, developments, research data and ideas. Understanding yourself as a learner – meta-cognition – is vitally important. This is the focus of our staff’s professional learning this year and our teachers are discussing and reading about this and informing their lessons with their knowledge, so that all students better understand their own thinking and learning and begin to take responsibility for understanding themselves as learners, and being able to implement this in the future, as they will no doubt need to do so.


We are living through times of unparalleled change and innovation. The world continues to alter and we are seeing social, political and economic change; radical environmental impacts and the ongoing effects of a pandemic. There is a huge variety of ideas, research and reforms, that are being discussed and debated. 

At Shelford, we are working with our teachers to ensure our curriculum, teaching, tasks, feedback and reporting, are of the highest calibre. Our emphasis is on high impact teaching strategies and supporting our outstanding educators to do their best work.

Katrina Brennan

This article was originally published in our Shelly Newsletter.