Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Learning communities of the future

In 2010, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) published A 21st Century Imperative: A Guide for Becoming a School of the Future.  In that document, there is a section on Learning Communities in which the following comments are made:

Teachers are the key to school transformation. When asked to describe “the teacher of the future,” i.e., that individual who can deliver an education for our times, each head of school focused on the same qualities:

• Deep domain knowledge

• A commitment to ongoing professional development

• Significant career and life experience outside of education

• A greater interest in what is learned than in what is taught

• An ability to work as part of a team

Schools have always valued teachers who are deeply and broadly educated. Yet at a time when the knowledge base is changing so rapidly, especially in technical fields, deep domain knowledge is more than ever a prerequisite to effective teaching. A teacher must be able to keep abreast of complex developments in his or her field, sort through extensive bodies of information to select the foundational concepts and knowledge to teach, and adapt curriculum quickly and effectively to assure students are prepared for college and careers (p. 29).

Over the past few months, I have become more convinced that school leaders need to begin shifting the paradigm of professional development.  This new paradigm is rooted in the development of teachers of the future as described in the NAIS report.  In a time that calls for schools to support the development of students’ creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, schools must look to their faculties to teach their classes and provide opportunities for students to engage and refine these qualities.  Strategically thinking, schools need to assess teachers’ abilities to deliver curriculum and instruct using 21st century mindsets and methods.  Where support is needed, support must be given. 

The qualities listed above align themselves well with the 21st century skills for students.  It would be rare that a teacher, for whom the description above applies, would be greatly challenged to appreciate and design a class that embraces, supports, and develops communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking because the commitment to professional development must be a commitment to understanding and incorporating these skills in the classroom.

Herein lies the challenge.  Designing a focused professional development program that is structured to ensure clarity of purpose and sensitive to the individual teacher’s needs.  This general approach may not be new, but the specific areas of focus have shifted towards developing more creative, collaborative, communicative, and critically thinking educators in order to lead classes that not only espouse such qualities for students, but actually deliver on that claim.

In an effort to collect a list of professional development resources for “teachers of the future”, I have created this document.  Please feel free to contribute to the table.

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