Skills For Your Child’s Future

Tosca Killoran (EdD)
8 min readDec 7, 2020


We are in unprecedented times. Students and teachers are facing a reality that has the potential to change the very fabric of teaching and learning- but change is hard and education has a tendency to change at glacial pace.

Traditional education offers a plethora of examples of experiences that create rote memorization, disconnected habits of mind, and drudgery. In the age of COVID-19 it is easy to simply turn the remote learning interface into that same traditional experience for learners. After all, in times of great stress it is easy to go back to familiar habits of mind. So, how do we break the habit? We design experiences that provide students the opportunities to discover, practice, and develop future-proof skills.

“The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.” John Dewey 1938

Jobs of Tomorrow

It was not so long ago that my elders would peer into my face and ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The question was meant to be punctuated with one answer; a doctor, a teacher, a nurse, a lawyer, a farmer. We were expected to fit into a work for life model. One that looked a lot like this,

The Traditional Work World

We expected teachers to be the holders of knowledge and for teachers to provide the basic reading, writing, math and science content we would need to fill our niche jobs. Then, we were expected to stick to that job until we retired.

However, in the past 20 years we have seen the advent of disruptive technologies that have changed, not only the job market, but also the ways in which we work. Long gone are the days of specific and narrow skill. Now we have messy, chaotic over lapping roles, positions and projects.

The World has Changed

Mess and chaos can be stressful. In the face of unprecedented health and economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Deloitte research uncovered high stress amongst Gen Zs (ages 8–25). This stress will impact student success if we do not design for the development of skills that lead to greater resilience and grit.

The Deloitte survey also revealed that despite the individual challenges and personal sources of anxiety that Gen Zs are facing, they have remained focused on larger societal issues, both before and after the onset of the pandemic. So what skills should students be acquiring to make sure they have value post-pandemic?

Robert Fulghum in his 1990 book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, speaks of sharing and negotiating being the most important skills of all. Twenty years later it is much more than a cute idea, we now know that the modern workplace, where people flow between different roles and projects, closely resembles a kindergarten classroom. Many employers now focus on skill development such as communication, self management, empathy and cooperation.

“Without urgent and targeted action today, to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with future-proof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base,” Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

As the global pandemic reshapes the future of jobs, how can we help prepare our youth for the unknown? In order to prepare young people for the jobs of the future we must deploy no-tech as well as hi-tech educational methods. We must reduce our focus on high-stakes exams and replace them with fairer forms of assessment. Young people must be empowered with adaptable skills and opportunities to develop ideas.

Enter the Approaches to Learning (ATLs)

Within the International Baccalaureate there are sets of skills that have been developed to future proof learners. The Approaches to learning (ATL) are skills designed to enable students to “learn how to learn.” They are intended to apply across curriculum requirements and provide a common language for teachers and students to use when reflecting on the process of learning. Implementation of the ATLs include the implicit and explicit embedding into day-to-day learning experiences so that students have opportunities to practice and incrementally develop a range of adaptable skills.

The main factors that allow for progression in the implementation of ATLs depends on whether they are explicitly integrated throughout the programme or not. Teachers who;

-embed ATLs into their unit planners,

-explicitly reflect upon them with students throughout lesson activities

-provide intentional opportunities for practice and development,

foster learners who are able to have more time on task, more innovative ideas, deeper compassion for others, better communication in groups, and more successful collaboration with peers.

Teaching ATL skills can also significantly benefit students with different learning styles and needs. Sometimes students suffer from inadequate preparation of a specific task or cannot organize their thoughts clearly. This is where ATL skills scaffold student driven management of their own learning. ATL skills can be used as a toolkit to help students learn in different ways based on their individual needs.


Despite the benefits of the ATLs in future proofing students, parents often ask one singular question:

Over the last 20 years of teaching I have facilitated countless student reflections and gathered data on those reflections to understand better how students feel about grade driven instruction. The word cloud below showcases actual student language used regarding grade driven assessment. It is clear from the words that the experience is decidedly negative or anxiety producing for many learners.

By contrast reflections gathered from students regarding ATL skill driven instruction and assessment were fed into a Wordle and produced a much more positive, self affirming word cloud. If we want to produce environments with reduced stress, focus on future-ready skills and develop resident value driven learners it is clear we must move beyond grade driven learning.

Does this mean we don’t teach content or give grades at all? No. The International Baccalaureate has clear proficiency scales and criterion we adhere to for reporting purposes. We design learning experiences from scope and sequences that are underpinned with deep learning of concepts and content. The difference is that before students ever see a grade we start with authentic timely feedback, self refection and goal setting. We scaffold that reflection and goal setting through the development of the ATLs. We work to develop students that are driven by a love of learning, a passion for inquiry, and a curiosity about the world around them- rather than simply by grade they acquire.

The ATLs and Higher Education

The benefits of an IB education are especially strong when it comes to higher education. Top universities from around the world have shown how they value the IB’s credentials by building special pathways for IB students; by granting credit or advanced standing for performance on IB exams; or by providing scholarships for IB students. Many university’s are changing the weight placed on components of applicants. The focus shifting to abilities beyond grades being highlighted and setting candidates apart.

Across different studies, researchers have found that:

  • Diploma Programme (DP) curriculum and assessment compares favourably to a variety of other respected qualifications
  • DP students tend to complete their undergraduate degrees at higher rates than their peers, and often in less time.
  • IB students can tend to make more contributions to campus life by participating in activities such as community service, tutoring, assisting faculty in research, study abroad, internships, and joining clubs and other student groups.
  • the IB goes to great lengths to ensure the validity and reliability of our assessments. IB assessments have been demonstrated as strong predictors of university performance.

Across the research, DP students have been cited as demonstrating the following skills:

  • Interest and experience in research
  • Time management and organizational skills
  • Critical thinking, inquiry and problem solving
  • Strong language and writing skills
  • International-mindedness and a sense of responsibility for the community.

It is clear that through the integration of ATL Skills development throughout the Primary, Middle and Diploma Programmes learners become the resilient, flexible future-ready candidates job markets desire. After all, our students are complex and entering an equally complex world in an unprecedented time.



Tosca Killoran (EdD)

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