I’m not a big fan of the term “21st Century Skills”. I mean, we are nearly two decades into the 21st century. Shouldn’t those skills just be called learning? I also don’t love the phrase, “but that’s how we’ve always done it.” I don’t advocate change just for the sake of change, but I also don’t believe in regurgitating the same lessons year after year just because it “worked” the year before. A few years ago I was collaborating with a nearby district to bring our two seventh grade classes together for a joint PBL project. We were excited about this opportunity to broaden our students’ academic sphere with an authentic project. My superintendent was not as eager. His response, “We are an A school district. They are a C. What can we possibly learn from them?” His vision was so narrow. Somehow, I was able to maintain a professional composure while trying to show him the benefits to all students (and teachers!).
Currently, as a consultant, I get to work with some pretty amazing educators across our country. Every once in awhile, however, I come across someone who asks me something like this, “How can I handle the “normal” stuff in addition to all of the tech integration stuff you are wanting me to do?”
The answer, while simple, isn’t always easy. We have to change what we consider “normal”.
I have a fifteen-year-old daughter. She rarely calls her friends to talk. She rarely texts her friends through her phone messaging app. The clear majority of her communication is via social media, specifically Snapchat. Since my husband and I are parents who limit screen time, this has been an adaptation that’s hard for my husband to adjust to. I explained to him that when I was at that age, my parents limited my phone time to 30 minutes per conversation. I had five friends I talked to on the phone every night. That’s two and a half hours on the phone! I’ve had to help my husband change his mind on what “normal” teenage communication looks like. We’ve had to adjust screen time allocations for her when it comes to communicating with her friends.
I love to shop. But I do about fifty percent of my shopping online. It’s easier, faster, and often less expensive. My guess is that percentage will only increase in the days ahead. It’s the new normal.
Currently, my husband is completing all of the requirements for his Master’s degree online. My nephew is in his freshman year of college, and while he lives in the dorms and takes traditional classes, he also has two classes that are online. One of the high schools I work with in Texas is able to offer Arabic to some high school students via video conferencing at a nearby high school where it is offered live. I’m sitting on an airplane right now, writing this post on my way to Florida for work where I will meet with K-12 teachers to transition their teaching and learning into student-driven environments via effective and engaging technology integration. This really is the new normal.
I will not expect them to teach everything the way they’ve always taught it and add in projects that incorporate digital components. There is no point. Instead, I help them reimagine what learning could look like if the students were driving it. I help them explore strategies, resources, and ideas that blend learning to make it more authentic to the students they teach and this world where we live. I often hear people comment on how different kids are today than they were when we were growing up. That’s true (as it has been for every generation before), and that’s why classrooms, schools, instruction, and learning need to look different. I want kids to know they are loved. I want them to love learning. I want them to be prepared for life after high school. I want them to learn in ways that resonate with them as individuals. I want them to experience freedom in their learning and learn responsibility through owning that. All of this happens when educators change the way they see “normal”. So, what does normal look like to you?