School Climate & Safety Opinion

Changing Relationships Enables 21st-Century Learning

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 12, 2016 5 min read
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The capacities that school leaders must develop have been changing. Leaders were expected to create and manage a vision and maintain the learning environment as it had been defined and generate public support. Today’s leader understands that a school leader’s vision cannot be singular, it is formed from as a collaborative endeavor. Today’s school leaders experience changing boundaries and moving goalposts. Today’s leaders are asked to find simplicity in our complex world and establish the conditions that support new types of relationships, between teachers, teachers and students, teachers and leaders, and school and the broader community. This requires:

  • understanding the vast changes needed in pedagogy to support and encourage them while searching for new ways to measure learning
  • advocating for children on the broader community platform while embracing accountability for student learning as part of our role
  • establishing an environment in which risk taking for teachers and students is viewed as learning rather than success or failure
  • accepting and using technology for its capacity in changing teaching and learning

In their paper, A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning authors Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy state:

Through the combination of the ‘push’ of traditional schooling that fails to keep students or teachers engaged, and the ‘pull’ of new pedagogies unleashed through digital access, the transformation of education systems on a broad scale becomes not only possible, but inevitable...Premised on the unique powers of human inquiry, creativity, and purpose, new pedagogies are unleashing students and teachers’ energy and excitement in new learning partnerships that find, activate and cultivate the deep learning potential in all of us.

The environment in which these new pedagogies can exist is a different one from the 20th century one in which schools currently rest. The old framework just can’t hold the new potential. Books and webpages, weblogs, and articles, digital and in print, are so prolific that it is certainly impossible to keep up. The work being done to inform the public about new and emerging pedagogies can be the lever with which educational leaders can advocate for the structural changes to crusty old 20th century model.

Limiting Restrictions
At what point will educators call for the legislatures to free our work from the limiting old structure to open space for these new pedagogies and students to flourish? It is not enough to push back against the common core standards or the use of standardized tests. But, that battlefield has given us cause to exercise our voices. What if all of that energy can now push toward something? Laws, policies and regulations, funding systems, budgets, and union contracts are among the myriad of boundaries holding together web of boundaries for the school system in which school leaders serve. They are expressed as minutes of instruction in separate courses, as professional development time and topics, as length of school day and year, as certifications and licenses, roles and titles as codes of conduct and punishments as grades and mandatory ages for schooling.

Relationships Within the School
Where in this ocean of possibility can one start? Begin with relationships. If the school, even with the existing boundaries and structures, created the environment in which adult relationships changed, teaching and learning will change. In response, the relationship with and among students will change. New pedagogies invite teachers to experience and learn in a collaborative environment where creativity and risk are the way of life. Excitement about our work follows and is shared with newfound energy. Of course, success involves students so they catch the energy they see in their teachers. The manner in which teaching and learning takes place in classrooms will evolve.

As leaders and teachers learn together, the hierarchy dissolves into a new model. Everyone is a questioner, a teacher, and a learner. In the 21st century classrooms with access to the computers, Internet, 3D printers, and a flurry of events offered in ‘real time’, teachers can’t know all the information. So a system of new relationships freeing the teacher from the role of “fact center” to one of “lead investigator” shifts the dynamic. A new kind of trust and respect grows in the learning environment. This builds outward.

Relationships With Other Schools, Business, Healthcare and Higher Ed
The relationship between schools and business, healthcare, and higher education is increasingly active. The leadership skills required to make these connections and maintain them is not something learned in certification programs for school leaders. This capacity will be developed as leaders come to articulate and demonstrate the advantages and capacities these relationships hold. Business, healthcare and higher education, themselves, benefit from partnering with prek-12. It isn’t a one way street of giving resources. Scientists, bankers, and mechanics working alongside teachers in classrooms opens an enormous possibilities. As the call for more authentic learning and assessment gets louder, a fourth grade teacher or high school biology teacher can build the bridge from classroom to career with greater integrity when they are side by side with the field professional. The real world application results in a different kind of learning for the student. The difference between writing an article as an exercise to be graded by a teacher and learning the process, for example, from a collaboration between teacher and local newspaper editor results in a more authentic learning. Why should business and higher education want to do this? They get to contribute to their future employees’ education resulting in better prepared students and employees. Why wouldn’t a school want embedded professional development and help in developing authentic teaching, learning, and assessment?

Change is Necessary
We have said this many times before, the current model of schools can no longer hold the changes in pedagogy that are needed in the 21st century. Advocating FOR the changes in the structure of schools, leading the future is needed now. In the following video, Maria Langworthy shares what she has seen around the world as education systems transform through the use of new pedagogies.

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.