Be Revolutionary: Focus on the People

There’s a revolution going on all around us. An innovation revolution. And an innovation revolution is just what we need to support our students and ourselves. If we truly want to do the best for our students we have to innovate. Teaching the way we were taught isn’t going to cut it anymore. We need to start recognizing the bigger picture: focus on the students, not the content!

In a recent article, “Interpersonal Skills and Today’s Job Market”, published in The Graduate School of Education at Harvard’s online magazine Usable Knowledge Leah Shafer writes that we need to focus more on collaboration and people skills because that is what the job market needs. She says, “Professions requiring high levels of social interaction — such as managers, teachers, nurses, therapists, consultants, and lawyers — have grown by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of all jobs in the United States economy in the last 30 years. Math-intensive but less social jobs shrunk by 3.3 percentage points over the same period. The pay for more social-intensive jobs is increasing at a faster rate as well.” Shafer’s statistics reaffirm what many teachers already know – education needs to be about more than content and knowledge accumulation, rather it should focus more on developing soft skills like collaboration, communication, critical thinking, leadership and work ethic. Shafer promotes “group projects… [as] valuable learning opportunities.”  Just as John Spencer and A.J. Juliani’s book Empower advocates student-lead, project-based learning, so too does Shafer saying “long-term project-based work, in which students work as a team, receive feedback, and revise together, are also important experiences. And when assessing students, teachers should take teamwork into account, signifying that the ability to collaborate is just as important as the content students are learning or producing.”

Shafer’s article was largely based on David Deming’s research published in his paper “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market”. Deming asserts “You want the classroom to reflect the richness of real-life interactions, and to give people experience in the kinds of settings that are going to be useful to them when they leave school”. Isn’t that what we all want? This shouldn’t even be questioned, but somehow it isn’t always the case. Sometimes people are too stuck in the past and have a hard time relinquishing control to actually allow these real-life interactions and experiences to happen in the classroom. Others may feel they are very forward thinking and in tune with twenty-first-century classroom thinking and design by focusing on the technological advances of today and the need for students to learn advanced digital skills to compete in a computerized world. Engaging students with technology, enhancing what they are already doing with technology, and extending their learning via technology is important, but should not be the focus. As Deming points out: “it’s the human qualities like flexibility, reading body language, and human interaction that are really at the forefront of necessities in student learning. David Deming states: “Human interaction in the workplace involves team production, with workers playing off of each other’s strengths and adapting flexibly to changing circumstances. Such non-routine interaction is at the heart of the human advantage over machines.”

Shafer and Deming’s revelations go right to the heart of Katie Martin’s Learner-Centered Innovation.

Technology and access to information aren’t the most important factors in creating twenty-first-century classrooms; teachers are. The power of the teacher comes not from the information she shares but from the opportunities she creates for students to learn how to learn, solve problems, and apply learning in meaningful ways.

Katie Martin, Learner-Centered Innovation

Embracing innovative classroom approaches that emphasize human interaction and allow students to lead and learn are key to twenty-first-century learning design and our children’s future. What are you waiting for? Be revolutionary.


Deming DJ. The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market. Quarterly Journal of Economics. Forthcoming.
Martin, Katie. Learner-Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion and Unleash Genius . IMPress, a division of Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2018
Shafer, Leah. “Interpersonal Skills and Today’s Job Market.” Usable Knowledge, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 17 Oct. 2017,

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