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Monday, 23 May 2016

Developing a 21st Century Vision for Education

Our school board has provided administrators an opportunity to be in a book club together. The book we are reading is "The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education - 7 Steps for Schools and Districts". Authors Ken Kay and Valerie Greenhill provide a 7-step framework for building professional capacity that will support schools in developing students who are prepared for the 21st Century.

Step 1 is a all about developing your own vision of 21st Century teaching and learning. In order to help you develop your vision, the authors provide 8 perspectives they believe worthy of consideration: the evolution of work and the change in skills required by graduates as they join he workforce; the flattening of the world with our increasing ability to access and participate in information creation; the increase in the service economy; the impact of citizenship in the global society; the ever-increasingly fast pace of change; the growing need for creativity and innovation, which is so closely related to the pace of change; the volume of available information and the shelf-life of that information; and of course, technology.

Kay and Greenhill suggest that the inclination of educators, when recognizing a need for change, is to focus too quickly on educational strategies, rather than first considering the desired student outcomes one hopes to achieve.  They suggest the "4Cs" as outcomes to focus on when developing your vision:

  • critical thinking
  • communication
  • collaboration 
  • creativity and innovation
I have strong ideas about how and why education needs to change. But I've never sat down and put into words my vision for the 21st Century learner. I wonder, though, if the term "21st Century Learner" is already out-dated. The first group of students born in the 21st Century are at the cusp of graduation already. 

I prefer to consider the changes in education necessary to support the "Networked Learner." I use this term because I believe it aptly describes our learners today. They are connected to the Internet and social media at a very early age, sometimes as young as five years old, and this greatly impacts who they are as learners and who they will be as graduates. Before we can even establish what outcomes we want for our students, we need to know who these students are as learners. How has being so "connected" impacted today's learner? And how does education need to change to support such a learner? 

I agree with Kay and Greenhill that critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity are outcomes today's learner will need as they enter the workforce, but I'd argue that today's learner needs those learning outcomes now, not just by graduation. They need them to navigate the world in which they are currently living, and possibly, as educators and parents, we are failing them in this. We make available all of the tools they need to connect, but do we provide the skills they need to take advantage of all that is available to them while being safe in the process?  On his blog, Principal of Change, George Couros paraphrases a student who says:

“Social media is like water because it is everywhere in our life.  We can ignore it and watch kids drown, or we can teach kids how to swim.  Which way are you going to go?”

In the Leader's Guide, the authors offer other outcomes administrators may want to consider adding to their vision for 21st Century learning, one of which is citizenship.  In my vision, citizenship is at the forefront, whether you call it "digital citizenship" or "global citizenship", it's recognition that we are all connected, and that the decisions and actions I make impact others. What are our civic responsibilities as global citizens? I want to help foster in my students a sense of responsibility and to consider their role in making the world a better place. 

The world is flattening. Knowledge is power, and for the first time, information is freely available to anyone who can connect. We also have an opportunity to share our voices and be a part of knowledge creation as never before. Our students are both accessing information and leaving their own digital footprints. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure that they are thinking critically as they access that information - right now - because that information is impacting them and playing a role in who they are becoming and how they view the world. They are creating a digital footprint that will not be erased, and they need help in creating a footprint that will represent them well in the global community to which they belong. 

We can't afford to keep our heads in the sand any longer. We are not simply developing a vision that will help our students enter the world of tomorrow. We are developing a vision to support our students who are connected right now, and we need to educate ourselves on how to provide the type of learning they need to navigate the digital landscape in which they currently find themselves.