Above are slides from a PowerPoint that I presented to the MHS School Council and the Parent Advisory Council this week. The topic was 21st century learning skills- what are they and why are they important? As I have mentioned in earlier postings, 21st century skills are a list of what all high school graduates need to know and are able to do in order to be successful in college and in their careers.
There certainly are skills/competencies here that are not new, like effective communication, problem-solving, use of critical thinking skills, and mastery of core subjects. However, there are new demands- ones such as the ability to collaborate, creativity and innovation, and flexibility and adaptability- are also necessary to be competitive in a new, global economy. Additionally, the 21st century skills framework calls for new literacies, among them technological, media, and information, so students can navigate a complex world where information is expanding exponentially every year. Research consistently shows that students need these skills if our workforce is going to be economically competitive in the coming years. Recently Thomas Friedman, Daniel Pink, and Tony Wagner have written extensively about this subject and, unfortunately, the apparent gap- where even our best schools aren't giving all kids these skills that they need.
It's one thing to detail these skills and proclaim them important, but the heart of the matter is actually implementing them in the school setting. There are clear implications for curriculum and instruction, as embedding them into existing school programs and courses is going to be hard work. For example, do all students get enough opportunities to use technology, to solve meaningful problems with real-life applications, and to collaborate on a daily basis? How do we actually measure student mastery of 21st century skills through meaningful assessments where students are using higher order thinking skills? How do we ensure that all students are receiving such assessments?
Much work lies ahead to answer these questions, as they all have implications for school structures, our curriculum, teacher practices, and teacher professional development. It should be noted that the idea of 21st century skills being part of the school's core curriculum is the very foundation of the Standards for Accreditation of the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC), the agency that accredits Mansfield High School and 95% of public and private high schools in our region. The standards call for MHS to define what 21st century skills all students should possess upon graduation, and then to build curriculum, instruction, and assessment around those skills.
This work will- and must- commence so there is significant progress before our decennial accreditation visit by NEASC in the spring of 2012. While this challenging work is an accreditation requirement, it really is so much more. I believe that it is the foundation of a vision of Mansfield High School truly moving forward- a school where every graduate is extremely well-prepared for post-secondary study and beyond in a rapidly-changing society. The world our kids will live and work in demands it.