What does Leadership for 21st Century Learning look like?
We recently had principals and vice principals from 9 different schools in Norway and Sweden visit our school to learn more about leading in a digital and innovate learning community. Our school was recommended by The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training in Norway, and it was a good challenge for us to plan the visit and look at what criteria we meet, and which areas we need to improve. We made sure to take the time to reflect about this with our visitors and many of the principals shared that they had experienced periods where new thinking and innovation was slow or even at a stand still. It is inevitable that when you as a school leader think your school is headed in the right directions, you stop paying attention. When you think your teachers are equipped to deal with classrooms full of technology and that your students are benefiting from this type of learning, you take for granted that you can let go. And then you realize that this is never the case.
We all agreed that we need to stay on task. That we need school leaders who are willing to take chances, willing to learn and willing to give the innovative teachers room to work. This isn’t about “are we good enough?”; the focus is on continuously getting better and understanding what needs to be done.
This resonates well with the article I read by The Principal of Change, George Couros, and where I got the idea for my headline.
I quote from his blog:
This is not asking what would work best for you (the adult). It is asking you to try your best to understand your students, their realities, their viewpoints, and take that learning and create something meaningful for them.
This is why I wrote about “8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom”. The term “today” focuses on what the students in front of you need. We talk about preparing our students for the future, but that often comes at the cost of ignoring who is in your room today. They need you to be your best, and at your “Day 1” right now. You only have one opportunity to work with the students you have this year. Today’s classroom is understanding to serve the future, you focus on serving your students in the present. They are the future.
I will continue to look at this image and think about how I can iterate it to move forward while digging deeper in each area on the illustration on the right.
What are our criteria for success?
Recently Ms. Jyoti Rahaman, an intern with Unesco sent some of her research on our school to us and we used this during our visit last week. Ms. Jyoti is writing her Master thesis and took time in December 2016 to study the innovative work of teachers and students at Sandvika high school. Jyoti, currently a student of Global Development (GLOBED) aims to set new standards as an international Master in the field of globalization, education and international development, an Erasmus+ joint master degree coordinated by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain, and co-supervised by the University of Oslo, Norway, and the University of Malta. She interviewed teachers and students and her findings summarized were the following:
- Block scheduling as organized at our school is one of the reasons why we do well in working with technology.
- The teachers are highly motivated and creative. Most of them are aware of educating their students for a changing future and they embrace the challenge they encounter while teaching their students. However, some of them are not aware of the requirements for 21st-century education apart from the fact that it involves technology in classrooms.
- Sandvika has a very encouraging, inclusive and holistic learning environment, and it is crucial to take care of this environment for better learning setting in the future. Hence, for teachers who are not comfortable with using technology heavily in their classrooms, it is important to get them involved in the discussion and to understand their challenges and perspectives.
- The school leaders are doing a commendable job by taking risks to implement new ideas and by not giving up on continuing block scheduling.
- The level of flexibility and freedom I have seen among the teachers and students is very inspiring. However, as mentioned before there are some teachers who are not tech-pro, and they may find themselves isolated from the whole school setting. To become a truly innovative and exemplary school that others can learn from, it is important to empower everyone in the institution to become good teachers and learners.
Summary of Class Observations (Use of technology)
In some classes students are highly motivated, take part in active class discussions and interact articulately with the teachers and their peers. However, in some classes students are distracted with the internet and games. In these both scenarios, the role of the teacher was crucial. The teacher (who tackled the distraction issue in the class) gently reminded the students that it is disrespectful to their peers if they didn’t pay attention to them. The way this teacher slowly took time to remind them about how they should use the learning tools without telling them to get off the internet was different than the other teachers who were struggling to keep the whole class’s attention together
Summary of Interviews Students
They are motivated, spontaneous, and aware of what it means to be educated for the 21st century. They appreciate the facilities and supportive learning environment provided by the school. Some of them who are new in Sandvika and have experienced learning in other schools mentioned that having such environment motivates them to work harder than before.
Teaching and Learning through Block Scheduling Advantages
Based on my conversation with the students and teachers, it is clear that block scheduling is the most important element in the whole learning setting that helps the teachers and students enjoy the learning process. Moreover, the innovative use of technology and involving students with creative real-world based learning assignments are possible to integrate mainly due to this system.