Urgency…from the 21st Century Competencies

Last week I was reminded by our SGDSB Technology Leader that “The future is now”. I had been speaking about the 21st Century Competencies document and was thinking about the skills and competencies that our students will need to be successful.  This was a powerful statement for me to hear and created a renewed sense of urgency around the growth work that we are doing through our Board Learning Plan for Student Achievement and Well-Being.  Many of you have heard me speak about the need for us to understand that the drive behind the improvement work that we do is grounded in the notion that our world is changing rapidly, and thus our students are changing rapidly.  I return often to the Growing Leaders podcast and his book In Other Words whereby Tim Elmore describes education for young people today versus the education that I would have received:

Captureeducation today

Elmore, Tim.  In Other Words.  Available free to download from http://growingleaders.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/In_Other_Words.pdf, pg 8.

Elmore’s thinking resonated with me (see an earlier blog) as it helped me to see that we are not changing for the sake of changing, but because our students are changing. We know this, as we have identified our urgent need around motivation, perseverance, engagement and belonging; we know that our traditional teaching methods (those that I grew up with and used when I was in the classroom that Elmore describes in his chart) need to be enhanced to address the changing students.  It isn’t that our practices are wrong, it is that we know that they need to be enhanced to truly impact the thinking and learning of our students today. They are different thus our practices must be different. Schools today must be designed to reflect the students of today.

Then I read the Winter 2016 Edition of the 21st Century Competencies: Foundation Document for Discussion released by the Ontario Ministry of Education, and much, much more became clearer to me.

Capture21 cover


I believe that I understand the rationale behind our Theory of Action one page summary document, which articulates the HOW in terms of the enhancements that we are making, however this new document truly provides a full picture and the foundation to the actions that we have included in our plan. Our plan is fully supported by the document, which is encouraging!  It reflect the collective efforts of a number of international governments to “properly identify and conceptualize the set of skills and competencies required so as to incorporate them into the educational standards that every student should be able to reach by the end of compulsory schooling” (Ananiadou & Claro, 2009, pg. 5. in 21st Century Competencies, 2016, pg. 6.). The following chart from the document (pg. 56) summarizes these skills and competencies:

Captureglobal competencies

I noticed that there is an important distinction between the terms skills and competencies throughout the document, which truly reflects the notion that our students need to be moving past the discrete acquisition of skills alone. “A skill is seen as the ability to perform tasks and solve problems, while a competency is seen as the ability to apply learning outcomes adequately in a defined context (education, work, personal or professional development).  A competency is not limited to cognitive elements (involving the use of theory, concepts, or tacit knowledge); it also encompasses functional aspects (involving technical skills) as well as interpersonal attributes (e.g., social or organization skills) and ethical values.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 21st Century Competencies, 2016, pg. 9).  This reminds me of the notion that we are shifting away from simple knowledge acquisition to thinking globally and mindfully about important contemporary issues, and requiring our students to apply this knowledge in a collaborative and meaningful way. Does this not reflect our Theory of Action?  Relevance? Authenticity? Collaboration? Communication?

cature partial theory

This is what we must urgently focus on as educators, in order to fully know that our students are prepared for their NOW…and their FUTURES.  I don’t believe any longer that any of us can wait…some need to rethink their old “pendulum” argument and their belief that “This too will pass.”   By deeply reflecting on the competencies and skills named above, we will increasingly understand our goals as educators and our moral imperative will become clearer – this is the urgency that I speak of.  This will also help us to truly understand the environments that we must create in each and every classroom for each student, and we will begin to more deeply understand that our roles have changed. We can no longer maintain the traditional view of “the teacher”…the new view of “the educator” is one whereby we see ourselves as inspiring learning.  Dr. Jean Clinton was clear about this with us in the past week – we are “guides” and “facilitators” of learning. What are we facilitating?  It is the competencies and skills through our curriculum which must be translated into important conceptual understandings.

