21st Century Skills Conversation: Wrap-up

This weekend brought an end to our four-day Voicethread conversation between Scripted Spontaneity readers and several of the experts behind the new book, 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn.  I’ve posted a lot here recently about the conversation (here, here, here, here, and here), and the purpose of the entry is to share what I personally learned from the participants.  Keep in mind that while no new comments can be added at this point, the Voicethread will continue to be viewable for the foreseeable future at this link.

Before doing that, though, I want to reinforce the importance of conversations like the one that we just completed.  First, the asynchronous, web-based nature of Voicethread yet again proved it to be an excellent tool for bringing together colleagues from all over the world and all over the education spectrum.  Second, an opportunity to interact with other eager educators and experts (that’s a mouthful, huh?) is a rejuvenating experience for us.  We are reminded that the work ahead is mammoth in its scale but critical in its importance, and that we are supported by some very smart people at every level.  Finally, we must remember to make the best of these discussions to reach out to the novice teachers around us inducting them into “the club” while pulling in veteran teachers who are stuck in the kiddie pool.

Throughout the Voicethread conversation, several strands stood out as contentious or engaging enough to stimulate a lot of discussion.  When I look back on what I learned over the past week, three themes pushed my thinking the most:

  1. While change most often comes from outsiders, this term is difficult to define in education.  Participants like Bethany, bplibrarian, and Chris Dede made it clear to me that an ideal educational leader has elements of being an insider (understands the system, knows the challenges firsthand) as well as some of the characteristics of an outsider (willingness to challenge the status quo, objective perspective).
  2. The various frameworks that define and describe 21st Century Skills are exceedingly diverse, and this may not be a bad thing.  While several of the book’s contributors chimed in about the challenges posed by this diversity, it also became clear to me that the “competition” among various frameworks brings new ideas and strategies to the table.
  3. The key to well-prepared modern educational leaders is a combination of training and assessment.  Simply identifying those with the greatest potential as leaders is not enough.  We must put into place processes that actively train would-be administrators and school leaders and then require them to show proficiency in the areas that we deem most important.

I would like to take this opportunity to show my gratitude to the many folks who helped make this conversation so successful.  To the book contributors, especially Chris Dede, Nancy Frey, Brian M. Pete, and Jim Bellanca, thank you for the time and effort that you put into this project.  To the participants who added their views and experiences–bplibrarian, Stephanie, Luke, and Bethany, in particular–I know firsthand how difficult it is to find “free time” to engage in meaningful personal and professional development.  Thanks to the good folks at Solution Tree for their help in putting together the conversation, recognizing the power of digital tools to facilitate interactions between authors and their audience.

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