Everyday an article on LinkedIn pops up outlining qualities employees see as the most relevant in the workplace.

These include; “collaboration, exploration” and “stepping outside of a comfort zone” (Clarke PwC Global CxO & Experience Consulting Leader, Digital Principal). “ self awareness “ “knowing ones own strengths”, “independent thinking”, “risk taking” “being proactive” as well as “being open to learning” (Ryan L Fortune 500 HR professional).

Should schools listen to these people?

Even if we don’t agree with everything business leaders say it would be foolish to ignore them. Most schools operate in a way where regardless of the curriculum followed, exam results are the valued end goal. Schools do not exist in a vacuum but are connected to and influenced by a wide variety of societal and political influences so you can hardly blame schools for such focus. Stakeholders, including parents often place great importance on ‘exam results”. In the UK there are even “examination result school league tables”. I believe those of us in education need to start questioning this over-focus on examination results and start looking at what industry leaders say they need in future employees. This doesn’t mean that examination results suddenly become unimportant. It means the near obsession with them is addressed by giving equal attention and weight to the development of qualities and skills, which ultimately will serve young people in a more realistic way.

Since when did you read a fortune 500 company say “What we are looking for in our employees are people who will follow exactly what we tell them, be able to answer all of our questions correctly, don’t challenge what we say, and be able to study 3 hours a day and write tests”?

Yet this is what we ask many of our young students to do.

Which brings us back to the question, if exam results do not reflect the qualities employers are looking for how can we help develop such qualities in our students?

Start with us teachers!

In order to provide anywhere near the type of environment that does more than pay lip service to being ‘critical’ ‘open’ or ‘student friendly’ we as teachers need to be 100% committed to our own reflective practice.

Dewey was an Educational Philosopher who believed that traditional education was rigid and ill suited to modern times (many would say not much has changed!). He proposed that without the capacity to reflect on practice, to self appraise and push our boundaries we remain reactive rather than proactive.

For example something annoys us in the classroom; it is OK to be annoyed, we are only human; but we can choose how we respond.

We can react in a habitual way taking what we see at face value, or we can stop, be aware; ‘ I am annoyed right now’ and in that space of awareness we’re less likely to react habitually. This is not so easy to do. It might take some effort. But by examining our own habitual reactions we might find we can ‘hear’ our students then our annoyance disappears and is replaced with understanding. This sort of reflective practice puts into practice that skill of ‘self awareness’ which also happens to be one of the Fortune 500 employers list of ‘desired qualities’

Lessons. Learning or Teaching?

If a teacher is speaking continuously for more than 15 mins it’s probably too long. If we outline a task, set it up and hand it over to the students we can facilitate.

We could think less about teaching and more about creating the conditions for learning. Student collaboration can happen best when teachers facilitate and scaffold groups as they problem solve.

Many teachers wonder how they might weave project-based learning into a demanding curriculum.

Perhaps a way to start is to include ‘mini tasks’ within a series of lesson. For example students could be assessed in Maths on a presentation on a subject of their choice involving statistics. This could increase student motivation in participating in learning, although not all students can work independently, which is where the skill of ‘scaffolding’ with varying degrees of intensity, comes in.

There could be lots more challenges and obstacles to teaching ‘collaboration’ and ‘critical thinking’. 

Perhaps students are not used it and don’t want to do it. As practitioners it is useful for us to take a positive, proactive mindset to such obstacles. There are in fact always solutions.(that’s another article!).

If we challenge our students to develop risk taking, explore possibilities, develop growth mindsets and be open to learning from mistakes; then to have integrity we have to be able to demonstrate the same in our teaching.

Stephanie Wimmer-Davison is Academic Director at Academia International School Basel


Dewey, J. 1933. How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: D. C. Heath

Rogers, C. and Freiberg, J.H (1994) Third Edition. Freedom to Learn