Friday, July 22, 2011

Kids learn now... Let's prepare teachers to teach now

flickr phot via mac.rj

I'm not fond of the term "21st Century learning." It has become a wildly referred to catchphrase in education, and as catchphrases go, I worry that the original intent of the term has been lost in translation. So often the term is equated with technological advances, and more specifically, how to utilize them in teaching and learning. I think 21st Century teaching and learning is way more involved than this.

Taken on the surface, teachers everywhere are challenged with the task of preparing kids for the 21st Century, or at least the remaining 89 years of it. A daunting task. This report commissioned by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) suggests that the teaching profession needs to think differently about how teachers are prepared to teach kids for this century; to enable, empower and engage them. The report lays out a plan to emulate a more clinical approach to teacher training similar to how doctors are trained with practical experience taking a more prominent role throughout the process. In so many ways, if done well with serious consideration for the practical value of learning how to teach in an actual school, I believe a clinical approach to teacher training is a very good idea. I have to ask though, does the medical profession attempt to prepare doctors to provide up to date patient care 100 years at a time? Perhaps a grounding of the term 21st Century as it applies to education is needed so we know what we mean when we say it. It has to be about more than just technology... it's a thinking thing.


 Teachers are challenged daily, by the minute even, to provide up to date care for their students, and up-to-date has to mean now. To handle this it makes sense to work from a solid platform; a foundation that grounds our practice. EduKare schools are based on a platform of responsiveness; the ability to deal with the here and now. As the 21st Century progresses, there will be many new now's... this is the true reality of teaching in the 21st Century. Perhaps it's time to become more specific about what we're preparing kids for. One thing we know about the 21st Century is things don't stay the same for very long. Accessibility to people, information and places has never been easier... the world is at our fingertips, and it's changing in real time. If pre-service teachers need to know anything, they need to know how to respond to change; to embrace it, and to be able to teach kids how to do the same. Navigating change creatively and successfully means we have to know how to think as individuals, and perhaps more critically, as contributors to collaborative efforts to solve challenges. This is the platform we should be focusing on.

In their report, the NCATE report lays out a design platform for teacher preparation that I believe addressess many tangible 21st Century teaching and learning realities:

10 Design Principles for Clinically Based Preparation
  • Student learning is the focus
  • Clinical preparation is integrated throughout every facet of teacher education in a dynamic way
  • A candidate’s progress and the elements of a preparation program are continuously judged on the basis of data
  • Programs prepare teachers who are expert in content and how to teach it and are also innovators, collaborators and problem solvers
  • Candidates learn in an interactive professional community
  • Clinical educators and coaches are rigorously selected and prepared and drawn from both higher education and the P-12 sector
  • Specific sites are designated and funded to support embedded clinical preparation
  • Technology applications foster high-impact preparation
  • A powerful Research and Development agenda and systematic gathering and use of data supports continuous improvement in teacher preparation
  • Strategic partnerships are imperative for powerful clinical preparation
Pulling out a few key words from this list creates an interesting visual...


Words like dynamic, integrated, interactive, partnerships and innovators jump off the page at me because they all connote creativity and collaboration, necessary elements for good thinking.

Learning in the 21st Century, although undeniably influenced (positively in my opinion) by technology, is more about how we think, how we need to think and most importantly how we think together. This is where the learning focus should be now understanding that throughout the 21st Century, a continued and more intense focus on "now" will help us navigate our present circumstances effectively while ensuring that we have learned as much as we can to prepare us for the relatively unpredictable state of tomorrow.

The sort of now thinking I'm talking about has recently been demonstrated by a neighboring school district to mine. In an effort to embrace an authentic approach to learning in the dynamic, fast-paced world we all live in today, Wolf Creek Public Schools has implemented a bring your own device policy that puts pedagogy first. Wolf Creek Assistant Superintendent Gary Spence says, "It's not a tech goal; it's a learning goal." Gary's statement is simple, but so powerful. Wolf Creek's bring your own device policy is a sure sign that they embrace the urgency of now learning in contemporary society.

The world is changing now. Kids are learning now. We are teaching now. Every day in schools we witness this energy moving and exchanging. Perhaps the best way to prepare kids for their 21st Century future is to realize we are all living it minute by minute, every day. We can't know what tomorrow will bring, but every piece of the puzzle we find a fit for today will open previously unrealized possibilities for tomorrow.
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