21st Century Teaching and Learning

by Cheryl Wozniak

We are well into the 21st century, yet, in some respects, we are just beginning to understand how different of an educational experience our students need to be prepared to hold a variety of jobs, some of which have not yet been defined.  Similarly, we, educators, are learning how different our roles need to be to ensure our students are prepared.

Perhaps what adds to the uncertainty is there is no one definition of 21st century learning.  In fact, when doing a Google search on “21st century learning,” one of the top hits was an article published in 2010 by Education Week Teacher PD Sourcebook that included views from 12 leading educators in the U.S., all of whom had a different take on the 21st century learning skills students need to be successful citizens.

Fortunately some consistent themes have emerged, and since the adoption of California Common Core State Standards we have guidelines on what we are expected to teach.  We also have expectations outlined in the  National Education Technology Plan.  Possessing strong skills in communication, critical thinking, flexible problem solving, collaboration, and digital literacy are reported by employers as some of the most essential tools needed to thrive in the workplace.  How do we teach these skills?  I believe it is by creating learning environments where these skills can be practiced daily and where they are embodied by the educators responsible for facilitating their students’ learning.

As the needs of the 21st century student have changed, so has the role of the 21st century teacher.  Gone are the days when teachers spend all 180 student days in the classroom.  Today’s educator is a learner as well, and professional learning happens in many forums: at national conferences alongside teachers from around the world, in colleagues’ classrooms observing an expert model lessons, in grade-level teams scoring your own and other students’ work, to name a few.

PUSD is responding to the learning needs of both students and staff.  We are steeped in a facilities master planning process where we are re-envisioning learning spaces with flexible furniture, digital devices, and large, open areas that will allow students to collaborate in teams to make and experience learning in addition to reading about it.  We also have created a new flexible professional development program where teachers have the option of choosing the areas in which they want to learn rather than attending a one-size-fits-all staff development day three times per year.  Similar to their students, many teachers will be collaborating with their colleagues in professional learning communities where they engage in an in-depth study of some aspect related to improving student learning.

No doubt these are challenging and exciting times in education!  Change can be difficult and the unknown can be unsettling.  Yet one thing remains constant: our commitment to serving the students in Piedmont for whom we care so deeply.

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