21st Century Education
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”
~John Dewey, 1915
Fascination lies in the fact that the greatest challenge of practice we face in education today was so eloquently stated 100 years ago. In this progressive age of “21st Century Education”, I find myself deeply reflecting on the the future of schooling, the nature of educational leadership and the evolving culture of learning in our current education system. All are evolving, but at a rate that does not necessarily reflect the pace of societal change. We seem trapped in a tunnel and the fear of not knowing what is in the light at the end of that tunnel deters the transformation of a system and stunts the growth of the learners within it. Facing an ever increasing pace of societal change, it is imperative that we focus and refine our efforts to construct meaningful, relevant and engaging modern learning experiences for all students. Environments that are optimized, individualized and reflect the shift from a passive process to a participatory experience are critical to ensuring learners are prepared to participate and contribute to a newly emerging future. Dewey’s insight provides a compass to guide the pedagogical choices we make ensuring they are grounded in the needs of the learners before us and they are not overshadowed by our past experiences or comfort with what we did yesterday.
Globalization and the ubiquitous access to information has changed the landscape of the learning experience and the walls of the “traditional” classroom are falling. More than ever before, students are guiding their own learning, defining their own curriculum and accessing knowledge on demand. Unaware of constructed boundaries, children don’t know where to stop learning and what they are not capable of. They can learn amazing things anytime, anywhere and from anyone. It is an experiential process that is individualized to respect and reflect the learner. It should not be a competitive journey in which the individual feels discouraged from trying for fear of being wrong. The environment must support a person’s innate desire to learn and provide them with opportunities to learn what, when and how they want to. The fundamental goal of education must be to teach learners how to learn. It is so much more than just the regurgitation of the information that has been deemed relevant and important. We must teach students to connect the dots, not just collect the dots, so they can succeed and adapt to changing needs in a dynamic and demanding world.
How, when, where and who we learn from is beginning a metamorphosis. The needs, scope and scale of the so called “21st Century Classroom” must evolve to reflect a new global and digital reality that is challenging to define due to the rapid pace of its own evolution. Information communication technologies are redefining, accelerating and deepening the learning experience connecting everything to everyone, everywhere. Everyone has become the teacher of everyone else and the role of the “traditional” teacher is being redefined. To ignore the collaborative potential of the collective marginalizes the goals of education and the development of true life-long learners.
Strong educators that collaboratively engage in and model the learning process are the keys to unlocking the greatness in kids. Strong teachers recognize that learning reaches far beyond the curriculum, recognize the unique context and experience of each child and cultivate a sense of wonder in students that is fuelled by their own passion. Strong teachers are not defined by the tools they use but instead by the relationships they build, the imaginations they ignite and the community they bring together.
The most effective leaders in education, those with the vision to innovate and the capacity to empower, are they themselves the most active and engaged learners. Educational leadership is not about finding the single best way to do things; leadership demands having a vision to enable all learners to maximize their unique potential and find their opportunity to lead. An effective leader engages in the process of growth to facilitate and support the growth of those they influence. Overcoming the notion that the only leaders in education are those that sit highest in the hierarchy of the system is critical to the successful transformation of the paradigm of education. As teachers and lead learners, we must all develop, explore and engage in effective pedagogies to collaborate, communicate, create and curate the ideas, experiences and insights of all our leaders past, present and future. Strong educators lead this evolutionary change to build a system that can support an undefined future that is demanding a redefined paradigm.
The potency of modern education can not be realized if we remain solely anchored in repeating the successes of the past. Soren Kierkegaard reminds us that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We must be fully cognizant of and responsive to the evolving culture of learning in our education system. We must embrace the challenge to apply design thinking principles to truly re-imagine the educational experience. It is imperative for this and future generations that we accelerate the growth of the current pockets of experimentation into a culture of innovation. It is not enough to merely focus on doing old things in new ways, we must innovate and envision doing new things in ways that we never imagined!