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Now Is the Time: Using AI to Catalyze Radical Change



In 2013, I sat in a room of Jewish Day School leaders, listening to Tony Wagner speak about the state of education. He spoke about what our kids needed to be learning in school in order to be successful, and how it was our opportunity and responsibility to provide that for them. Wagner’s books (Most Likely to Succeed, Creating Innovators, and the Global Achievement Gap, to name a few) focus on the skills needed for today’s world such as critical thinking, agility, and curiosity (which he calls the “Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century”) and how play, passion, and purpose can optimize learning. When I first stumbled upon Wagner’s writings and listened to him speak, I was immediately drawn in with a sense of urgency. We need to do something now, before our kids get any further behind!


In 2019, I sat in a room of Jewish Day School leaders, listening to George Couros speak about the state of education. He spoke about what our kids needed to be learning in school in order to be successful, and how it was our opportunity and responsibility to provide that for them. Couros’s message was very similar to Wagner’s (with a little more humor and a little less Harvard). His writings (such as his book Innovator’s Mindset) focus on the power of cultivating curiosity and creativity and embracing new ways of doing things. I sat in the room and looked around at the 1000+ leaders in attendance (many of whom were in the room with me in 2013) and wondered if maybe now was when we’d do something, before our kids got any further behind?


In 2023, I sat in a room of Jewish Day School leaders, listening to three presenters from Stanford’s d.school K-12 Lab speak about the state of education. They spoke about what our kids need to be learning in school in order to be successful, and how it is our opportunity and responsibility to provide that for them. They talked about how the world is changing, and education just isn’t keeping up. Over the course of their presentation, they emphasized the need for developing mindsets in our youth and fostering dispositions like curiosity and flexibility. They shared that the future needs us to be shapers and stewards of data, technologies, products, experiences, systems, and implications – and it’s our role to ensure our students can do that. Again, I looked around the room at the thoughtful and passionate leaders and sent out a silent scream – “Please! Can now be the time? Our students are depending on us!”


Enter ChatGPT.


While I was inspired by Wagner and Couros and the d.school, I am not sure that any of them (or all of them) have the power to catalyze radical change in education.


But maybe the idea that computers are going to replace us all and make everything we’re teaching obsolete will.


Okay, yes, that’s a little dramatic. I don’t actually think that the computers are going to replace us all…and I do believe that much of what we’re teaching (and how we’re teaching it) is obsolete.


So, NOW is the time. We can’t wait another ten or five or even two years to rethink education.


The major question, then, is how?


We’ve been doing our very best to optimize an outdated system – a school system that was developed for an entirely different purpose, preparing entirely different students for an entirely different world. We’ve adjusted to the changing landscape by adding makerspaces to our building, creating robotics electives, and adding a week of intensive PBL here and there. We’ve spent the first quarter of the century trying to better understand “21st century skills” and how to teach them, as if there are items on a checklist – and now we’re behind because mindsets are even more important, and we still haven’t figured out how to teach curiosity and creativity when we’re still so allegiant to teaching the curriculum. We are so committed to the way things have been that we are scared to ask, “What might be?”


The time has come for us to rethink everything. EVERYTHING.


According to a UBS study, ChatGPT set records for the fastest growing consumer application in history. Bill Gates has gone on record, saying the technology can “change the world.” Sundar Pichai (of Alphabet/Google) has called AI, “the most profound technology.” And Elon Musk has shared that AI is, “one of the biggest risks to the future of civilization.”


ChatGPT (and AI in general) is here to stay. It will change the world. It will make an impact. It does a risk to everything we know.


As educational leaders, we do have amazing opportunity and responsibility here. But only if we accept it and face our future directly.


We shouldn’t be teaching five-paragraph essays. We should be teaching effective prompt creation.

We shouldn’t be guiding students to take notes from a text book. We should be guiding students to thoroughly and effectively vet sources for credibility and bias.

We shouldn’t be confined to a traditional schedule with separate subjects in classrooms. We should be utilizing authentic learning and assessment, with the world as the classroom.

We shouldn’t be focusing on content. We should be focusing on skills and mindsets and emphasizing (even more) emotional intelligence.


This is not a time for us to simply be encouraging teachers to use AI in one lesson each term or to mention the word creativity on a rubric in passing. This is a time to be asking real questions and making real change.


What is the point of education?

What do our students need to be successful 20 years from now (not 50 years ago), and how do we get them there?

How can we foster and maximize humanity in our students?


Our students are counting on us. Now is the time.


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