Growing up in the 80’s, games like Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy were king as far as proving how smart you were. I have vivid childhood memories of spending hours memorizing math facts, city capitals and important sounding acronyms like ICBM, in my quest to be the smartest kid in school. In the classroom I was a model student, listening intently as the teacher lectured and taught us the information we should know. I raised my hand to answer questions and was a master of following directions and figuring out what the teacher was looking for to get an A. The thing I enjoyed most, being creative, was mainly reserved for gifted class or projects that were completed at home. I absolutely loved school growing up, but when I reflect back on my experience the majority of skills and knowledge I use to be successful today I learned outside of the regular education classroom.
A wide variety of terms have been used to describe education in the modern era: Innovative, Future Ready, Personalized, High Tech, but for me, the one word that completely encompasses education in the modern era is Connected. Modern education focuses more on helping students maximize their individual potential as opposed to an expectation that everyone masters the same curriculum at an identical pace. This starts with educators building strong relationships with students to help them discover their talents, as well as opportunities for growth. Side by side with each learner, they adeptly build upon student strengths with reflection and specific feedback, resulting in empowerment and a passion for learning. As a result, a teacher in the modern era is more analogous to a coach rather than the sole expert in the classroom. This type of learning can only occur if a student feels strongly connected to the teacher and trusts him or her implicitly.
In the modern era of education, students are active creators of knowledge as opposed to passive consumers, making it imperative that students experience learning as a connected process. Contrary to the traditional school day with “subject silos,” the contemporary curricula starts with a broader idea or question and then integrates multiple subjects throughout. This enhances students’ ability to independently connect ideas and draw their own conclusions, resulting in deeper understanding, creativity and innovation. The curriculum of the modern era is relevant and highly engaging for students. Connected to their interests both in and out of school, students have ample time to ask questions, explore ideas and work with their peers. Learning is no longer limited by the walls of the school. In the modern era, students regularly connect with experts in the field, explore places relevant to the big ideas they are researching and collaborate with students both locally and globally. They further connect with others around the world by sharing their learning through blogs, vlogs and a variety of digital portfolio technologies. Instead of preparing students for the “real world,” education in the modern era integrates the real world into the daily experiences of each learner, making school engaging and meaningful for everyone involved.
For years studies have supported the notion that collaboration is one of the keys to success, both in and out of school. This continues to be true of education in the modern era where collaboration is a critical element of instructional design. During a lesson, this may be something as simple as integrating turn & talks, table discussions or partner work. Students might share ideas in a group to solve complex problems in math, sit with a peer to give feedback on their work, or collaborate as a group to find solutions to questions they are curious about. These deceptively simple practices are actually effective strategies for developing critical thinking skills and need to be explicitly taught and seamlessly integrated throughout the day. When students work with their peers, they experience points of view different than their own, the complexity of navigating disagreements, and the idea that when we collaborate we can make something better than if we worked alone. This type of learning will benefit them both inside school and beyond.
Whether collaborating in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) or creating their own Professional Learning Network (PLN) on social media, modern era educators are connecting more than ever and students are benefitting. No longer isolated in their classrooms, expected to plan on their own or learn solely on institute days, educators regularly collaborate with grade level teammates at their school or learn from educators outside their building through Twitter, Instagram or even EdCamps. Modern era educators regularly invite other teachers or instructional coaches into their classroom as well as visit others for feedback, reflection and new ideas. Higher rates of student growth are seen due to the open sharing of successes and innovative lessons, as well as opportunities to problem solve with others.
So how do we get from an education system that values standardization and compliance to a connected relevant classroom experience that empowers all students? As George Couros advocates, we need to “innovate inside the box” and build on the strengths that already exist as a bridge to education in the modern era. Celebrate these successes and involve staff, students and the community in creating goals and a vision for the school. Regularly ask for feedback from all stakeholders and make changes when something isn’t working. Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” We need to model the type of education that we want for students in all learning opportunities for staff members. Small changes can result in tremendous advances when we involve all stakeholders in the process and provide time for reflection along the way. The modern era of education is rife with possibilities and I look forward to being a part of the innovative world it creates.
Since the beginning of her teaching career, Dr. Christina Podraza has been an innovator in education. She noticed early on that student motivation was the fulcrum that would propel either student success or failure in her classroom and beyond. Because of this, she created a classroom environment of creation, exploration, and interaction that motivated students to own their learning. In her PLC she became known as the “Grand Poobah of Ideas” due to the innovative curricula, projects and student work that she developed and shared with her team. Eventually, this passion led her to study factors of intrinsic motivation in her doctoral work which she earned from Roosevelt University in 2014. Dr. Podraza has over 15 years of experience in the classroom including 5 years as a learning support coach in Naperville, IL. She is currently an elementary assistant principal in Elmhurst, IL where she hopes to continue to build a culture of collaboration, creativity and empowered learners.