School leaders in BC and beyond are facing the challenges of adequately preparing students to be successful in a rapidly changing world. For several decades, the most prevalent term used to describe the future-ready shift needed in schools has been 21st Century Learning. Personally, I have an issue with this phrase and how it has been used over the years … and years. It seems to me that we are 16 years into the 21st century and the term less relevant as it once was. Setting the relevance of the term aside for a moment, it does raise a significant question for me and principals and vice-principals around the province. What are the skills and understandings that BC students need to participate fully and succeed today?
What I see from the field and hear from my talks with school leaders is the understanding that school leadership today is about engaging students as partners in their own learning, creating authentic and relevant learning tasks, and emphasizing higher order thinking skills and relevant competencies through a process of inquiry. The graphic above comes from the Center for Curriculum Design and illustrates the Center’s belief that school curricula worldwide needs to be redesigned to meet the needs of students in an increasingly uncertain future. I connect strongly to the messages in the graphic as I think the model captures all of the learning conditions and priorities that we are trying to create in schools in BC.
For most of my career, these were considered soft skills or part of the hidden curriculum that was absolutely relevant to student needs, but not necessarily a priority of the curriculum. When you compare the curriculum model from the Center for Curriculum Redesign to BC’s new curriculum it is clear that we are moving in the right direction and the rest of the world is beginning to take notice of the learning agenda that is developing in BC. While the underlying philosophy of BC’s new curriculum resonates with people inside and outside of the K-12 sector, ultimately the success of the implementation plan will rest with principals and vice-principals. So, how will school leaders be able to address the challenges and opportunities within a 21st Century learning agenda? I hear you … I used that term again. If anyone has a better phrase please let me know.
What will be the keys to our long-term success? I think that the principals and vice-principals will need to continue to emphasize:
- Collaborative decision making at the school level. An uncharted curriculum will require distributed leadership and the opportunities for increased teacher confidence that comes with collaboration and a willingness to embrace vulnerability.
- Building teacher capacity to provide meaningful instruction for all types of learners and all types of minds.
- Creating conditions that are conducive to innovation in teaching and learning to best meet student needs.
- Moving from a learning model to a teaching model. This will mean that school leaders will continue to place a priority on evidence-based conversations and decision-making to better inform practices and enhance the trajectory of each student’s learning.
- Ensure coherence and connectedness within schools: The silos that departments and grade levels sometimes operate within will need to be dismantled to facilitate our students to develop skills and understandings along a continuum of learning.
- A greater emphasis on relational leadership as it is connected to student success. Partnerships and opportunities outside of the school will increase in importance as school leaders look to build their connections to the broader community and ensure that students are well prepared for life beyond school.
As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports, to meet the future needs of students, schools must have strong leaders, confident teachers, and innovative approaches. While the implementation of a new, and substantially redesigned, curriculum poses challenges that principals and vice-principals have not faced before, I am confident that school administrators in BC will provide the necessary educational leadership that our students will have every opportunity to develop the versatile skillset that will enable them to thrive in an increasingly challenged and challenging world.