Thursday, January 6, 2011

Defining 21st Century Education

More days than not, I find myself living between two very unique educational spectrums. The first being a "traditional" teacher driven learning environment plagued with dated lesson plans and assignments. They are not hard to miss. You tend to find the teacher standing in front of the class reciting the same lesson that they have recited year in and year out. The students are seats in rows or clustered groups, taking notes, and haphazardly paying attention. There is little connection between content and student; what is learned, unless used for something meaningful, is lost days and weeks later.

Unfortunately, this accounts for a majority of the classrooms that I pass during my visits for various districts in my region. It's even more frustrating when I see interactive whiteboards and other equipment littered throughout the room going unused day after day.

And then there is the other side. There are the teachers who have embraced 21st century education. They have acknowledged and accepted the integration of technology in their daily activities. The students are moving about; they are working together. They are conducting research, asking questions, solving problems. The students are engaged; they are learning!

There is a profound divide between these two examples. Blame it on experience, years in education, professional development or the lack there of, availability of resources, time constraints, educational backgrounds, etc. etc. etc. In the end, there is still a divide. Schools spend a lot of money and even more time providing resources, equipment, and professional development opportunities for both groups. As a Technology Integration Specialist, guess which ones I see more often and which ones I see less often? Again, you can blame it on this, that, and the next thing.

Our educational systems are in a state of flux. We are standing before profound changes that can and will completely alter the educational process within the next five years. Wisconsin has already begun to adopt "progress-based groupings; dropping standardized practices in favor of customized learning plans; phasing out print textbooks in favor of dynamic digital resources; and shifting from teacher-led instruction to a blend of face-to-face and online approaches" (full article: Others will surely follow suit.

Would your current staff be able to follow suit? Do the have the qualifications/skillset to keep pace? Better yet, would they even be willing to adapt? We've provided them with numerous opportunities in the past; how often have they embraced these opportunities then? Do you think they will embrace these opportunities in the future?

Going forward, what skillset should be reflected in education? What defines a 21st Century Education?

21st Century Schools ( outlines a wide array of 21st Century educational definitions from the 21st century student to green initiatives.

Edtech Digest has developed "21 Definitions for a 21st Century Education."

Education Week asked a wide array of "educational experts" their thoughts on 21st Century skills in their article "How do you Define 21st Century Learning?"

There is a common theme between each of these definitions, which include:
  • Collaboration
  • Effective Communication
  • Relevance to the real world/work place 
  • Effective Information Analysis
  • Technology Integration
How would you definition the 21st Century Education within your district and/or building? Could you define 21 Century Education within your district and/or building?

Has your district and/or building begun to implement change? Have you as an educator implemented change in your classroom? If not, why haven't you?

The 21st Century model has embraced technology as part of the educational process. It's something we can opt in or out of. It is a vital component to education; it is a vital component to society. At the same time, we've moving towards an open collaboration model where we are able to share our ideas and collectively solve problems and complete assignments. The school building and the school day has expanded. It has expanded into cloud computing and collaboration  where students are able to work from wherever whenever.

Change is happening. It's going to continue happening.

Where will you be at the end of the day?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Changes in Leadership?

In recent weeks, we have seen a change leadership selection. Mayor Bloomberg appointed Cathleen Black, a former magazine publisher, as Chancellor of NYC schools. Against various protests and potential lawsuits, the Board of Regents approved Black's appointment. This week, New Jersey Governor, Chris Cristie announced that he has asked the Board of Education to lower the requirements for school administrators thus allowing non-academic "managers" an opportunity to function as superintendents.

Under current guidelines, superintendents in New Jersey must hold a master's degree "including a 150-hour graduate internship in educational leadership and passing a superintendent’s assessment." Under the new guidelines being proposed by Governor Christie superintendents would only need a bachelor's degree. The state education commissioner would have ultimately determine the candidate's qualifications.

The full story, published in the New York Times, can be read at

I have very mixed emotions about this as an educator and as an aspiring administrator who is one semester away from graduation. First and foremost, what would these individuals be able to bring to the table? Yes - they know how to manage and lead a team in the private sector, but how will these skills translate in our educational systems? This is not corporate America. We are not playing with profit margins and stock entities. We are here to foster learning; we are here to guide future generations and prepare them for whatever comes next.

How will this impact our transition away from the archaic factory-based educational model? We have realized that it doesn't work; we are steadily moving in a new direction that has shown promise. Wouldn't this be a step back in progress? Wouldn't this go against everything that we have been working towards?

Maybe I'm wrong; I don't think that I am though.

I honestly believe that we need to remodel education, but I do not believe that these changes are part of the equation. Instead, we should focus on our students and our students needs rather than attempting to fit a corporate mold focused on single output models.

I do not believe that there is one perfect model. I wish I had that answer, but I do not. I definitely believe that we should be developing student-focused curriculum maps that provide opportunity and availability. I believe technology will continue to transform the role of schools in education. I believe that our system needs to change and will change - hopefully for the better.

In the meantime, we need to reassess our own roles in education. Are your teachers providing your students with the skills necessary for tomorrow? What do you see when you walk around your building? What are your students learning? What aren't they learning? What are your teachers teaching? What aren't they teaching?

Your responses might surprise you; hopefully they don't scare you....