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21st century

25 Apr 21st Century Students Need 21st Century Teachers & Leaders

By Elizabeth Worlein, Rubicon International

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Empowerment was the common theme of the annual ASCD conference. Aptly named, the Empower17 conference hosted several sessions advocating for empowerment of students, teachers, and school administrators. It’s no secret that the work place and world beyond schools are changing. Therefore, school community members – from admin to students – have to adapt along with it.

More than ever, our students are called upon to demonstrate their understanding of crucial knowledge and skills in an integrated manner. This, in turn, invites teachers and school administrators to feel empowered to adopt similar 21st century practices. In this next phase of education, teachers and admin must join together under the 4 C’s of 21st Century Education: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking.

Communication: Sharing thoughts, questions, ideas and solutions

Teachers: When beginning a new unit, lesson, assessment or project, examine how to best communicate learning to students. Rethink how you introduce a new topic or task, by answering the questions that are surely on their mind: “Why is it important that I learn this? Why now?” When designing curriculum, instruction and assessment, strive to highlight:

  • Clarity of the task and outcomes
  • Authenticity in connections to current and future learning
  • Perceived ability to succeed at the task at hand

Admins: Feedback is important and integral to teacher empowerment. Ensure your audience is primed and ready for feedback. At the beginning of the year, invite teachers to set goals, and refer to these goals often in your conversation. Simply knowing and mentioning teachers’ goals, not just at times of feedback and evaluation, promotes greater investment and perceived value in the goal. Send articles and model support for teachers. Before providing feedback on their goals, communicate your structure for feedback, so teachers understand where and when they will receive affirmation, as well as constructive feedback.

Collaboration: Working together to reach a goal, using unique talents, expertise and information

Teachers: Fine-tune your ability to challenge students, balancing their efforts and experiences of success. Work with students to create personalized – and personal – learning targets. This doesn’t mean individual learning plans or excessive technology; it’s simply self-directed, inspired learning for students.

Admins: When thinking of collaboration in your community, likely parents, teachers, and students come to mind as the key players. What about your school/district mission, strategic plan and initiatives? They also play a role in a school or district’s community, as they heavily influence culture. To strengthen collaboration (and success) among these various entities, incorporate story-telling into your mission or vision statement writing:

  • The hero: The key player and benefactor of the outcome (Hint, not admins! 😊 )
  • The problem: A key issue to be solved throughout this journey
  • The guide: the leader, a partner or a process
  • The plan: clear, logical, doable
  • Call to action: either a small step, or the giant leap to take
  • Results: share both an illustration of success – as well as alternative ending, illustrates what might happen if failure occurs
Creativity: Leveraging innovation to try a new process or system

Teachers: The job market that our students will one day enter is drastically changing. According to Levy and Murnane in Dancing with Robots: Work tasks that accelerated between 1960-2009 were those in solving unstructured problems and working with new information. This means jobs are less routine and rely more on creativity and critical thinking. To help students prepare and meet these demands, become creative with performance assessments. Provide an opportunity for students to transfer knowledge and skills from other content areas to express their understanding. Perhaps most importantly, allow students to (strategically) falter or fail. Think of resilience as an addition to the 21st Century 4 C’s (if only it started with a C!).

Admins: Teachers may be using design thinking to build their curriculum units, so why not incorporate this same approach into your leadership style? Rather than maintaining the norm, envision a leadership role as one that goes through the design process. Become an admin that seeks opportunity, architects experiences, breaks and forms new rules, produces winning ideas – all to weave the story and success of your school.

Critical Thinking: Examining problems in new ways and linking information to possible solutions

In conclusion, our last “C” of 21st Century Skills pertains to both teachers and administrators. Whether you are considering a new school mission/vision, deciding to undertake (another) initiative, or changing an instructional approach in the classroom, ask yourself the following questions. Try to get to the heart of improvement, not simply change. Bring the other “C’s” (creativity, communication and collaboration) together to seek and enact empowered change at your school or district, taking it into the 21st century.

  • What exactly is the change (using specific language and parameters)?
  • What is a problem you want to improve?
  • How will this change focus on improvement?
  • What will you change (that is in your control)?
  • How will you know if a change is an improvement (i.e. evidence)?

If you are curious how to incorporate the 21st Framework into your instruction check out our other post here!

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