Reflection on FutureNOW! Conference by @LauraSugano

By: Laura Sugano, ed tech teacher on special assignment (TOSA), San Marcos Unified School District

Teachers are incredibly dedicated, hard-working individuals. We work long hours, and are willing to go the extra mile, or, on occasion, the extra 10K or marathon, to help our students. Regardless of our level of commitment, however, we all need to jump start our attitude at times. As the school year begins to wind to a close, our personal growth mindset may occasionally falter. The FutureNow! Conference, held at the Design39Campus in San Diego, turned out to be the perfect place to become refreshed, re-inspired, and recommitted to the future of our young people.

Since there were more than 30 breakout sessions in addition to the inspiring keynote by Jaime Casap, Google’s Global Education Evangelist, no two attendees had the same experience. Nonetheless, some strong common threads bound all the sessions together. Specifically, all of us came away with the realization that the best way to help our students succeed is to understand the fundamental changes happening in the world of work. It’s utterly unrealistic to prepare our students for today’s careers, jobs that may literally not exist when these students join the workforce. To roll with the changes, we need to shift our focus. As Jaime Casap stated, no longer should we ask students what they “want to be” when they grow up. Instead, we should ponder what problems they want to solve, and what skills they need to solve those problems. And who says they have to be “grown up” to start solving them?

The best session of the day for me was one that clearly demonstrated the results of this type of shift in education. Four amazing young ladies, students at High Tech High, led a session about building empathy for Syrian refugees in the classroom. These students identified a problem, the painful plight of refugees forced to leave their homes, and decided to use their skills to try to solve it. They researched, volunteered, and produced incredibly impactful artifacts like this image created by one of the students, Baylee. After viewing their collection of images, videos, poetry, and articles, I came to two conclusions. Through their work, I developed a strong empathy for Syrian refugees and their horrific situation. Further, I realized, these four students were not experiencing traditional education. Their classrooms were innovative and motivating. It was breathtaking to see what adults of the future could accomplish if students are allowed to embrace their strengths, interests, and values, rather than feeling trapped and bored in a classroom model designed decades ago. Thank you very much, FutureNow!, for an absolutely inspiring experience.