I recently wrote an article for the MACUL Journal, and the topic, “Essentials for 21st Century Teaching and Learning,” created a dilemma for me. As a teacher, I immediately narrowed my view to that of the classroom teacher’s necessities. My brainstorming produced a rich list of resources, along with qualities and attitudes, which I believed would contribute to an ideal 21st century classroom. As I considered this information, however, I then thought about the leadership needed to allow for the professional development, learning community, and “toolbox” required for this type of learning environment. There are some truly essentially ways in which administrators can empower their staff to move forward with this important learning initiative.
There is no question that administrators have the potential to lead their buildings forward with enhanced opportunities and resources. Some members of their staff will pursue 21st century teaching as a way to enhance their instruction and to enrich their students’ learning opportunities. As they determine both the requirements and the elective experiences presented to their staff, superintendents and principals pave the path that is either wide and easy to travel or narrow and difficult to traverse.
Leading By Example
Perhaps the essentials that we can identify here start with the administrator’s own exposure to the future of education. I have heard our building principal Doug Bush say, “We will either be ahead of the curve, on the curve, or behind the curve.” The point is, there is a curve. So how do administrators ensure that their staff is ahead of the curve? The first step is to lead by example. Administrators who embrace document sharing with tools such as Google Docs, data collection with web resources like Survey Monkey, blended instruction with elearning platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle, networking with blogs and wikis, and so forth not only pave the way for their teachers, but they also take the first spin around the track to ensure that it is a solid, dependable and worthwhile road to travel!
Teachers as Additional Leaders
It would be impossible for one individual to master all of the tools and resources available, however, so the next challenge lies with tapping efficient and reliable resources to provide additional leadership. According to a contributor only identified as “Neil!” on the blog “21st Century Learning” (http://21stcenturylearning.typepad.com/blog/2007/02/teacher_as_lead.html ), “Teachers who feel they are respected as educational leaders are more effective in and out of the classroom. Administrators who understand how to lead in such a way as to utilize the leadership skills of teachers while still allowing them to remain in the classroom are on the brink of managing the human capital in their buildings in ways they never dreamed. Talk about teacher quality!” Much like teachers must learn from their students in order to remain relevant, administrators must also learn from their staff. Ultimately, allowing the true learners to become leaders is perhaps the most essential 21st century teaching and learning skill.
One example of this is encouraging teachers to take staff meeting or other professional development time to share what they are doing in their classrooms that is innovative, engaging, and (most importantly) successful. Another example is creating a skills database, in which staff members document the areas in which they have received professional development. In this way, it is clear who the “go-to person” is for a variety of topics, such as Google applications, Blackboard, Moodle, GPS applications, Discovery Education tools, and much more. Ultimately, both of these examples encourage a professional learning community in which staff members look to each other for the expertise needed to grow and learn. Rather than independently struggling to keep up, staff members are encouraged to network and to utilize the expertise present within their own district, which is often more than enough to make significant strides in educational excellence.
A Cooperative Shift
In conclusion, I would like to share an analogy that I heard during a recent presentation by motivational speaker Craig Conrad. It has been around for a long time and is probably best known as the “Crabs in a Bucket.” What crab fishermen have learned is that, if you have one crab in a bucket, it will climb right out. If you put several crabs in a bucket, however, you don’t have to worry about them escaping. Why? The crabs are too busy pulling each other down to climb out themselves. This phenomenon has been called the “crab mentality.” Rather than busily pulling each other down and discouraging leadership among their ranks, true professional learning communities must focus on climbing out of the bucket of stagnation and into a world of educational opportunities. Ultimately, what is most essential for all teachers and learners to move forward is a community of individuals who cooperatively shift from what they have rested on in the past to what will move them forward in the future.