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Creating a 21st Century School

February 19, 2010

Recently, I’ve had several conversations about creating a 21st Century School.  They have been interesting discussions with experienced and talented educators.  Our thoughts and opinions have had a consistent theme, but we each think a bit differently about what we envision when we say 21st Century School.  In his recent book, Harvard Professor Tony Wagner defines seven essential skills for the 21st century that all students should master.  They are critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination.  In general, our thoughts tend to pick up on these seven ideas.

One thing that is clear – creating an environment that focuses on developing these skills requires serious thought and hard work.   The other issue is the perception that many American parents are more focused on “getting into the right school” than developing a critical thinker who is curious about the world around them.  I am not sure this perception is correct, but I do know the feeling is held by many educators in Saline and across the country.

Why?  I feel some of it has to do with the focus on test scores – such as the ACT.  In Saline, like most districts, we focus energy on making sure our students are well prepared to perform well.  We know that a solid score opens doors to colleges and possible scholarship opportunities.  However, many of us are starting to feel that focus draws us away from the preparation of lifelong learners.

The challenge is to stop preparing our students for the present and start preparing them for the future.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Patti permalink
    February 19, 2010 11:31 am

    I think that so far the teachers my son has had have prepared him to be a critical thinker. He knows alot of information, but they are teaching him to organize it and analyze it for later use. He aced the science portion of the ACT and he obviously has not had any high school science classes. But he has the knowledge and his teachers have taught what to do with information that he has, not specifically about hydrogen atoms or frog anatomy, but how to take what he already knows and apply it in the appropriate situation. All that being said, he hates doing TTTT and thinks it is boring – guess what – it is all getting through and he is able to access that process when he needs it even if he doesn’t know it. This will stick with him for a lifetime.

  2. Dave permalink
    February 19, 2010 2:35 pm

    This is an interesting post. The literature on this subject would sugggest that what is required for the 21st century school is what we used to call in industry the tryrany of the “or”.

    It is not a question of teaching to the test OR for teaching critical thinking, it is doing both. Through a combination of teaching practices that prepare the student for success as measured by standard test methods as well as having critical thinking programs such as our AP and Honors programs offer and the proposed Senior Capstone Program offers (among others as well) we can continue to develop both of these skills.

    Beyond that by offering a strong foreign language program which not only delivers knowledge of the language but of the culture and practices of the various part of our world, Saline can provide the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

    Let’s hope as we move forward our School Administration and our School Board keep the focus on building for tomorrow and not just a focus on maintaining the status quo.

    As everyone knows from driving a car, if you use the rear view mirror to guide the car you will end up on a crash. I am hopeful when I see posts such as this. It shows that some of our leadership is looking forward toward to where we are going and they are not stuck looking backward. Let’s hope more people adopt this approach. We will be will served as a community if they do.

  3. February 22, 2010 3:58 pm

    We are in difficult times. I just read today that DPS was looking for a partnership with Walmart so that students can receive on-the-job training while still in high school. What a sad state of affairs when that is all some people hope to accomplish. It’s much more refreshing reading your post.

    Good luck with the journey.

  4. Kelly Saiya-Cork permalink
    February 25, 2010 9:54 am

    Critical thinking is exactly what all students need.

    A clear understanding and the ability to recall fundamental facts and knowledge is exactly what all student need.

    How do students obtain these needs? Through proper student to teacher ratios in their classrooms according to their age level.

    We must continue to maintain staffing levels or even increase them in some circumstances to meet the needs of our children. We can no longer afford to cut teachers due to the budget. Instead, we must cut other areas.

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