What Happens When Great Teachers Meet Great Researchers

I am not a member of the Twitterati community. I rarely tweet, and when I do, my tweets tend to be sober, not to say sec, as I generally use social media to learn about and share new research in child development and learning. Well, not this time, not while participating at the Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai, where I found myself tweeting more often and more avid than usual. At the pinnacle of my enthusiasm I wrote: “A dream come true: Excellent teachers and excellent researchers talking about adolescence and learning at the Global Education and Skills Forum”.

What had happened to the reluctant Twitter user? Sunstroke, jet lag, sugar rush caused by excessive baklava consumption? None of this, but simple and genuine excitement. I was and still am impressed, I felt and still feel inspired.

Joined Forces

Let me explain why: Last year the Jacobs Foundation and the Varkey Foundation joined forces with regard to the Varkey Foundation’s annual Global Education & Skills Forum that brings together world leaders seeking solutions to achieve education, equity and employment for all.

For the seventh Global Education & Skills Forum (GESF) held from March 23-24, 2019, in Dubai, the Jacobs Foundation was the Lead Partner for the Learning Science Track. In other words, we were to bring the science to the game and so we did: Seven Jacobs Foundation Research Fellows and Young Scholars delivered TED style talks, covering important topics for young people’s development and learning, such as sleep (Jared Saletin), smartphone use (Candice Odgers), early language development and literacy (Kaja Jasinska), early numeracy development (Daniel Ansari), adaptive teaching (Hanna Dumont), learning technologies in low resource settings (Amy Ogan), and genes and educational equity (Paige Harden).

Discussing on eye level

In addition to bringing talented and innovative researchers to GESF to talk about their work with decision makers from the public, private and social sectors, we facilitated discussions with Jacobs Foundation Research Fellows and Varkey Teacher Ambassadors. Varkey Teacher Ambassadors are those top 50 finalists of the annual Global Teacher Prize who join the community of great teachers around the world.

Altogether we hosted three such roundtables where great teachers met great researchers and discussed on eye level how to best support young people’s learning. They talked about the future of the classroom and the extent to which innovation and disruption are needed in the way that children are taught around the world. They debated the promises and pitfalls of educational neuroscience and tried to find out how a teacher’s practice may relate to research findings and how educational neuroscience may inform and transform what happens in the classroom. And they talked about adolescence as a highly formative phase where developmental challenges and opportunities can shape a learner’s life course.

Respect for each other’s expertise

Not once did I hear what I often hear (and what frustrates me most!) in panel discussions where science meets, or rather faces, practice: “Interesting question, but this is not my field of expertise, so I don’t know what to respond” (commonly coming from a researcher) or “Interesting finding, but this has nothing to do with my everyday life and I don’t have time for this anyway” (commonly coming from a practitioner). On the contrary, I witnessed thoughtful queries, a lot of respect for each other’s expertise and a lively exchange between great scientists and great teachers genuinely and wholeheartedly aiming to close the translation gap between science and practice – simply put: a dream come true.

If you want see for yourself, watch the recorded talks and roundtable discussions from our Learning Science Track at GESF:

Adaptive teaching (Hanna Dumont)

Early numeracy development (Daniel Ansari)

Learning technologies in low resource settings (Amy Ogan)

Sleep (Jared Saletin)

Smartphone use (Candice Odgers)

Genes and educational equity (Paige Harden)

Early language development and literacy (Kaja Jasinska)