Every teacher should be looking closely at what they are teaching and determining what is important. As a starting point, educators can look at what their district values and creates as goals. Our district's curriculum department is a well-oiled machine that provides great support systems for our teachers. They align standards to curriculum resources, provide pacing guides, and even step-by-step lesson plans for the first 20 days of the school year. These are fabulous for new teachers and helpful when new curriculum adoptions are put in place.
They have an ongoing process for training district and school leaders as coaches to help guide teachers to reflect on their lesson successes and areas to improve. I get a chance to sit in on these coaching trainings, and a recent one caught my attention as they shared a presentation on one of the district goals of providing a "Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum".
The slide below was one they spent a lot of time on, and as the presenter explained, the center "Tested Curriculum" should be the focus, like a dartboard it is the target for the coaches to focus on when working with the teachers in their building.
The presenter went further to explain the focus helps teachers align the learning goal to the standards. Now as a lover of lesson design myself, I'm always focusing my instruction and fellow teachers on their lesson objective, learning goal, learning target, whatever you want to label it as. It really makes an instructor hone in on the activities and scaffolds of support they put in place to ensure they are helping students towards reaching that goal. However, as the speaker for this particular slide mentioned several times that that center circle of "Tested Curriculum" was the main focus and what we need to really target, I couldn't help feeling uneasy. Something was missing from the message that was being sent out to the leaders that would then share this vision with all stakeholders that would follow their lead. Something so important was missing, that I talked passionately about it with a colleague, and she suggested it should be the topic of my next blog post.
“If we only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them.”
~ George Couros
Our district's mission statement, "Omaha Public Schools prepares all students to excel in college, career, and life." resonates with me as one I fully believe in, value, and support. That last word, "life" to me is the most important as we truly don't know where life will take our students. I also know that what is focused on in our district trainings to the coaches that interact directly with our teachers, is what is paid attention to and put into action in our classrooms daily. I don't want the focus to shift off of the "Tested Curriculum" completely, but that is just one piece of the puzzle for success. Of course we want our students to be able to show they can meet the proficiency levels that are expected of them on state assessments, but if our district driving focus only stays there and we don't push further we will miss out on preparing them for what life truly has in store for them.
No one has a crystal ball into the future, but I found a recent post by Microsoft Reporter intriguing as they predicted ten potential careers of the future. The main skill for these future jobs centered around the ability of humans to provide unique thinking and creativity to be productive. If we keep too much focus on mastering "Tested Curriculum" will we miss out on fostering these skills in our students?
In the same coaching training mentioned at the beginning of this post, they shared a great sentiment, "Kids can’t learn what they have not been taught.” What skills do our students need to be taught to prepare them for life besides those to master a test? You can find a laundry list of proposed skills across online educational communities and there is value in so many. To provide a starting point, our district has included a variation of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills 4Cs by adding digital Citizenship to create the 5Cs:
My five year old son, Chase is a kindergarten student in our district, and his younger brother McKennon will quickly be there too. As a parent and educator, I have a unique lens and I really hope to see the district start to shift the focus to include more than "Tested Curriculum" to best prepare them for life. My own personal view, is that the skills in the 5Cs should outweigh the mastery of "Tested Curriculum" as it allows for the fostering of the unique thinking and creativity needed for careers of the future. Pushing beyond the 5Cs, I want my own children and all to find connections to what they are learning to the real world, and a method to doing that in the classroom is through Project Based Learning (PBL).
Don't get me wrong, I love to see Chase work towards increasing his reading level, creating writing pieces, and mastering his math packet. What I don't love is the lack of evidence of the 5Cs being fostered through his work and classroom experiences. The lack of how what he is learning connects to the skills he will need in life and as his part in society. The district has such strong support systems towards ensuring the Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum to master the "Tested Curriculum" that a teacher's day can be very planned out minute-by-minute for language arts and math blocks. The "look fors" that coaches are provided do not include the 5Cs, or allow time for Project Based Learning. The professional development opportunities rarely mention 21st Century Skills integration as it is not part of our district's focus. My hope for the near future is for all districts, including ours to continue to make strides in academic areas, but also to place a focus on and value the importance skills that can not be easily measured by a test.
Striking a balance
Having a section for 21st Century Skills in our district's Best Instructional Practices handbook is helpful. However, a teacher might find it daunting to incorporate the 5Cs and Project Based Learning in their lesson design with all other district expectations. It takes time, effort, and an instructor that sees its value. When I see a teacher purposefully plan learning activities with components of the 5Cs integrated it can be powerful. It is the perfect balance of knowing they are teaching what is important both academically and for life.
Below are some tips to serve as a starting point that will allow you to stay in line with your district's focus, but also work towards building life skills through the 5Cs and Project Based Learning to foster the 21st Century Skills.
An Educator's Guide to the 4Cs
Mother, wife, teacher, learner, information seeker, outdoor lover, & I guess now a novice blogger.