The saga continues with ideals behind 21st century learning and the future of education! Throughout these last few years, the buzz surrounding the concept of educational reform, and the future of education has certainly been growing. In British Columbia, we are currently undergoing some reforms surrounding curriculum, and that has take the debate out of the educational realm to the public, who have more than a few opinions regarding the future outlook of education. Rotherham and Willingham (2009) aptly point out that “the skills students need in the 21st century are not new” (p. 16), and this I believe is a part of the issue that many in the public realm are struggling with. Many parents and members of the public don’t seem to understand what we as 21st century teachers deal with in our every day classrooms, in terms of student motivation, engagement and relevance. Those who are in tune with 21st century skills know that “student-centered methods” such as inquiry, collaboration, projects and problem-based learning can be effective in promoting skills development. The issue with these methods, despite proven effectiveness—and how well knows they are by educators and schools—is that they simply aren’t used by teachers in the classroom (Rotherham & Willingham, 2009, p. 19). In some schools, leadership has made the endeavor to increase professional development and support for teachers looking to include more student-centered methods in their classroom practices, especially in districts where the vision of the future encompasses the values the 21st century learning. In places still “stuck in the past,” new theories and practices are not making their way into the classroom. Williams, Brien and LeBlanc (2012) discuss this phenomenon in today’s classroom, specifically how “In a standards-driven system, improvement efforts are held ransom by an inappropriate use of an outcomes-based approach that forces teachers to cover an impossible volume of curriculum and then evaluates their success using a testing format that undermines creative instructional practices” (p. 3). I can also see veteran teachers, and those attached to the status quo perpetuating this issue.
I’ve seen this in action, and I truly believe that it stems partly from a feeling of unpreparedness rather than stubbornness. In other words, if someone asked me to jump off a cliff, I’d likely hold off as long as I possibly could. There needs to be a better approach to helping teachers move forward, instead of terrifying them so much that they create a system in which reform is held hostage. Is there a “perfect” method of moving forward from the “standards-driven” system? I don’t know. I do know that there is hope for this change because teachers—no matter how long they’ve been teaching or what kind of technology they use—are ready to take on the challenges of learners, no matter what that looks like. It is up to schools, to digital gurus, to leaders and to those more comfortable with new methodologies to offer support rather than toss copies of the latest “it” book and iPads out to teachers in a haphazardly manner.
Rotherham, A. J., & Willingham, D. (2009). 21st century skills: The challenges ahead. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 16-21.
Williams, R.B., Brien, K., & LeBlanc, J. (2012). Transforming schools into learning organizations: Supports and barriers to educational reform. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 134, 1-32.