Will guidance and teaching merge in the future?

By:

Jan 17, 2017

Earlier this month, Michelle Obama, flanked by guidance counselors from around the country, made her final speech as first lady. The remarks included a celebration to acknowledge Terri Tchorzynski, the 2017 National School Counselor of the Year, and a review of the administration’s efforts to bring college within reach for more students.

Obama acknowledged the significant impact that counselors have had on these efforts. “We know that school counselors like all of the folks standing with me on this stage have played a critical role in helping us get there,” she said. “In fact, a recent study showed that students who met with a school counselor to talk about financial aid or college were three times more likely to attend college, and they were nearly seven times more likely to apply for financial aid.”

Guidance counselors’ responsibilities are wide ranging, to say the least. Historical accounts of early guidance models that began in the 1800s illustrate the root of this complexity. Even the earliest counselors were expected to perform a nearly random host of duties: meeting with failing students and coming up with interventions to correct course, helping educators tether curriculum to vocational opportunities, helping students plan their course load, administering and reviewing intelligence testing data, keeping students in school, helping graduates obtain “work cards,” promoting character development, and teaching socially appropriate behavior.

As it turns out, not much has changed since the 1800s. And of course, helping students navigate the byzantine college application and financial aid processes has been added to this lengthy list of tasks. Michelle Obama’s speech was a nod to how all of these various supports help to level the playing field to get more students—regardless of their background—to and through college.

But shedding a spotlight on guidance was also exceedingly prescient when it comes to the adult roles in schools of the future. Looking ahead, teachers themselves will likely begin to take on more guidance-like roles for their students. This shift is emerging from twin trends afoot in education: first, technology is penetrating classroom instruction at higher rates than ever before, which, in turn, will shift how teachers spend their time. Second, research continues to elevate the salience of nonacademic and non-cognitive skills in driving student success.

In a paper out last month, my colleague Tom Arnett outlined some of the reasons that this shift is not only necessary, but also inevitable. “Teaching in the Machine Age” synthesizes the implications of machines beginning to take over some of the tasks typically reserved for teachers. The takeaway? Although computers are not positioned to replace teachers, they will likely elevate teachers to performing some of the distinctly human and social tasks that machines simply can’t. As Tom wrote:

As artificial intelligence increasingly takes on human work, the most valued and secure human jobs will be those that require complex social skills—such as teaching … Good teachers do much more than just dispense information and assess students’ knowledge of rote facts and skills: they coach and mentor students, identify and address social and emotional factors affecting students’ learning, and provide students with expert feedback on complicated human skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication, and project management. Given the need for skillsets that only humans can perform, computers are not likely to replace teachers anytime soon.

This should come as good news to anyone worried about teachers’ job security. But it also has real implications for how the role of teachers stands to evolve in light of technological innovation. In the future, teachers will be able to spend more time doing the important work of mentoring and guiding students in both nonacademic and academic pursuits.

We’ve already seen this shift in teachers taking on more guidance-like roles among some schools that are leveraging technology. For example, in California, Summit Public Schools’s “high impact teaching” model includes pairing each student with a teacher, who meets multiple times each week with the student in small groups throughout the year. Similarly, at Piedmont City Middle School in Alabama, students participate in Team Time—a time period when each teacher mentors a group of 17 or so students and sticks with those students throughout their time in middle school. During this time, students and teacher-mentors set and monitor goals and work on team building and character education activities.

Down the line, other schools leveraging blended learning will likely start to add more guidance-like roles to teachers’ plates. We may also start to see specialization of teacher roles, some of whom will serve as more full-time mentors and guides, while others may be more deeply embedded in curriculum and assessment roles.

This trend in teaching by no means suggests that guidance counselors themselves will disappear, but it is good news for students who likely need more guidance than they’re getting today. Today’s guidance counselor ratios remain fairly abysmal: the average American high school has a 491-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio, with some states like Arizona nearly double that. Luckily, there are signs that more adults, in particular teachers, will begin to shoulder this load.

For more, see:

Julia Freeland Fisher

Julia is the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. She leads a team that educates policymakers and community leaders on the power of disruptive innovation in the K-12 and higher education spheres.