21st Century Learners and Leaders

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by | May 8, 2020

Earlier this week in my Monday Blog, I shared a little about what I think is required of learners in the 21st century and about the four C’s–Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking–of 21st century education. I also shared what I would like to call the fifth and perhaps most important C, and that is Courage. Today during Teacher Appreciation Week, I am thinking more about what it means to be a 21st century teacher. Strong 21st century educators don’t just teach students the four C’s: they practice and model them. 21st century teachers are creative; they collaborate, think critically, connect and communicate with others. They are committed to lifelong learning; they adapt and are flexible. They are courageous and future-facing. They are not afraid to step out, innovate, and take up new ways of teaching, leading, learning, and living, and they empower others to do the same.

All good educators want to help their students succeed in school and in life and hope to help them reach for their dreams and greatest potential. However, what was once considered a good education is arguably not the same today. Success in high school, college, career, and citizenship is different than it was even 25 years ago. In the past, our educational focus in the US has been on knowledge attainment and mastery for content-based exams. In the 21st century and the age of Siri and Google, specific knowledge has become less important and knowing how to learn has become far more important.

In the 21st century, education has become more learner-centered, allows for the integration of different types of knowledge, and focuses on marrying knowledge and skills. 21st century educators want to give students the skills, tools, resources, and practice needed to gather knowledge and gain new skills inside and outside of school. In order to do this, teaching has changed in many ways. It includes more tools and technologies than ever before; it ties learning academics to social and emotional learning; and it is faster and can take place almost anywhere. As the world grows smaller through connections that transcend borders,  learners need to be prepared for local and global citizenship and for community integration and interaction. Teachers have to take learning beyond the classroom walls,educating through technology, experiential learning, service and project-based learning, etc. Teaching is rapidly changing in these times, encompassing more than ever before.

At GVP, we embrace the Core Value of lifelong learning. Educators who want to be 21st century teachers and models for students must do things differently. They pay attention to new media, technologies, and information. They learn and practice new literacies and model them for students. They are willing to take risks and allow students to become their teachers. 21st century teachers not only view students as potential teachers, but they encourage them to be producers rather than merely consumers. With technology and tools, students can create and produce their own websites, blogs, books, videos, music, movies, and more. 21st century educators encourage students to use their creativity and to become creators. 

In addition, 21st century educators use the tools, resources, and technologies on hand to open the world to students and take them beyond their school and local community. By broadening students’ exposure to other people and places and by teaching them the skills they need to practice empathy, active listening, and critical thinking, they can help them begin learning and practicing global citizenship. UNESCO states, “Global Citizenship Education (GCED) aims to empower learners of all ages to assume active roles, both locally and globally, in building more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure societies.” Through this type of education, students begin to see and value other cultures, languages, and ways of doing things. By going global, teachers enable and empower students to connect and collaborate with others to create a more just, equitable, and sustainable world and open new creative alternatives for life and living.

At GVP, our 21st century teachers are leaders, committed to providing students with a strong 21st century education and empowering them for the future. To that end, we started a new Rising Scholar program for our Form 3 students this year. Dr. Cassie, our Curriculum & Assessment Coordinator, and Ms. Katelynn, our School Counselor & SEL Coordinator, worked together to lift this program off the ground this spring semester with a 12-week pilot. As they crafted the curriculum, they kept focused on 21st century learning and leadership. This Rising Scholars program aims to provide refugee newcomer students with opportunities for leadership at GVP and help prepare them for leadership roles in high school and in their community.  Through special teacher-facilitated classes and learning experiences, trips, and projects, Scholars have the opportunity to develop new skills and imagine bright futures. The program focuses on leadership, service, college and career exploration, and the development of life skills. 

The semester-long program culminates with a collaborative Passion Project. Obviously, this first pilot program and Passion Project will not be exactly what we had planned. However, the students continue to press on together in online classes to work on a project they designed that is aimed at supporting people experiencing homelessness. These students will receive special honor and recognition for their critical and creative thinking about a community problem and their collaborative work to help solve it when we celebrate their graduation. We can’t wait to see what these Scholars accomplish in the project and in the future! 

“As we look ahead into the 21st century, leaders will be those who empower others.” — Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  –John Kennedy, former US President

“Great leaders harness personal courage, capture the hearts and minds of others and empower new leaders to make the world a better place.” –Maxine Driscoll, Author