More to come next week as I dig even deeper into this document…in the meantime, have a read. There is much in the document to support your leadership work!

Until next week…How are you modelling the 21st Century Competencies in your role?  What is your impact?  Is your school changing?  post thinking to #nmcblog please!

8 responses

  1. wilsonteacher | Reply

    Great post! I love the focus on 21st century competencies. You are correct to say that we are working to reach a different style of student. Even in my twelve years of teaching I have noticed a change in how students receive, process, and use information. I’m sure this is related to our students’ use of technology in so many aspects of their lives. I like the competencies because they capitalize on this style of learner. Take, for example, students playing “Call of Duty” online. They have to problem-solve, collaborate, and self-direct their learning in order to succeed. They also need to be a global citizen, (or risk being removed from the game by their peers), and be innovative and creative in this online environment. That’s the beauty of these competencies: they align so clearly with how are students work. They are also skills that relate to the idea of preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist.

    What I like about our Theory of Action and all of the other information in your post is that we are working towards classrooms where the teacher is on a level with the students instead of on a level above them. The more I look at the Rheiry of Action the more I see how it clearly makes sense. If we don’t have great learning conditions then our students won’t feel that they belong. Without this sense, assessments, lessons, and the whole idea of “school” loses importance.

    Looking forward to more opportunities to put our Theory of Action to work. I feel like we are working well with the 21st century competencies, but are we doing our best putting all of this together?


  2. wilsonteacher | Reply

    One more comment that I forgot to mention regarding the “Schools Today” graphic. There’s such a focus and so much pressure on schools and teachers to succeed in EQAO assessments. Do these matter? Do they really tell us about our students and schools? They fly in the face of our Theory of Action. Clearly standardized tests are an issue beyond SGDSB but they’re definitely an issue. Benchmarking and data are important but the stress these tests out on students and staff just doesn’t seem right.

    Finally, I’m glad you included a reference to art and music always being the first to be cut. Why are these courses still undervalued when so much research shows how important they are for students. How can we create an environment that weighs these subjects equally to math?

    So much to think about. Thank goodness I have so much spare thinking time!!!!


  3. Nicki, the urgency that you speak of is real. Our world is rapidly changing and as educators it is our moral imperative to prepare our students as much as possible for a world that we can no longer define. Change is scary but it is necessary. Continuing to teach as we have always taught says more about us than our students. We need to have conversations, participate in Board provided PD and engage in self-directed learning in order to have an understanding of what a 21st Century classroom looks like. Opting out of change and providing opportunities for 21st century competencies to be embedded in the learning, provides inequitable learning environments for our students. Would we be okay if some of our students learned math? If some of our students had increased literacy opportunities? ALL our learners need to embrace the new learning environments so that all all our learners are prepared for an ever changing world. Education, part of a foundation of our society, can no longer be the last element to accept change. In fact, as life long learners we should be at the forefront of recognizing how our world has changed, and ensure our practice reflects this.
    In response to Steve, our SGDSB Theory of Action supports the responsive, collaborative, risk-taking and relationship building that will be required to ensure that ALL learners feel supported in embracing these new changes. As a SGDSB Technology Champion, you are a key part in modelling the learning we want to see in our classrooms. Increasingly transparent and connected opportunities with school and home will also support this new change we are incorporating into our planning.
    The scope of change can be daunting, but as a team I know that we can support educators in relinquishing the control of knowledge, and begin to learn alongside our students. As we see the strong connection between coding, math and literacy we will need to ensure that our relationships are authentic and trusting, our school cultures supportive of risk-taking and our educators understand that although there is a professional and moral imperative to embrace the new learning, that we are all on this learning journey together. We will all have multiple entry points on this journey but as long as we enter into the journey and support one another, we are doing what is best for our students.
    As educators, our classrooms, and teaching methods cannot look like they did when we entered into the profession and they cannot look like how they did when we went to school. If we truly are doing what is best for our students we will need to dig deep, connect and be open to change.
    Be assured the incorporation of 21st Century skills will take risk and it will be messy but no one needs to do this alone! Reach out, connect with learners in and out of the Board and tap into the resources that you have the gift of learning with every day-your students!


