Everywhere you turn in education today, you hear mention of "21st Century Learning." It is very natural that whenever there is talk about "change," there is anxiety and confusion until people fully understand what is meant by the change. A parent in a very direct and honest way reached out to me recently after hearing me talk about the growing emphasis of teaching, collaboration, creativity, and critical problem solving. "I don't get it!" he said, "I went to school and did well. My oldest kids have gone through school and it looked exactly the way it was when I went to school. I didn't like school, but I got through it and I've done well." Then he added, "So what is this talk about "changing" school? I don't understand what you mean by 21st Century Learning? What's the definition of it?"
It is hard to fully grasp such an abstract concept when we have been all through school and have all succeeded. "Why fix what's not broken?" is a common refrain. But let's be honest -- education is broken. The world is changing. The skillset needed in the world today is far different than the one needed just a few years ago. The challenge for us is to "redefine" what has been successful in the past and apply those concepts to the new demands and expectations. For example, we have to:
- Redefine the classroom. Students need space to learn, talk and share. There is still plenty of content for them to learn, but they need room to collaborate and to work together as teams. Our students are finding that in classrooms, it is far easier to work around tables than desks. Tables allow them space to gather to talk, create projects and draw on large sheets of paper when necessary, etc. Such an environment facilitates their work and makes for a far more productive experience.
The challenges are real. But let's be honest -- the future is now. School is not a place just to send our children and hope they "absorb" an education. It was John Dewey who once said, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."
Our world is different and rapidly changing. What we are trying to do in education today is have our children prepared for that "new" world and to understand how to use these needed skills to be adaptable and flexible. Finding the time to reflect on what they have to do and then to step forward in a proactive way to solve whatever problems they may face is the key. It is an exciting time in education! We are asking far more out of students and teachers than we have ever asked before. Together, we will help our children develop the confidence and competence they need to face the new world head-on. Maybe then we can stop with the references to "21st Century Learning" and get on with the fact that this is just learning... period!