It’s been twenty years since the expression “21st Century Learning Skills” was coined. Two decades on, I wonder who can name them all? Most educators generally agree on the following list: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective and oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination. This is an impressive list that covers the range of skills most of us would agree is essential in the contemporary world. How are these skills effectively taught and assessed? What is the evidence that we are being successful?
Our teachers have the mandate that within their Matthews Hall classrooms, learning must be engaging, relevant, challenging, and significant. In a given week, a quick survey of our classrooms and content provides strong proof that this is happening. Not only is it happening, but it is living and evolving and powered by the questions and insights from the minds of your children.
What are the competencies described in the Framework for 21st Century Learning Skills? They are the attitudes, skills, and knowledge that contribute to students becoming engaged thinkers. So, while engagement is the path, questions are the means, and inquiry is the key. A commitment to such inquiry-based learning includes teaching methods built on students’ individual knowledge and interests, and emphasizes learning how to learn and how to find out, using a balanced approach of traditional and contemporary tools.
What does such an approach look like? Well, there are few time-filling worksheets or “busy work” in an inquiry-based classroom. Teachers are facilitators and not “distributors” of knowledge. In an inquiry-based classroom, all learning outcomes are transparent and accessible for all, including parents, students, and other teachers. Learning is constructed in a way that is differentiated or that is specific to the needs of each student within the classroom. Teachers work closely with colleagues to reflect, review, and revise the program. In short, they collaborate, which as the Latin root shows us, means they work together (“co” + “laborare”)!
Have you ever seen a teaching team that is more willing to do this than ours? I have spent my adult life in schools (…actually my whole life, come to think of it!) and our team of teachers is second-to-none. Their collegial approach and genuine interest in supporting one another’s efforts benefit all students throughout our school. The students sense this and, with time, it is reflected in their own work. This year, our new breakout spaces and well-connected classrooms, flooded with natural light, create a “concourse of collaboration”, which we have never seen before.
As we approach the end of the first term in our new building, we are thankful each day for the opportunities and advantages that these inspiring new spaces create for our students and teachers.
Over the course of the year, we look forward to refining the 21st Century Learning Skills in our students, ourselves, and our future. And we are happy to do this with you – the first and most important teachers of your children!
Ric Anderson, Head of School