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Why the right conversations are often the hard conversations

course correction 21st century skills

Leading schools where all students are successful in their world–not ours–means looking beyond current, mostly uninspiring, ideas. Today’s education leaders must seek opportunities to prepare students for an era in which they will grow and flourish.

Or, as Education Reimagined puts it:

“The current system was designed in a different era and structured for a different society. Our economy, society, and polity are increasingly at risk from an educational system that does not consistently prepare all children to succeed as adults and is least effective for the children facing the greatest social and economic challenges.”

Before significant reforms can be implemented or sustained, educators need to ask themselves a few important questions. These questions will inevitably lead to hard, but important, conversations with staff and community members.

Am I transforming schools so students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their future?

Educational leaders often find themselves stuck between a “rock and a hard place” in transforming schools. Current accountability metrics often do not adequately assess the skills needed for the future success of students. A recent synthesis by Envision of research on increasingly in-demand job skills highlights the need to expand conversations about curricula.

“Educators and workforce experts alike often warn that our children need improved 21st century skills. Without these skills, they will not be able to successfully participate in the global economy. They won’t be adequately prepared for college and work.”

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills describes additional skills–beyond the core content areas–that all students need as they navigate emerging careers.

Learning and innovation skills

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Communication and collaboration

Information, media, and technology skills

  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) literacy life and career skills
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Initiative and self-direction
  • Social and cross-cultural skills
  • Productivity and accountability
  • Leadership and responsibility

The hard conversation is engaging parents and community members to develop a curriculum that addresses these emerging skills. This new curriculum will move the focus away from the current high-stakes testing regiment and into a new set of unfamiliar assessment metrics.

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Am I taking advantage of a fast-developing digital environment to rethink instruction, so all students are engaged?

While many education and community leaders are not convinced of the effectiveness of education technology, ed-tech is and should be considered a game changer in instructional and school design.

School leaders should make use of today’s digital environment to create a new learning landscape rather than to support the current one.

In their 2017 report Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology describes five technology-enabled learning actions to improve and enhance learning:

  1. Technology can enable personalized learning or experiences that are more engaging and relevant.
  2. Technology can help organize learning around real-world challenges and project-based learning–using a wide variety of digital learning devices and resources to show competency with complex concepts and content.
  3. Technology can help learning move beyond the classroom and take advantage of opportunities available in museums, libraries, and other out-of-school settings.
  4. Technology can help learners pursue passions and personal interests.
  5. Technology access, when equitable, can help close the digital divide and make transformative learning opportunities available to all learners.

The hard conversation for educating leaders is rethinking how technology can transform current instructional designs to align with how students learn, in any type of setting. Enabling students to have control over their own learning is vital to the individual lifelong success of every student.

Am I capitalizing on the collective beliefs and ideas of my community?

A challenge for school leaders is how to include the community in transforming schools. As schools embrace change, educational leaders have a new responsibility to ask themselves about the role of community members and the importance of their voices.

Research by the School Reform Network identified five key steps for including community members and parents in fundamental change.

  1. Make engagement a priority and establish an infrastructure.
  2. Communicate proactively in the community.
  3. Listen to the community and respond to its feedback.
  4. Offer meaningful opportunities to participate.
  5. Turn community supporters into leaders and advocates.

The level of stakeholder engagement must go beyond the typical advisories and deep into the community. As ed-tech thought leader and author Barbara Kurshan writes:

“The way to get better ideas is not just to ask one set of stakeholders their opinion about what might work well. Instead, better ideas require efforts to engage many stakeholders in an ongoing conversation about our fast-changing world and about what skills and competencies students will need to stake their claim to a place in the world.”

The hard conversation for educational leaders is how to engage the thinking of all stakeholders in their communities and aligning this input with their own beliefs. Community engagement in school transformation requires everyone’s trust. Ultimately, educational leaders will come and go, but sustained change will remain when the community is engaged and informed.

How are you leading these important conversations in your school or district? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Dr. Philip D. Lanoue
Dr. Philip D. Lanoue is a nationally renowned education leader. He is the co-author of the new book The Emerging Work of Today’s Superintendent: Leading Schools and Communities to Educate all Children and the 2015 AASA National Superintendent of the Year. For more about Dr. Lanoue visit https://pdlconsultants.com.

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