The 21st century is here. It is in our world, our state, our community, and our schools. All around us, innovations abound; we have numerous devices in our homes and workplaces, there is “an app” for everything, and robotics are no longer something we see in “sci-fi” movies. All of these innovations provide us with renewed experiences. Yet each day, as the lights illuminate the halls of our schools, tradition and the past dominate our education experience. The fact is our students may not be experiencing the best this century has to offer. We, the educators and administrators, are working to improve but the improvement process is slow compared to the pace of change and may not be fast enough for our students who desire and need 21st century learning experiences.
The term “innovation” ushers in thoughts of being creative, transformative, or inventive; our schools should epitomize innovation! Such innovations in our schools are required, not simply for efficiency, but because they are imperative to meet the demands of the world in which our children will be living. Classrooms should have an equipped teacher and sufficient technology to prepare students for enhanced thinking and learning.
Eric Hoffer stated in his book, Blended, “In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” (2015). To that end, I believe our schools should innovate our practices and our mindset to ensure we effectively equip our students!
“Equip them for what?” you might ask, and for that I answer, “for being a healthy, productive, and value-added member of their community.” Whether it be for continuing education, work and careers, or community service, I believe the school system should strive to prepare the student.
The future demands our students to have knowledge in the basics, of course. However, it also dictates more advanced problem solving skills, creativity, adaptation, and resilience. Regardless of the path our students choose after they leave the school system, they will experience a world that is technologically advanced and dependent upon their individual ability to comprehend, conclude, and collaborate. That being said, it is my hope that our teachers can effectively teach and model the 21st century technology, collaboration, and sharing paramount to their students’ future success.
There is a saying about traditional education and educators; we have been the “sage on the stage.” In this model, the teacher is the vessel of knowledge and “gives” that knowledge to the student. This transmission assumes a fairly passive student simply awaiting to be fed information to regurgitate it on an exam, homework, or other assessment. I refer to this as “pushing in” content.
However, the 21st century is filled with students who want to be active, participative learners; therefore, the “sage on the stage” model is not aligned.
There exists another approach. The “guide on the side” refers to a concept in which the educator, whether it be a teacher, advisor, mentor or administrator, has the knowledge and/or information and helps facilitate the acquisition of such by the student(s). I am inspired by this concept because it more closely reflects the Latin roots of the word “education.” “Educare” means to “draw out.” This model also resonates with me because it reflects the collaborative and sharing of competencies this century demands of our students. In addition, it encourages the educator to “pull out” the learning and comprehension; it motivates students to take responsibility for their own learning and development, which is paramount to their success as adults.
My vision for the Anchorage School District is to develop both our educators and our students using the “guide on the side” model. I trust in the knowledge, expertise, and commitment from our staff. I believe in and commit to the willingness and abilities of our students as well as their support systems.
The “3Rs” (Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmatic) will remain as mainstays in our learning. Nevertheless, they must expand to meet the critical thinking and creative design required for 21st century learning. As 21st century work involves technology, we must change the manner in which we educate students. That being said, I believe we educators have our own “Rs” to model and teach so we can better prepare our students for increased learning, optimized employment, amplified community involvement, and/or other inspired endeavors.
Rigor and tenacity are required with the evolution of our educational system. The “escalation of learning” at any time, any place, any pace, and with any path is a concept promoting educational equity. Regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, disability, English proficiency, and/or geographic location, students should be able to pursue challenging courses of study. Both teachers and students need to demonstrate rigor as we adapt and evolve into these mindset and protocols. Thankfully, we can depend on technological advances to help us escalate our students’ learning. Innovative hardware and software solutions allow our teachers to better facilitate the targeted sharing of knowledge and information, gain student assessment data, and offer timely feedback. Moreover, these technological advances allow all types of students and their subsequent networks to orchestrate their own learning and development whether it be in the traditional classroom, remotely, or virtually.
