I spent time last week thinking about 21st Century Skills. Portland Superintendent Manny Caulk asked me to co-host his community book club that was held this past week at Longfellow Books. The selection was 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel. The conversation focused on teaching life and career skills such as flexibility, initiative, creativity, computer and media literacy, and cross-cultural interactions. Most in the group seemed to agree that these skills were important in today’s job market. Yet, at about the same time, Governor LePage and the Department of Education released it’s now yearly report card for Maine’s schools. These report card grades are based solely on math and reading scores on the state-wide fall assessment, the NECAP. So, herein lies the problem. While those in the business world tell us that our students need to be flexible, creative, and independent, we do not measure those areas of student achievement. And teachers understandably feel the pressure to focus their instruction on what is being assessed and "graded" by our state. Is our state saying that math and reading scores are the only ways to measure a student’s progress towards college and career readiness? Should teachers take the time to develop these 21st century skills with their students when their evaluations will soon be tied to data focused on reading and math? Where is the balance?
Fortunately, teachers know that it is ALL important. Skilled educators find a way to blend the content knowledge and skills with life skills-at least the life skills we can currently identify that will be important in the future. That is why project-based learning is gaining such wide-spread attention and why Expeditionary Learning is one approach to this balance.
So it was a fitting end to the week when my students presented their work for the expedition Small Acts of Courage, focused on the Civil Rights Movement. This was a project that combined reading, writing, art, interviewing, collaboration skills, speaking skills , cross-cultural interactions, computer literacy skills, and critical thinking. This week they shared the stories of the local citizens they interviewed in a stage presentation and in five volumes of oral histories. And most importantly, they had an authentic audience-their interviewees. I couldn’t be more proud of the work these students completed. I also couldn’t be more proud of my teaching team and my school. We understand that in today’s world, we have to provide a balance of content and life skills. Yes, we risk getting a “C” from the state on our school report card. But as I watched the presentation this week, completely student-run, I knew that these young people had grown in so many ways, both academically and personally, and they were all closer to being career and college ready. They are knowledgable, confident seventh-graders who can independently take an idea from conception to completion. Everyone made it to the top of the mountain. They reminded me to be steadfast in my commitment to providing the critical connection between content and life skills each and every day. Thank you, Windsor-7 students. As usual, you continue to help me grow professionally and personally.