Monthly Archives: September 2013

The 21st Century Teaching Environment: A Disconnect

21st Century Teaching requires 21st Century Work Environment for Teachers

 If you talk to most people these days, many of them are in agreement that students today need to be learning 21st Century skills to prepare them for the workplace.  The list of exactly what 21st Century skills are will not be debated here.  There are many resources online to investigate further, for example at Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills and at The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

In  Edutopia’s Parents’ Guide to 21st Century Learning, the learning and innovation skills deemed essential for the 21st Century are highlighted.   These skills are called the 4 Cs :

Critical Thinking,

Communication,

Collaboration, and

Creativity.

The Edutopia handbook explains it this way,

To prepare for college, careers, and citizenship, it’s not enough to master academics.  Students also need to acquire a set of skills that will last for a lifetime.  To be able to solve problems in our complex, fast-changing world, students must become nimble, creative thinkers who can work well with others.

                    Found in ‘Parents’ Guide to 21st Century Learning” www.edutopia.org

In speaking to friends who do not work as teachers, these are the skills that they use every day in the workplace.  Work, for a large proportion of college graduates, is about problem-solving and teamwork.  This takes the form of short-term and long term projects.  When working on a ‘project’ you must communicate effectively within your project team and with other teams related to the project.  Team members must have exceptional learning and innovation skills.  They must be problem-solvers (creativity and critical thinking) and cooperative co-workers (communication and collaboration).  Most of my friends did not grow up in a time of 21st Century Education, so these are skills they have had to learn at work, through trial and error.  At least students today have the benefit of great teachers who are trying to incorporate these 21st Century skills into their teaching.

However, the point of this post is, in fact, not to discuss 21st Century teaching, but rather to highlight the disconnect between the environment that teachers work in and the environment that they try to create for their students.  Don’t get me wrong – within our classrooms I think we (teachers) are creative critical thinkers and communicators.  I think we are putting all kinds of higher level thinking skills to work every minute of the day.  Yet often I feel we miss out tragically in the ways of working skills of collaboration and communication with colleagues.  This is of course not the case in all schools – there are many shining examples of teamwork and collaboration.  Yet I believe they are not the norm.  Schools’ budgets are stretched to the limit and they can’t spare the time and the manpower to enable real and ongoing collaboration and communication between colleagues.  I mean the kind of collaboration that focuses on an objective for students and allows teachers the time, the resources, and the freedom to experiment (and make mistakes) that are necessary for a project to successfully meet its goal.

So I think we know why many teachers’ work environments don’t match the model of the 21st Century Workplace that we hope to prepare our students for.

What can we do about it?  Here are some suggestions for working within current parameters:

  1. Help administrators understand the vital importance of regularly scheduled, extended-time team planning (vertical and lateral teams)

  2. Problem-solve to find ways to creatively schedule faculty to create common planning time within the schedule

  3. Get your team excited about a short-term goal and see if you can focus on that for a period of about 3 weeks – set goals and measurable outcomes

  4. Find like-minded teachers and find ways to collaborate with them – you need to be working with others

  5. Use the Connected Educator resources available to you online – twitter, Google hangouts, blogs, online conferences – once you get started you will see that the potential for online collaboration is endless

  6. Create a Critical Friends group at school.  Bring food; go walk the school track; make it social

And to all administrators – help your team work as a team – be their project leader!  Teachers want to ‘work well with others’!

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Connected Educators

I just finished reading Tom Whitby’s recent post on Connected Educators. It is a straightforward explanation of why one should be a Connected Educator. It also neatly categorizes educators into 3 groups: Connected, Semi-Connected, and Unconnected. I shall paraphrase, but please read his full blogpost for better understanding.

CONNECTED EDUCATORS: are digitally literate and use that literacy to learn and share with other educators; they write blogs and tweet to share what they have learned .

SEMI-CONNECTED EDUCATORS: choose to be strictly consumers of information through technology; they read blogs and they email; in face to face discussions they share what they have learned.

UNCONNECTED EDUCATORS: are not concerned with being relevant in the 21st Century (for whatever reason); whatever they need to know, someone will tell them

I think these categories are clear and neat. I think they help us understand the group of professionals who provide one of society’s most valuable resources. Teachers. I work with teachers. I work with teachers in all of these categories.

I love working with fellow teachers. I love sharing ideas and collaborating. I love their enthusiasm for their students. I love their desire to innovate, to try new things. I love their ability to be life-long learners.

You can be an Unconnected Educator and still be all of these things. Not being on twitter and not subscribing to blogs does not, in my opinion, devalue your professional ability. Yes, it does limit your frame of reference, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t draw invaluable insights from your current perspective.

I do not believe in trying to bully or scare people into doing what you want them to do. It just isn’t effective. Demanding that everyone create a Twitter account is pointless unless the individual sees the relevance of it for their profession. The vast majority of the teachers I work with are Unconnected Educators. They usually do wait for me to tell them what I’ve learned. And I’m ok with that for now.

I’m ok with that because I understand several things.

First, it takes time to become a Connected Educator. Years. It’s a process. You have to learn how it works. You have a lot to discover and there are very few experts around to answer your questions. You have to practice. Practice takes time, and gradually you get a little bit better at it. And even more gradually, you get a little bit braver. All of this takes time – and patience – and some courage.

Second, everyone’s motivation is different. I love to learn – it is what motivates me. But other people need other kinds of motivation. Their motivation is not always mine. I do not judge them for it. I work with them. I show them things that might enhance their classroom. I hope they will use some of them. I’m not expecting 100% implementation.

Third, in regard to my immediate circle of teachers, all of them have expressed a desire to be more connected. They WANT to be part of this whole ’21st Century thing’. However, it is HARD. No-one should underestimate how difficult it is for some of our veteran teachers to venture into the world of technology. I support all and any effort.

So, as I read Tom Whitby’s article, I agreed with his framework. It helped me better understand my environment. And I have to admit that sometimes I might get frustrated that none of my colleagues have read the things I’ve read on the Internet about education. It’s true. I have to admit it.

Yet these moments of frustration are fleeting. Just because they haven’t read as much as I have, doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable contributions to make to the discussion, drawn from their own experience and observation. In fact, learning from practice is the most valuable contribution that can be made to a discussion. Being a Connected Educator may add depth of reference to a discussion, but it is worthless if not grounded in practice. Teachers on the ground are the best resource.

I do not work with Connected Educators. But I love working with my fellow teachers. They are the most valuable resource.

Personally, by continuing to write this blog and reflect on my learning, by continuing to subscribe to blogs, and by building a robust PLN on twitter, I hope to make more progress on the road to becoming a Connected educator. I know that deciding to become a Connected Educator has accelerated my professional learning tenfold. And at work, I hope to continue to support my colleagues as they take their own steps on the path to becoming a Connected Educator.