If you’ve ever had discussions with me about educational buzzwords, you’ll know that I find that phrases that start with “21st century”are completely cringeworthy: 21st century learning, 21st century tools, 21st century students, etc… I would say that we’re pretty much living in the 21st century – just look around … or down at the handheld (likely touchscreen) device that responds to your voice commands – it’s clearly 2016.
My intention in this short post is not to unpack or attack terms that begin with 21st century. Rather, it’s to pose the question and contemplate this as it’s part of my everyday experience:
What happens when students educated in the 21st century become educators?
I ask this question because I’m part of that group, the “millenials”, that experienced a cocktail of teacher-centric instruction, problem-based learning, and holistic learning. I had courageous teachers that strayed from the norm (they were considered to be the outliers) and as an educator now these teachers make more sense than ever.
Looking back, the skills that really helped me navigate my life after school were found in courses where our teachers were transparent with their philosophies: as I analyze those courses now, I recall focusing little on gaining temporary content knowledge (for the sake of writing quizzes and tests that served the purpose to generate final grades) and focusing on truly developing and empowering ourselves as learners. I vividly remember one of my teachers explaining to us that at the end of the day it wasn’t about what we were being asked to write a test on, or memorize, or be able to recite: it was about having the freedom to make authentic connections to our lives, seeing and seeking the why in the things we are called to study, and finding more problems than solutions.
So really, what will happen now as the waves of problem-finders versus problem-solvers enter into the roles of educators? What happens to systems and organizations when some of the practices that were considered to be on the edge start to move to the centre? How do school structures morph when our priorities shift from students exiting schools with the same content knowledge to students exiting schools excited (at the very least) about learning?
Most importantly for me and my current interests: how will we adjust professional learning alongside curriculum transformation?
In less than a week I’ll be taking a leap of faith in crafting two sessions based on Open Space Technology, a method of moving organizations and honouring the time that we have when we come together to engage in rich, self-organized, and somewhat chaotic work. As we examine the effectiveness (not to mention costs) of bringing groups of professionals together to listen to the same message (with little in-depth discussion) only to leave to our respective rich contexts and realities, we must ask ourselves if stand and deliver drive-by pro-d is the best use of our resources.
Just as we question if we are honouring the time of professionals when we bring them together, shall we also consider if we honour the time when students come together?
To be candid, Open Space will be my first attempt at aligning my current work with professional learning with my experiences as a young learner in the early 2000s and as a digital native. At it stands, next week could go either way – but I won’t know if it will be magical unless I design and attempt!
At the end of the day those of us tasked with creating professional learning opportunities may ask ourselves: do the ways in which we create conditions for student learning parallel our approaches to professional learning?