Transforming 21st century education

Many educators support by now the notion of student-directed learning , where teaching is no longer about the teacher lecturing and the students absorbing information. We’re highly aware of the benefits from cross-curricular studies, blending science and math, for example, or incorporating music into a literature class. Thus, begging the question: Why is it still so often we rely on the same traditional model - where we separate subjects and lessons plans- to effectively teach?

Two reasons come to mind.

First, because it works, relatively speaking. We shuffle students through the curriculum, they learn lessons, take tests, and graduate with a satisfactory foundation of knowledge and skills. Adequate. Enough to survive, to continue on to pursue higher education, for the most part.

More recently, however, we have started to recognize that this foundation of knowledge and skills is not up to par. Rote memorization is not enough. We must attempt to inspire creativity and innovation, training our students to employ what they know in real-life situations. Our students aren’t as proficient in critical thinking, teamwork and inquiry - all of which are paramount for success.

Secondly, we also abide by established guidelines because we are unsure how to initiate change. Currently, we are lagging behind in adapting new frameworks that prioritize cross-curricular connections, student self-efficacy, and inquiry-based learning. As we move into the 21st century we must provide our students the skills necessary to succeed in this ever-changing global environment.

Imagination is more important than knowledge, according to Einstein.Students today require a learning environment where the skills and enthusiasm they bring to the classroom are understood and incorporated into the teachers’ pedagogical practices. If we are to sufficiently prepare our students for life in a 21st century global society, education must blend digital and conventional instructional methods into a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning.

As we approach the end of another school year, it’s a good time to consider the opportunity teachers have in ushering in a new era of educational excellence.

To be a teacher is to be a leader, a learner, and a change agent.

Inside the classroom, teachers make important decisions that impact the lives of their students on a daily basis. They try to engage with their students, while catering to learning needs on an individual basis. But in order to transform schools, teachers must be willing to go beyond the classroom. They need to become thought leaders, challenge the status quo, and not just articulate what change looks like- they must show it. By establishing a culture of change, presenting clearly defined goals, and asking the tough questions teachers are in the position to help guide the transformation.

How can this be achieved? Making small instructional changes can make a tremendous impact. For example, beginning each lesson or unit by allowing students to question the content first allows them to answer their own questions throughout the lesson or unit. By beginning with questioning, students often take more ownership in their work and have increased engagement with the content. (For questioning strategies try the Question Formulation Technique or I see, I think, I wonder).

Another small instructional change teachers can work in to their classroom is incorporating collaboration daily. By having student to student or student to teacher collaboration, teachers help students engage in meaningful conversation, questioning, and debate. Collaboration can take place with students researching the answers to the questions they create on the content, planning and carrying out an investigation, discussing content they are learning, or creating a presentation on content to teach to the class. Try using the Jigsaw strategy to allow for discussion and research or a discussion strategy like the Triad Conversation to facilitate discussions during a learning session .

Change is hard and often quite messy. Educators have to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and start asking themselves how they can be agents of change. Instead of doing more, focus on doing different. Take chances and welcome diversity. While this may seem daunting and difficult, it can also be fulfilling and exciting.


Edee is Social communicator @ Newschool.

Newschool is striving to driving change and invites you to come learn from a model that works. In cooperation with the Kaospilot Learning Design Agency, we offer a three day Masterclass workshop where 21st century learning takes the lead. More info here: