I Touch The Future, I Teach


WATF, What The Future?! Always curious about what the future might look like, we dream about tomorrow while building it together, and what’s more important in building tomorrow than education? 
Our beloved industries aren’t just made up of companies, CEOs, operators, designers etc., the roots of it all lie in education and the inspired minds and hardworking people we call ‘teachers’. By teaching one touches the future and, we dare say, shapes it. We’re lucky to have inspirational teachers like Nele Vanluyten who teaches at the wood(craft) department of high school Go De Prins Diest, where the carpenters, interior builders and CNC-operators of tomorrow are born. 
But De Prins Diest isn’t your average wood(craft) high school and Nele isn’t your average teacher… 
Nele is still young, but has already gathered more than 10 years of teaching experience. She is as dedicated as teachers come, not only looking to inform and inspire her students, but also asking questions that re-shape wood(craft) education and, eventually, industry. At De Prins Diest they took it upon themselves to re-think and re-new wood(craft) education to show the industry’s potential and see students, naturally, more motivated. 
Our motivations: student empowerment, responsibility, autonomy, practical experience and offering an accurate reflection of the real-life world our students will be stepping into
“We work towards the future, giving our students responsibility, autonomy and control. Creating more space for those who desire more independence and more time and guidance for others who might be experiencing some more difficulties along the way. Our students are able to move at their own pace, because of the independence and freedom they enjoy, but are also asked to be responsible for”. 
At De Prins Diest they didn’t scare way from a major transformation. “We literally tore down the walls of our classrooms”, Nele says, “Part of re-thinking our education approach was changing our teaching/learning environment and re-thinking the concept of the traditional classroom”. 
“One of the most important aspects of our educational reform is providing our students with autonomy and instilling trust in them, allowing them to develop confidence in themselves. By doing so, we enable them to gain a realistic taste of the work environment they are striving towards. Our students have flexible school hours and can choose when they want to take their practical or theoretical classes. All of this allows them to take matters into their own hands and learn the responsibility and discipline of autonomy, as well as receive the freedom that follows as a consequence”. 
“We create something that we call a ‘learn enterprise’, students run their own little enterprise from our school. Potential clients come to our school and work together with our students. Our students are responsible for the entire work process from start to finish. With our guidance, they interact with the client, create, construct and even handle their own invoices. In this way they get a representative experience of what will await them once they make it to the job market and the bridge between school and work life will not seem so daunting.”
Our trust in our students is the biggest motivation we can give them
“We aim to give our students great independence, but that doesn’t mean that they go through school life completely unguided. We teach, but continuously show them that we believe in their potential and problem-solving strength. Our trust in them is the biggest motivation we can give them. Our data and personal observations, show that our students are happy to come to school, they really want to be there, it’s where they find and can express their passion”.
When they finish their time at De Prins Diest, the school and teachers remain available for help and guidance until 5 years after students have graduated, creating a supportive network between school, students and alumni. 
Collaborations with the wood(craft) and furniture industry and industry organisations like, for example, Woodwize, strengthen the school’s approach and what they offer their students. “The industry helps us with technology, machinery and professional guidance. In this way, we all stay up-to-date about the newest trends in the industry. We also partner with companies where our students do internships and get to taste real life work experience”, Nele shares.
I'm delighted to frequently witness moments of realisation, where my students discover, "This is truly what I want to pursue"
“We have to give our youngsters some more credit”, Nele begins, “Most young people that start at De Prins Diest have been looking for what they love and really want to do for a long time already. They’re creative and handy kids. When they start their wood(craft) trajectory at our school they feel like they’re ‘coming home’. I'm delighted to frequently witness moments of realisation, where my students discover, ‘This is truly what I want to pursue’”.
“I’m happy to observe that more and more young people are allowed to choose the study and career path they like”, Nele says, “I’m noticing that more parents are encouraging their children to do what makes them happy and enable them to make choices that correspond to their interests”. 
For a long time already, our society has favoured theoretical education and professions over practical studies and jobs, although, in my opinion, every profession is equally valuable
“I think the wood(craft) is, slowly but steadily, undergoing a positive image evolution. People know that there’s huge potential on the job market and, once graduated, it’s easy to find employment. Wood, as a material, is appreciated by many and, as our society becomes more environmentally aware, wood is seen as a valuable material that is natural, beautiful and nice to work with”. 
“This re-appreciation of our industry is something that I’m very happy about”, Nele shares, “For a long time already, our society has favoured theoretical education and professions over practical studies and jobs, although, in my opinion, every profession is equally valuable”.
The technological and circular evolution will require more investments from both our governments and the education system
“It’s clear that we’re also facing major challenges within our industries and education. We’re dealing with the huge, world transformations that automation and robotisation will bring about. New technologies are frequently challenging to keep up with, and as an education system, gaining access to the latest machinery and internship opportunities in cutting-edge companies can be difficult. This technological evolution will require more investments from both our governments and the education system”, Nele tells us. 
"Raising awareness about circularity and sustainability is undoubtedly a positive evolution," Nele continues. "However, we must continue to ask the right questions and conduct adequate research, such as which types of wood can we continue to use? Can we experiment with different wood types? And so on."
I think one of our biggest challenges is the fear to transform and innovate our education system, to handle things differently
“I consider what we’ve done and are doing at De Prins Diest very innovative”, Nele proudly says. “We’re turning the traditional educational narrative and model around. Instead of thinking that our young people should learn everything from us, we’re giving them the autonomy to experiment and discover on their own, move at their own rhythm, take the responsibility to bring a task to a plausible end. We’re there to inform, help and offer guidance, but in a less authoritarian capacity. I think this is the transformation our education system needs”, Nele adds.
“And it's not just our education system that needs to change; companies also need to transform their approach and philosophy towards the people who work for them. More trust, more independence – this significantly grows and increases motivation, happiness and fulfilment of a student, employee and human being”. 
Our last, little question: “What’s one value you’d love everyone to carry into the world?”
“Kindness”, Nele answers with a chuckle, “Yes, kindness – it’s straightforward. My students always laugh when I say this, but I truly believe that the simple act of being kind, of smiling, of friendliness has the power to bring about change and to achieve great things”.