Talent IS Overrated

Nobody comes out of the womb doing organic chemistry.

Suzanne Lucas

I recently viewed this TEDxBasel Talk by HR specialist (aka The Evil HR Lady) Suzanne Lucas. And as usual, I could not help but make attempt to make connections to my approaches both in the classroom working with my students, and as part of a team that is beginning its annual deep dive into thematic planning for next September.

Lucas points out that from the perspective of human resource people and those that hire for a living the word talent holds massive limitations. It doesn’t offer much to employers. It doesn’t even guarantee that the right people will even fill the requirements of job opportunities. It guarantees nothing. And yet we seek out talent to fill positions. We encourage our children to develop a talent. Or we even discourage or judge them because the do not appear to possess ‘a talent’ of any kind.

I wondered. Do I use the word ‘talent’ when referring to what I believe successful learning looks like? Is my language bias towards students that work harder (or those that don’t)? Do I create a culture around the myth of the ‘talented’ student? Does the long held stereotype of  the ‘talented’ or ‘master’ teacher even exist? If so, what does that look like in the new realm of post-modern education?

Lucas’s emphasis on resilience and growth mindset as imperative skills to hire landed deeply. The ability to learn is elemental. It’s not a talent. Learning simply takes work. Hard work. And some learners do work harder than others. And some aren’t even sure how to even begin to dig in. Our language around what talent is and isn’t is definitely having an influence on how we approach our planning in our classrooms.

Looking to plan thematically for the fall I wondered how we might plan a variety of projects that demand that students divest in learning the material to learning how to be. Be a part of a group. Share your ideas in a respectful manner. Hold and respect shared values. Last fall, LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, shared his belief that the need for coding skills is way overblown, and that the biggest job gap is, in fact, soft skills.

Middle school educators are struggling with balancing a focus of soft skill development like communications, critical thinking, resiliency development, and empathy with the pressures to answer from parents, “Is my child doing enough to get ready for the next stage?” Perhaps what may be missing in my conversations with these parents is the subtle shift that I have recognized in my pedagogical values and practice over two decades: I am not preparing their child for the next step in their formal learning journey (i.e. secondary school), but by actually helping them to develop and bring forth lifelong skills that will serve them on a much grander scale.

As our team begins to plan for the 2019/2020 school year, I am reminded that the overarching  perspective is no longer, “What do they need to know be to ready for Grade 9?” but rather “What types of interpersonal and intrapersonal skills do our learners need to work towards to support themselves for a healthy, long, and prosperous life?” Planning with purpose through the lens of the latter definitely lies within the power of public education.


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