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Genius Not Required

Significant change is required to reduce overwhelm and improve the learning and well-being of students and their educators.

My oldest sister is a retired teacher who specialized in gifted education, science, and art. As you might imagine, Leonardo da Vinci’s expertise and work inspired many of her lessons and students, which, in turn, inspired me. When we think, today, of the extensive amount of knowledge that da Vinci had in so many different and varied fields, it is astounding: engineering, botany, cartography, mathematics, physics, architecture, anatomy, and, of course, art. He was a universal genius.

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (ca. 1490) demonstrates an innovative blend 
of mathematics, art, and the relationship of man to nature.

With the ever-accelerating growth of knowledge and ever-increasing access to information​​, one human being could no longer even remotely be considered a master in the number of areas da Vinci was – developing expertise in even one can take decades. 

The resulting changes impacting our economies and societies pose crucial challenges for education systems and teachers. To be effective, teachers must continuously increase their knowledge and skills in a growing number of domains, including neuroscience; the social, cognitive, and behavioral sciences; pedagogy; computer and information sciences; artificial intelligence/machine learning; environmental studies; economics, and engineering.

Knowledge required by teachers for 21st Century learning

Whilst the teaching profession can greatly benefit from the combined knowledge and experience of individuals such as Dr. Judy Willis, a practicing neurologist with years of classroom teaching, we must accept that such levels of integrative expertise are unique. The expectation that teachers (and leaders) develop a high level of interdisciplinary understanding when it takes years of effort to cultivate a deep knowledge of even one discipline is not only untenable but also excessively unfair. Offering professional learning opportunities is not enough when we realize our world, our societies, and, therefore, our students, need so much more. To address this challenge, significant changes are needed to reduce overwhelm and improve the learning and well-being of students and their educators.

Suggested action points:

Recommended organizations and resources: 

The range of skills 21st Century students need 

Educators choose the teaching profession because they are creative, knowledgeable, and dedicated to building a better future. We need to be ingenious and support each other in the ever-changing domains required to develop the minds, skills, and spirits of today’s students.


Guerriero, S. (2017), Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Ulferts, H. (ed.) (2021), Teaching as a Knowledge Profession: Studying Pedagogical Knowledge across Education Systems, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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