A Blueprint for 21st Century Learning and Teaching

Yesterday, with the leadership of our Superintendent of Student Success +David DeSantis, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board began the process of defining the vision and implementation plan for realizing the outcomes in our 21st Century Teaching and Learning Blueprint.

Recently, I began reading the book ‘Why’ by Simon Sinek and reflecting on his message and how it relates to our vision for 21st Century Learning and Teaching. We have outlined the ‘what’ (desired student outcomes, sub-committees, focus questions), and the ‘how’ (committee process, report recommendations, tools for achieving student outcomes). For Sinek, it is identifying the ‘why’ that inspires people to act. Below are my thoughts on ‘why’ we should be undertaking this process and 'why it is so important. For me, the ‘why’ is because we need to re-examine the way learning & teaching takes place in our Board (from the instructional strategies and tools and the way we support technology to what our learning spaces will look like).

At the recent ECOO conference
+Jaime Casap asked a very good question? "Why do classes remain unchanged from the times when we went to school?" Some recent articles; What Does Classroom 2.0 Look Like? (Educators detail how they’re putting a new learning space design paradigm to work in their schools) and Why Disruptive Leadership (a great article about the approach required to change the prevailing mindset) are excellent food for thought.

source: Wendy DeRosa

As we undertake this visioning process, it is an opportunity for us to adopt a ‘greenfield approach’ - a fresh start where we are not constrained by what we have done in the past. It is this new thinking about learning (for students & staff) that will allow us to achieve new possibilities for teaching. I have deliberately placed the focus on the learning as opposed to the teaching, because I think this represents the kind of shift that is required to transform instructional practice. It is the educator learning that can take place through collaborative inquiry in the professional learning cycle that will encourage teachers to adopt new methods for achieving 21st Century outcomes.

While we will share our insights and experiences from our individual classes and schools it is important for us to keep in mind our catholic social teachings about community and the common good, as our decisions will have implications for the entire system.

We will be using Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education
 to facilitate the collaboration and documentation of the sub-committees and to familiarize ourselves with 21st Century tools and methods. This decision is practical as well as symbolic, as these tools represent a new and different way of working that we can model for our educators and students. I will also be arranging a tour of the communitech hub so that sub-committee members can see 21st Century work in action.

As I meet with each of the sub-committees I will show the video on ‘moonshot thinking’ because I think that it embraces the critical mindset that is necessary for us to achieve exceptional learning outcomes for our students and our educators and to solve the really big challenges that our system faces; equity, anti-bullying and re-thinking 21st learning and teaching to mention a few. Although the video focuses on science & technology I think it is very applicable to the educational context. ‘’We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’’

I hope the video will also encourage committee members to be open-minded, to dream big and to reinforce that iteration is essential. "Why" is this mindset so important for 21st Century Learning and Teaching, - because the stakes are high. There are several private sector examples of companies that once dominated their markets, that now struggle to succeed because they have failed to adapt to the changes around them and continue to innovate (Kodak, Nortel, Blackberry, and increasingly Microsoft). On the flip-side we have examples like the Perimeter institute and Google that are providing solutions for problems that do not even exist yet (e.g. Google working on a protocol for communicating with Mars).

If we do not take this opportunity to be open-minded about this re-examination and to challenge the status-quo how will we ever know what will be possible in our Board?