What I Believe About Education

My beliefs about education have been influenced over the past twelve years by my professional experience as a classroom teacher. Over the past three years however, as I have prepared for the next level in my career as a school leader, my beliefs about leadership and my core vision for a school have evolved because of what I have learned not only from the coursework I have completed in my degree program, but from other administrators and educators that I have connected with through my Personal Learning Network (PLN). I have built and maintain a strong PLN over the past two years through my profesional use of social media tools and have gained tremendous inspiration through connecting with professionals who share my philosophy on teaching, learning, leadership, and professional development.

Most of my current beliefs about education run parallel to a policy paper recently published by the McGraw Hill Research Foundation. “A High School for the 21st Century” doesn’t ask the question, “can schools do better?” rather it mandates that schools must do better. There has never been a more pressing time for innovative school leadership than the 21st century. I am confident that based on my professional experience in both secondary and post-secondary education, combined with a dual Master’s in Business Education and Educational Administration that I am ready to step into a school leadership role and have the skills necessary to lead a school to success.

I believe that doing what is best for our students should be the focus of every school administrator. Hiring and supporting the continous professional growth and development of our teachers is directly connected to doing what is best for our students. It is crucial for teachers to be supported and encouraged by school leaders to be innovative and committed to continuous improvement if we are to position our schools and our students for success in the 21st century. I believe I am a leader who can offer teachers support and resources they need to continuously improve, maintain their passion and enthusiasm for teaching, and ultimately cultivate an environment of shared leadership. This will have the greatest impact on student learning and achievement.

I believe that American schools need to be redesigned to reflect our current society and that the time to redesign our schools is now. Our society continues to change rapidly, yet our schools remain stagnant. This is no longer acceptable and we owe it to our students to create schools that are reflective of the real-world, especially if we expect them to be able to effectively function in the real-world. There are three key areas of schools which need to be redesigned including: curriculum, technology, and leadership.

1. School redesign must start with examining current curriculum. What, when, why, from whom, and how do students of the 21st century need to learn?

Redesigning the core of what , when, from whom, why, and how do students need to learn will make our schools relevant, meaningful, and exciting. This is desperately needed especially at a time when close to half of high school dropouts, 47%, have cited “boredom” as their reason for dropping out. An increase in technology integration into the curriclum can contribute to creating new and exciting educational experiences that extend beyond the walls of the classroom, are reflective of the 21st century, and lay the foundation for students to become passionate, lifelong learners. We are dealing with a generation that literally has every piece of information on every topic known to mankind available to them on their telephones. Knowing this, what we teach this generation becomes fundamental if school are to remain relevant.

What students need to learn are fundamental 21st century skills of communication, critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to collaborate. Collectively known as “the 4 C’s” these are skills that will allow our students to solve complex problems and work in a culturally diverse society. This is a vast and complex topic but there are model schools that are dedicated to helping their students master these critical 21st century skills. Click here to see how some schools are teaching 21st century skills.

Students also must learn a set of skills that will allow them to be effective and meaningful contributors to the Internet. The Internet is no longer a place reserved for consuming information, it is now a place to create information. Our students need to understand how to responsibly contribute to the Internet and create meaningful, valuable content worth sharing with the world. Additionally, our students can learn how to use a tool like Facebook to actually help them create a strong brand identity; one that reflects positively upon them and contributes to career and networking opportunities.

When student need to learn no longer needs to be confined to a 7:30 to 2:30 Monday through Friday school day and successful 21st century schools are able to create a school culture where learning takes place 24/7. Flipped classrooms, social media, mobile technology, apps, and online courses are examples of trends that are transforming the educational experience from the 7 or 8 period school day into a 365, 24/7, self-directed journey of learning. Lisa Neilsen, co-author of Teaching Generation Text, and blogger of The Innovative Educator: Thinking Way Outside the Box” offers advice on how and why mobile technology can and should be integrated into a school to make learning a lifelong experience.

From Whom students need to learn is perhaps one of the biggest paradigm shifts for many schools. The traditional classroom environment of the teacher standing at the front of the room giving information and being the only source of knowledge is a model that prevents forward progression and cultural transformation in our schools. Students can now connect with industry experts through various technological platforms and gain deep understanding of a topic. Technologies such as Skype can bring authors, entrepreneurs, government officials, scientists, and other students from across the world into the classroom and give students the opportunity to learn from an expert in the field or from their peers in another country. Rather than study about Chinese cultural from a textbook or even from online sources, there is now technology that allows our students to learn about Chinese culture from a person living in China. Skype is just one way to begin to help a school shift its paradigm from the teacher being the center to the teacher as a facilitator guiding the discussion and discovery. Want to get started with Skype? Click here to learn about 10 ways you can use Skype in the classroom. Blogtalkradio is another innovative tool that can contribute to learning outside the classroom.

Why students need to learn has also changed dramatically from the 20th century. Students are now preparing for careers where collaboration and complex problem-solving is demanded from employers. Employers want employees who can offer innovation and strategies to help improve operations and customer relationships, increase market share and revenue, while at the same time remain fiscally conservative and employ production and service practices that are environmentally sustainable and ethically sound. Students need to learn how to innovate and create if our country is to continue to prosper and compete in the global economy.

Our society has shifted from manufacturing and industrialism to an information-based society. The ability of our students to find, evaluate, analyze information and to then use this information to provide solutions and recommendations to complex problems is crucial. As our society to continues to rely on information, the need for our students to develop their higher ordering thinking skills will grow. Students who are not able to develop these skills will ultimately hurt our society by not being able to contribute. Our goal should be to get our entire workforce to be the “knowledge workers” that we will need. Sir Ken Robinson, global education and creativity expert, speaks about this topic in many of his lectures; not just why our students need to learn, but also the what, why, and the how. His talk “Changing Education Paradigms” was adapted by RSA Animate provides a “what if” glimpse into what education could (and really should) be in the 21st century.