    1. I really like your comment about “relinquishing the control of knowledge,” because that’s really the definition of a collaborative environment. When the teacher is seen as a facilitator or a leader, (but not the one with all of the answers), good things happen in learning. There’s a gradual increase in trust and risk-taking among students and this leads to deeper questions, stronger connections, and better learning. I get that some educators, for a variety of reasons, are hesitant to give up some of that control. As we shift how we teach, we also need to ensure we are supporting our colleagues so they can shift, too. This goes back to an earlier post about change taking time. Patience is key!


  4. I completely agree Steve, trusting environments and relationships will support those who may be hesitant to begin the journey. What I think Nicki is getting at, but I am not speaking for her, and with what I struggle with, is how long do we continue with practices which will not fully support a learner post-SGDSB? How long do we continue allowing educators to opt out of very important 21st century competencies that are essential to life-long learning? Because truly at this point, opting out is now a choice being made. There is no easy answer. However, when I look at the growth of SGDSB over the past few years great strides have been made. It is these stories of growth, risk-taking and empowerment of ALL learners that make me hopeful and keep us moving forward. I thank-you for your visible learning in this area and for all you do to support ALL learners at GCHS, SGDSB and beyond!


    1. wilsonteacher | Reply

      It’s a good question, and you’re right — no easy answer. I’ve experienced (and worked with) teachers who are still pretty “traditional” in their practice. They use Growing Success, but not necessarily the newest tech, and maybe aren’t so obvious about their use of 21st century competencies, etc – but they’re very, very good at what they do, and the success of their students in the fields they teach at the post-secondary level attests to this successful practice. What these teachers do works well and has worked well for many years. I think we have to be careful to not automatically dismiss colleagues who aren’t “jumping right in” to new things when the old things are working just fine. It’s sort of a “whatever works best” approach.

      On the other hand, I know other teachers who use the six 6s, jump on using technology, and constantly try new strategies, but fail to make impressions on their students.

      To be a good teacher, one must be dedicated, but also possess a sort of inate skill set in order to be successful. Otherwise, the rest likely won’t matter. In the same way that some teachers opt out of professional growth, there’s also a reality that some people aren’t cut out for teaching. That’s a difficult thing for some to consider, but given the significance of our jobs, it’s a vitally important consideration.

      We are definitely making strides, though, Stacey. Good things are happening at SGDSB!!


      1. Thanks to both Stacey and Steve for helping to further clarify the sense of urgency that I (and others) feel. I believe that the bottom line is that the world and thus our students, is changing dramatically. This is a fact that we cannot ignore. No practice, whether a doctor, lawyer, early childhood educator, or teacher, has remained the same and been fully impactful. I read an article recently about how universities are now changing and I see the college system changing before my eyes. However, even without these changes to higher education, what I know is that at SGDSB we are changing, and when people fully reflect at the world, they realize that they too must embrace the change. The distractors no longer work. We need to apply our learner mindset and increasingly focus on deeply analyzing the impact of our work upon learners. The conversation must shift to what and how we must change, thus moving past the age old argument of WHY we should or should not change. I know that we can have patience as the growth/enhancements occur, given that we are all somewhere on the path of what and how to change (which so many are!)…and not stuck in the “why do we need to change” place. The Global Competencies are what motivates me to go further!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. wilsonteacher

        Haha — can you imagine if doctors didn’t change how they practiced? “Electric shock therapy and bone-sawing for all!” Good comparison.

        The other thought I had is that most teachers are academically-minded, have two degrees, and attended schools awhile back. I think it’s hard for us to understand students who aren’t like this majority of teachers. That’s where taking the time to analyze the learners and our work on them becomes important. That’s why assessing our learners is so vital. We have to understand who they are as much as we work with them on what they can achieve.


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