Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The 11th Year

We're beginning our 11th year in the 21st c. now and as an educator of '21st c. learning,' I'm wondering where we stand in terms of meeting any of the 21st c. goals or 21st c. standards we're on about, like the ISB21 T.A.I.L. Standards and Benchmarks, for example. But it's not just local, it's global (or 'glocal' as some like to call it). The 21st c. learner and everything else out there coined 'the 21st c.....' is the latest slogan suggesting we'll stay lost in the previous c. (or possibly further back) if we don't get on board—it appears it's where we need to be as educators (and every other successful person on the planet for that matter). Ironically, we're already IN the 21st c.—it's not a matter of getting there anymore. Given the fast pace of growth in modern times, isn't 11 years a lot of time to be spending to get somewhere? Here are some relevant places that taut the ideals of education of the 21st c. or even pose threats should we ignore acquiring and using its corresponding skills: Educational Origami, and this comparison between the old and new centuries is particularly idealistic one. The highlighted bits in 'New Research Shows...' suggest there's a definitional problem operating—not with the definition of 21st c., but of '21st c. skills,' and that this underlies the lack of embracing the new. In the video: 'Educational Change Challenge,' we're practically threatened by the claims made regarding the gap between 'us' [the old] and 'them' [they young]: "Are we preparing students for our age or for theirs?" the narrator queries. Or, how about '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020 by Shelley Blake-Plock? I have to admit that I get taken in by such claims, but at the same time many of them, like the look of parent-teacher conferences, which are likely to disappear in place of 'virtual communication opportunities,'' were actually more appealing. How about #13 though?
13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.
Now this to me seems a lot more dramatic of a change. But, need I really 'worry' about such a change? Or, Technology in the Classroom: Myths & Opportunities by Alan November inspires us teachers to see these changes as a relatively seamless process. I'm just starting up my Theory of Knowledge (ToK) course and we watched 'Shift Happens' to be reminded of the phenomenal pace of knowledge growth in all areas, of course with special emphasis placed on technology-related developments. My students commented on how the 21st c. pace is all they know and that there's nothing really shocking to them about it. It's us adults who seem to worry about how to ably cope with the future.

So then how DO we prepare to prepare our students to solve problems that don't yet exist on the planet? What about old-fashioned Professional Development (PD)? If the educational system itself is heading for a complete turn-around, then perhaps such is the case with PD. 'Why America's schools fail: Ineffective Professional Development' outlines most of the problems I've experienced with dead-in-the water PD—lack of time, passion, lack of professional learning communities. I've been involved in countless PD programs over the years, including conducting them myself. In fact, conducting PD workshops is a good way to evaluate their effectiveness. But despite the best PD programs, it's the sustainability factor, the 'I'm-going-to-do-this-in-my-school' factor, the 'I'm- getting-my-administrator-on-board' factor that makes all the difference. (Of course the COETAIL cohorts run by Jeff Utecht is certainly one PD program up for recognition—personal testimony as justification!) I'd venture to say that the more earth-shaking the change, as the #13 described above, the more factors in ones' favor the better to see evidence of reform. Using students as leaders is one such unique approach: 'Students as professional developers. Here's an upcoming conference with a networking partnership strand. We need something like these new PD approaches. We need to prepare teachers for the 'control shift.' We push educators into the 21st c. NOW. Isn't 11 years long enough? We need something systemic. We need commitment from more than just a small number. We need the PD to be embedded in our everyday world. We need administrative support—even Board support. Mentoring? Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)? These all sound feasible, but not unless we really want to do this—and I mean 'we' collectively. It'll take all of the constituents—admin included—to get into the 21st c. before the next decade ends—or before we end up going backwards!

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