How students learn is another major paradigm shift for school leaders to embrace in the 21st century. These are students who have not seen technology evolve. They are students who do not know what the world was like without computers and for them to not be taught how their computers, especially the one’s that are in their pockets, can be used to aide in their learning is the sign of a school that doesn’t understand the students of the 21st century. These Gen Y’ers as they are being referred to are incredibly unique in the sense that their desire to connect with the outside world can be fulfilled through the use of technology.

Learning has historically been a “social thing” but with the advent of social media and tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Web 2.0 tools, the opportunity for learning to be a truly social experience has grown exponentially and has broken down the barriers in terms of distance, language, and culture. In the 21st century schools must teach how students learn because the old way is simply not effective with many of today’s students. Asking the right questions, using the right tools, and bringing meaning and relevance to lessons are ways 21st century schools are changing how students learn. St. Mary’s City School in Ohio for example is meeting the needs of students through using current technology with a special emphasis on mobile technology. Fourth grade teacher Scott Newcomb’s blog The Mobile Native provides resources for teachers and administrators on how to effectively integrate technology into the classroom. Click here to learn more about what St. Mary’s is doing to help students use their smartphones as learning devices.

2. School redesign must include the integration of 21st century technologies if we are to transform what, when, for whom, why, and how students learn.

Technology integration is the cornerstone to turning the dream of a school redesign into a reality and can help transform the what, how, when, from whom, and why students learn. A 21st century school is different from a 20th century model is many ways including:

  • Promotes the safe and ethic use of technology and emphasizes the necessity for students to be digitally literate
  • Creates educational programs for students to learn the elements of being responsible digital citizens
  • Provides real-world learning opportunities through service or community-based learning projects or internships
  • Uses the Internet, e-books and other online tools to deliver content
  • Integrates software and Web 2.0 tools to allow students to create content that can be shared globally and curated into a digital portfolio
  • Improves communication and collaboration between students, parents, and the community through implementing safe online communities and forums using social media tools. Edmodo has emerged as the “Facebook of Education” and is one example of the type of secure social network that can be used to improve communication, student motivation, and contribute to responsible digital citizenship.
  • Emphasizes critical-thinking, creativity and problem solving through multi-disciplinary projects
  • Supports ongoing professional development for educators through assisting in the development of Personal Learning Networks using current technologies. Click here for a list of free technology webinars on everything from Dropbox, to Google Drive, to Twitter. Just as we differentiate learning for our students, our professional development needs must also be differentiated and webinars provide an excellent way for educators

The League of Innovative Schools shared a Leadership in Action supplement title “What Does a 21st Century School Look Like?” This consortium of New England schools is dedicated to bringing schools into the 21st century. I share their philosophy and hope that more educational leaders will also adopt their philosophy and become members of this supportive group. Timberlane High School, Campbell High School, and Portsmouth High School are three New Hampshire schools that are a part of the consortium and are committed to innovation and transformation of schools in the 21st century.

3. School redesign for the 21st century depends on the leadership of the principal.

I believe that whether or not a school moves into the 21st century and is successful at this redesign depends largely in part on the leadership abilities of the school principal.

A modern principal knows that schools must change in order to meet the needs of a 21st century student and is committed to developing and leading a culture that embraces change, experimentation, risk-taking, and rewards innovation.

Four examples of such educational leaders include Scott Strainge, Director of Student Learning at Timberlane High School in Plaistow, New Hampshire, Patrick Larkin, Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Burlington, Massachusetts, Eric Sheninger, Principal of New Milford High School in New Milford, New Jersey and Joe Mazza, Lead Learner (principal) of Knapp Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

These three educational leaders exemplify the traits of a 21st century school administrators, and have evolved as my “virtual mentors.” They always put the needs of their students first and they clearly understand that students must develop the 4 C’s if they are to be effective in the 21st century. Their support of innovation and technology integration, including mobile technologies, apps, and social media have helped transform their schools into truly student-centered learning environments. The many awards and honors each has received, along with their invitations to serve as keynote speakers at educational conferences throughout the country prove their influence as educational thought leaders.

These administrators are truly an inspiration to me as a future administrator myself. I have connected with each one of them through Twitter, Gmail, Skype and have met Patrick Larkin in person at the 2012 Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference held in November in Manchester, New Hampshire. Eric Sheninger Skyped with me in May of 2012 and I learned from him directly what initiatives his school was pursuing to redesign New Milford into a 21st century school. Eric Skyped for a second time with me and a group of my colleagues during a Twitter workshop and he explained how he uses Twitter within his school to improve communications as well as how he uses it to grow professionally. Finally, upon reaching out to Joe Mazza on Twitter regarding my capstone project, he was happy to offer to assist me with administering a survey over the Internet.

These school leaders are not only dedicated to their own schools and communities, but they are dedicated to helping their colleagues throughout the world grow and develop professionally. Joe and Eric recently founded the professional group Leadership 2.0 on EdWeb.net which is a social networking site for educators. I joined the Leadership 2.0 group and participated in a live webinar this past fall. The leadership strategies that were shared during this webinar were incredibly motivating and underscored the need for schools to bring innovative leaders into schools if redesign is to occur.

I am hopeful that I will have the opportunity to use my knowledge, skill, and passion for learning in a leadership position in a school that is excited for the possibilities that the 21st century has to offer and shares my philosophy and beliefs about education.

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