In The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner says that schools are not failing; rather, they are obsolete. This is a rather general statement that on face value, is flawed because there is certainly a need for schools. It is not that schools are obsolete, it is that much of what is being taught in schools is obsolete, and particularly, the way things are taught. For instance, in schools individualized learning and production of classwork is still king, while as the global workplace calls for teamwork and collaboration.
The global achievement gap is invisible to most of us for a number of reasons. One of these is because many teachers work in isolation and do not see how their classrooms compare to other teacher's classrooms, especially across the world. There is also a lack of data and research comparing the quality of instruction happening in classrooms around the world and how this relates to the skills that employers are looking for.
If schools are to adapt to the real world, the focus of school work must no longer be defined by a specific specialty, but by applying knowledge to solve problems, create a new idea, and improve on something. This calls for teams of educators from different disciplines co-teaching and having classrooms equipped with tools from numerous disciplines. It means more group projects that are aligned with real-life problems where knowledge and multi-angled problem solving can be applied to help the school or community. It means more ways of assessing, such as a portfolio and not only the results of team projects, but the habits and collaboration skills of the team members.
Learning walks are a great way for teachers to see how other teachers teach. It gives teachers an opportunity within their own school community for continuous growth and improvement. It helps teachers share strategies and give children more consistency between classrooms. Since teachers are always in the classroom, they often do not get a chance to see how other teachers are teaching beyond their teacher preparation period. Learning Walks gives them a chance to reflect on what they are doing well in their own classrooms and what they can improve upon.
Wagner lays out in his book that he would like to see more students engaged in learning through hands-on activities, like going to the local pond and collecting water samples to test the water quality vs have to stay in the classroom to learn content that is going to be on a standardized test. He would like to see more emotional intelligence and soft skills being developed, such as being inquisitive, knowing how to work in a team, problem-solving, being adaptable and flexible to new ideas, and expressing one's thoughts.
Wagner made a case for education that is relevant and in tune to the real-world skills employers are looking for. In the article, Connecting Professional Learning and Leadership, George Couros speaks to the need to prepare students to be teachers of others. Being able to teach others and empower others to be leaders and teachers is one of the important skills of the 21st Century worker. It is also a critical way for the reforms that need to happen in schools to spread. Peer to peer influence is critical for any reform to take root and stick. And the reform of making school instruction align with the 21st Century Skills our children need will be a huge undertaking that teachers will be primarily responsible for carrying out.
In the article, It’s Not a Technology Issue, Eric Sheninger also spoke of the need for teachers to embrace the 21st Century and the new tools it brings. In this case, he pointed out that teachers are the models of our students and they are also users of the technological tools that they often shun in their classrooms. Rather than reject the use of mobile devices altogether, teachers can model proper digital citizenship and integrate these tools to engage students and help them increase their technology-supported skills in areas such as research, digital literacy, and increased productivity.