Teaching: Four Possible Futures (and where they came from)

Doing futures work can include creating fictional scenarios. These scenarios – stories designed to be read, experienced, or enacted – paint pictures of possible futures.  They are not predictions, though they are informed by present-day trends and emerging signals of change.

Below are four mini-scenarios (composed as little ‘snapshot’ narratives for a teacher’s perspective) that describe possible futures of teaching in Ontario in the year 2030, written for a presentation I gave at York University’s Faculty of Ed in November, 2014. Below each scenario is a link to recently published articles and other information sources that played a part in inspiring each one. The purpose here is to not only share an example of future scenarios in general, but also to give clues as to how I arrived at each story. In reality, the process of scanning for signals of change will involve more than sourcing out a small handful of articles, but my intention here is merely to give a beginning sense of how these designs of the future are informed by present-day happenings and ideas.


Sitting comfortably on your sofa, you use your personal device to connect to your district learning network, and announce that you’re present for the live exchange. Your students – a mixed-age grouping of young people, connecting with one another via you to explore three different subject areas – log in from across the city, and greet you with a friendly, “Good morning, Hub”. Even though you’re technically their teacher, you like the way the job has morphed into a more centralized facilitation role, affectionately called ‘hub’. This morning’s session isn’t your weekly video presencing time, rather it’s a written-and-spoken, dialogue-driven investigation into the problem you posed at the last face-to-face (or eye-to-eye, as some have begun calling it). You’re practicing a new approach: you won’t ask your students any questions to which you already know the answer. At your last bi-weekly meeting with your peer hub team, they called you out for your tendency to ask ‘leading questions’ – and though it stung a little to be criticized, you appreciated their feedback and are making changes to your practice (though you’re admittedly a little nervous about it). The collective wisdom of your professional hub team supports you in transforming your work, and you genuinely enjoy reflecting on your peers’ approaches and offering perspective in return. As you sip your morning beverage, you smile as your students kick off the session by sharing their Wondering Questions, the first of which is, “How might we support introverts in sharing more in this session?” which is quickly followed by, “How might we value listening more?” You’re already impressed.

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It’s been five years since the district introduced SEA, the Social Emotional Academy. While the name has never sat quite right with you – it has always struck you as sounding distinctly like an 80s synth band – the SEA program is closest to what you always intuitively felt ‘school’ should be. You remember when the elementary report card was ‘flipped’ – the ‘Learning Skills’ appearing at the front, rather than on the last page. Though it was a small gesture at the time, you recall feeling a sense of hope at seeing it. In hindsight, this seemingly small action to highlight the value of citizenship and students’ contribution to the collective whole paved the way for what has amounted to a massive pedagogical shift. You credit this shift with helping create the academy where you get to work. You truly value being in a shared space with your students, especially since the hyper-digitization of pretty much everything (your new running shoes are gathering data about your foot physiometry as you contemplate this) means there are fewer opportunities for socializing that are not mediated by technology. Mostly, though, you feel good about the way that seeing students as holistic, integrated, complex creatures has extended to how the institution is viewed. SEA is like a living entity itself, constantly evolving with the needs and wishes of those who work inside it. Your background in social work has prepared you well for coaching your young charges, and is also beneficial when working with the staff on the complex task of steering the direction of the academy. You have SEA’s motto etched in the back of your mind, almost like a mantra: “Building Character in Community.”

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Having spent the last three weeks anticipating the LearningMatters symposium, you can’t quite believe today is the big day. Teachers from across the district will be descending upon the conference centre (in person and via telepresence), and you will play a part in one of the biggest revelations in teaching since cloud-enabled learning came on the scene almost twenty years ago. Somehow, the Board has succeeded in keeping the news under wraps. As an official Teacher Of Distinction, you’re proud of your track record of consistently producing high-scoring students – not to mention the significant pay increase it affords you – and are feeling honoured that they have asked you to share the news. You always knew that there was merit in standardized testing, you simply felt that perhaps the testing companies hadn’t quite found the right way to tweak the toolset. You rehearse your opening lines: “As a teacher, I have never felt happier than today. I am making an announcement in tandem with other conferences happening around the province, and the country. Finally, our Board – along with numerous others – has formed a partnership with one of the most cutting-edge education corporations in the world, a partnership that will result in the production of data that will secure our status among the most educated nations on Earth. Today, as a Teacher of Distinction, I get to tell you that we finally get to teach to the test. Fellow teachers, listen carefully: starting tomorrow, we are all Teachers of Distinction in the Google District School Boards.”

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You hope your coat doesn’t malfunction today. With temperatures expected to reach a high of -30C, your kinetic jacket should produce sufficient heat with your movements to keep you toasty throughout the game. Your learning team – a host of kids from within a 2km radius – are working against their favourite rival team, in a new simulation that couldn’t be better suited to the frigid weather. Inspired by the recent climactic events in Norway, you devised the game in one sleepless night. Your team was immediately drawn into the concept, and rushed to challenge their opponents. They’ll all be arriving at the edge of the snowy park in about ten minutes, with the stipulated supplies. It’s inspiring to you that they’re so keen to engage in this learning. Admittedly, you can’t shake the deep sadness brought on by the accelerated degree of environmental degradation that has taken place over the last seven or eight years, no matter how much it inspires you in creating stimulating learning activities. You secretly look forward to downloading their post-game reflections, though, as you’re always buoyed and inspired by their poignant insights. You do feel that you are facilitating a real kind of learning, one vastly different from the ‘textbooks and desks’ of your own youth. It’s true, your kids are figuring out how to problem-solve, but a small part of you wonders if that’s enough. Will their skills in teamwork, negotiation, and persuasion combined with their hands-on talents fully prepare them for the legacy they’re inheriting? You certainly hope so.

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