The 2 Most Important Things To Teach In School

The 2 Most Important Things To Teach In School

Photo by Max Fischer from Pexels

“Why are we learning this? When will I use this in real life?” Sound familiar? You quite possibly said it yourself as a student and have now had students ask you as a teacher.  In reality, they are very important questions for educators nowadays..

By Samuel Kett

Why do we teach what we teach? How do we decide what is worth knowing? Well, entrepreneur and best selling author, Seth Godin, in his book Linchpin, suggests that we should focus on teaching 2 things in schools: How to solve interesting problems, and Leadership

Solve Interesting Problems

Students are asked to solve a lot of problems in school. But, “interesting” is the important word here. A great debate could be had about what is worth teaching and learning at school. For example, do children really need to know how to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle or know the exact date of a particular event?  In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin questions why many schools still spend weeks rote learning this kind of knowledge when much of it can be so quickly accessed online. I get where he is coming from with this. Time is so precious in a school day, how do we prioritise what is important? Seth believes that schools should be focusing on teaching kids how to find answers to questions that can’t be found with a quick google search. Some examples might be:

  • What motivates me?
  • How am I feeling?
  • What should I do next?
  • How can I work with these people?


A lot of what has been taught in schools is teaching students to be compliant. Line-up, sit quietly, do the test, finish your work, do as your told, ask to go to the bathroom etc. Seth Godin believes that school can teach leadership just as easily as they figured out how to teach compliance. He believes that leadership is a skill, it’s not something we are born with. He also believes that although schools provide a means of expression for leaders, they don’t really teach it. I agree with Seth when he suggests that our modern world now values leadership much more than it values compliance. 

How To Implement This In The Classroom

While many of the curriculums we teach from continue to have a strong focus on knowledge (of which there is still certainly a place for), there is no reason why we can’t place emphasis on the skills side of the curriculum and bring those into our lessons too. For example, the New Zealand Curriculum has “Key Competencies” and the IB Curriculum has “Transdisciplinary Skills”. We also need to support students in getting to know themselves as learners, ideally not by forcing them to write long reflections, that’s not very motivating. Helping students to understand what motivates them, allows them to find their path and have the confidence to lead and solve interesting problems. 

Focus On Skills

When sharing or co-constructing the learning intention/outcome with your students, also put priority on what skills might be needed for an activity. For example a group Maths activity might require collaboration to solve. Discuss what collaboration is and what it might look like.

Let your students know that you’ll be looking for collaboration skills throughout the lesson. I do this by writing WILF  on the board (what I’m looking for). For example: 

WALT (we are learning to) – Find the hypotenuse of a right angled triangle

WILF – Collaboration

Other possible skills to teach and look out for in lessons could be, self-management, listening, following instructions, persistence, perseverance, asking questions etc. By placing emphasis on skills, we are supporting and encouraging students to develop their leadership and ability to solve interesting problems. 

Help Students Notice What Motivates Them

Students are more likely to lead and engage in learning when they feel motivated. Author, Dan Pink gives a fantastic presentation on motivation which can you find in the video below. This can be used as a starting point to help yourself and your students figure out what motivates them. You could do a 2 or 3 week inquiry into motivation at the start of the year. Students will better understand themselves as learners and teachers will be more able to cater for their students needs. 

In Short

We can lose a sense of purpose as teachers when we are unsure if a lot of what we are teaching is still a priority or even relevant to the modern world that our students will grow up into. Its very important to ask questions about what should be prioritised in education, and Seth Godin in his book Linchpin, makes a very good case for Leadership and Solving Interesting Problems as two priority skills to be taught in schools. 

Your Turn

If you could choose only 2 things to teach in schools, what would they be? Let me know in the comments below.


No Responses

Write a response