Relevant content which targets and/or peaks students’ interests creates an energetic and wide path to personalized learning. Relevant content expedites engagement and enthusiasm in one’s learning. This builds success and confidence not only in academic measures but in preparation for a successful and meaningful future. Often, educators have been overwhelmed with providing relevant content as the diversity of students’ interests, experiences, etc. have increased. Individualizing content relevance has been difficult for the “sage on the stage.” However, if we are to adopt the “guide on the side” model and begin to better utilize technology, our educators can ensure the content and curriculum is relevant to students. Innovative software solutions provide educators an incredible expansion of content and curriculum; they also provide a platform for effective facilitation. Enabling the gathering, sharing, and analyzing of curriculum content will go a long way in increasing our students’ learning.
Resourcefulness is required to create student choice and opportunity. No longer do the walls of classrooms and schools define what educational opportunities are available. Districts and states must work towards a systematic and collaborative organization that allows improved sharing of resources. For example, we must break down our traditional boundaries and provide collaborative platforms for teachers to learn and share best practices. I believe this approach is the only way to meet the demands of our nation’s standards and our communities’ expected outcomes. Furthermore, it is the best way to meet the learning needs unique to each student. Once again, advances in technology can enable us! In our great state, there are geographic distances to overcome and for too long we have used this as an excuse not to collaborate and share. I am inspired by the 21st century technological solutions which help us reduce the distance, break out of our traditional paradigms, and model resourcefulness, collaboration, and sharing for our students.
Failure has, for a very long time, been something educators have tried to avoid. But avoidance has come at a cost. Our students often lack the resiliency to overcome failure and disappointment. Re-iteration, with understanding that failure always brings a chance to strengthen learning, is required to ensure a student’s success. Working towards a goal, failing, learning from it, and making improvements for future success aggregate to build an incredible life skill. As educators, we must model this type of mindset and perseverance as well as encourage it with our students. The “guide on the side” model, as it goes beyond lecture and testing, can help facilitate analysis and improvement cycles of re-iteration to instill the grit needed for students to persevere in the 21st century.
Responsiveness to all of our stakeholders’ needs is required to build student success. In our new world, we can no longer afford to take our time to be responsive to student learning needs. In today’s world, instant gratification comes into play in that everyone has immediate access to information; our school system cannot lag behind these everyday expectations. As stated earlier, technology enables immediate access to content and curriculum. In addition, it provides an avenue for streamlined and real time information about a student’s plans and progress. Technology helps organize national student data, personalized student data, improvement plans, etc. in an easily understood or adaptable dashboard format. Easy access to this information enables the teacher, the student, the administrator, or other key stakeholders to better target the learning and development of each student.
Relationships, quality relationships, round out the last “R” as they serve as the necessary foundation for optimal learning and growth. Theodore Roosevelt was known to have said, “people do not care what you know until they know that you care.” When teachers commit to building positive relationships with their students, learning happens at its highest levels. Building relationships takes time. Time is wasted when we hold firm to our traditional paradigms about education and the classroom in general. Effective use of classroom technology can free up the needed time and space to enable us to build and sustain quality relationships. When teachers meet their students “where they are” and adapt their own communication and engagement styles to that of their students, they are better prepared to build and sustain healthy and encouraging relationships. In 21st century learning, this incorporates changes to our communication methods. To that end, technological innovation is once again imperative. Our students have grown up with Facetime, online chat, and texting; we must continue to compromise our own desires regarding how we communicate and adapt to that of our students.
In summary, I believe the present imperative in education calls for a change in our practices and mindsets. It is time for the education system to better equip and empower our teachers and students so that we may collaboratively create new experiences to develop a future generation of strong thinkers and doers. I trust rigor, relevance, resourcefulness, re-iteration, responsiveness and a commitment to relationships will result in 21st century learning and success for our students and our communities.
This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of STRIVE magazine.
About the Author
Dr. Deena Paramo’s focus on student achievement and success is backed by her experiences in teaching and educational leadership. As superintendent of the largest school district in the state, she is firmly committed to the ASD’s vision to have every child prepared for the workforce or post-secondary education after high school. Paramo began her Alaska educational career in 1991 and has proudly served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent of the Mat-Su Borough School District before being named ASD’s superintendent in July 2016.