What does it mean to be a learner in the 21st century? How can teachers reach their students in new and meaningful ways?
In the popular imagination, the perception of the American classroom is tinged with Normal Rockwell-style images: the image of a classroom with neatly lined rows of desks facing the teacher; the rosy-cheeked student sitting up perfectly straight and attentive to every word the teacher speaks.
Whether or not these images are truthful representations of America's educational past, one thing is certain: to be a Teacher Leader in the future will rely very little on being the expert in front of the classroom. Rather, being a Teacher Leader will require a shift in philosophy and approach — an ability to ask students to problem solve, teach each other, and become the experts.
The Teacher Leaders Program kicked off at the National Postal Museum during the fall of 2010 with two teaching cohorts: one group of elementary teachers and a second group composed of high school teachers. Each teacher has been challenged to create a learning unit plan that incorporates both the Postal Museum content and new media tools. Their challenge is to connect these components in a meaningful and authentic way — providing their students with new resources and tools for learning.
Teachers began the program by considering the four primary skills identified in the 21st Century Skills Initiative: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Reading this list of skills, I always chuckle a little. Certainly, good teachers have taught these things since the beginning of time. The distinction is that how people communicate, collaborate, create, and think critically is rapidly changing in the 21st century. New media gives students the ability to connect and share with the world in real time. A video posts to YouTube, a photo uploads to a Flickr group, a post is written to a personal blog — immediately these creations are widely shared and put out for the world's response. Thus, the heart of being a Teacher Leader is to take advantage of the learning opportunities available in a world that already gives their students opportunities to be experts and teach others.
In upcoming workshops at the Postal Museum, teachers will begin planning and building out learning unit plan concepts. Stay tuned for future posts which will follow some of these Teacher Leaders as they create a learning plan and engage their students in meaningful activities, ultimately encouraging young people to become creators and teachers themselves.