There has never been a question in my mind about the importance of teaching as a profession.
In fact, to me, teaching is a calling. It takes a special person to dedicate themselves to helping guide our youth in their academic, social, and emotional development.
After all, we know there is much more to the job than imparting knowledge. In the six hours a day children spend with us, we care for and nurture the whole child – not just their brains! As a boss of mine used to say: “We don’t teach science, math, and history – We teach kids.”
If you are new to the profession, I congratulate you on taking on this joyful and daunting task!
Here’s the most incredible news, though – There has never been a better time to be a teacher.
I know, I know — it doesn’t necessarily feel that way as you read the news and follow the heated debates about teacher accountability, performance pay, high stakes testing and the like. But there are some amazing, transformative changes happening in education now, and you are getting in on the ground floor. There’s a huge shift going on in the way the world learns and the way we’ll define “Teacher” in the future. It’s a shift that’s going to change the game completely and some of the current policy debates are going to seem totally outdated — even quaint — in the very near future. You have come just at the right time.
Just imagine . . .
No longer do students have to sit in rows, dozing while you drone through the pages of your teacher edition. No, in your class, students can be directing their own learning as you question and encourage them, guiding their learning experience. Students in your class can learn required content through a 21st century learning filter that promotes the skills they will need to be successful in today and tomorrow’s world and takes full advantage of the connected learning potential inherent in the Internet and the World Wide Web.
What are these 21st century learning skills? While you may find slight variations, these are the core skills:
- Creativity and Innovation
- Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
- Communication and Collaboration
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills website breaks down each of these skills and provides valuable information and support for teaching and professional development. It is part of their Framework for 21st Century Learning, which also addresses other important learning goals such as global literacy and information, media, and technology skills. The artful 21st century educator teaches these skills while meeting curricular goals in the core subject areas.
Excited yet? I hope that you’re part of a forward-thinking school that encourages the development of these skills and supports the staff with appropriate professional development opportunities. However, there is a good chance that your school isn’t quite there yet. What can you do?
Don’t lose hope . . .
Stand by your beliefs and remember that it is all about your students. Igniting their passions and teaching them to become connected learners is a gift that will serve them well, no matter what the future brings. Keep finding ways to let students drive their own learning through inquiry and problem solving. Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and you will be there to show them that the learning opportunities are limitless. (If you need more encouragement, peruse the posts in this group blog by teachers like Shelley Wright and Becky Bair who are finding the courage to make the shift.)
Teach your students how to safely and responsibly use the digital tools available to pursue their passions and find their voice. Share your experiences with your colleagues and invite them to collaborate with your class. Those that have been there a while may be a bit resistant, but you will find there is much you can learn from each other. Build that bridge. Don’t be afraid to play and learn with your students. Expect to experience failure along the way – It’s a good way to show your students that mistakes are a critical part of the learning process.
Feeling alone out there? Never! There is an enormous support system for you…
- There are educators who are transparent in their practices. They readily post their ideas, resources, and lesson plans on Twitter, in Google Documents, or in their blogs. They are out there, eager to collaborate and connect with your classroom. (See my recent article on Twitter hashtag communities for educators for some more tips.)
- There are social networks like the Educator’s PLN and Classroom 2.0 where you can discuss best practices.
- There are opportunities to get free professional learning webinars through sites like Classroom 2.0 and events like the Reform Symposium.
- There are websites that provide motivation, information, and project ideas, such as Powerful Learning Practice and 21st Century Collaborative, Thinkfinity, 21st Century Schools, and Powerful Learning Practice’s Voices From the Learning Revolution.
- There are videos by visionaries such as Sir Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, Alfie Kohn, and Will Richardson.
- There are books such as A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, and Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education.
So get excited. After all, teaching is the profession that creates all others… Can you believe they’re going to pay you to have this much fun???