Working for the class of 2025
Last month, Jeff Utech posted about dropping corrosive and irrelevant phrases from his professional vocabulary, something I try to be constantly vigilant about. “21st Century Skills” in particular is a vapid placeholder wisp of a phrase has come to say nothing meaningful about the practice of students and teachers. It was over two years ago that a post on Teach Paperless had started me thinking about 22nd century skills, half as a rebuttal to the noxious jargon of edtech and in part as a frame for planning.
But several times in the last few weeks, I’ve been the in the midst of a sentence and realized that it had a “21st Century Skills” shaped hole lurking in the back half. That particular phrase is a poor choice for all the reasons Jeff detailed in 2008, but having a shorthand for the values and vision that I’m working towards is incredibly handy.
This is the impulse that gives rise to the flood of buzzwords and program names that haunt edtech. Given enough time, most edtech people will delude themselves in the same way, like coders who think that this time they can build the One True Language. Sometimes this means writing a book to unpack the vision of their own pet mnemonic, but post educators just use the phrase because it’s the phrase people use. Global slogans are poor tools for affecting change in small communities.
On the flip side, I’ve had the privilege of working with schools that derive incredible value from their mission and vision statements, even the seemingly vague ones. My favorite is from The Hamlin School in San Francisco:
Educating girls and young women to meet the challenges of their time.
I mean, can you top that? It’s certainly not a strategic plan, but it does present the school community with some clear action items.
First: What are the most pressing challenges facing young women?
Second: Will our actions help educate and prepare our students to meet them?
Since one of the hardest things that a K-12 institution must do is decide what not to take into your mission, this serves as powerful and clarifying filter.
Which brings me back to my sentences with holes in them. Not only do I need a shorthand phrase for conversational use, but I need one that has specific and immediate relevance for everyone in our school community. As a school, we need a common image of an academic experience built around passion, inquiry and choice looks like.
Fortunately, we happen to have about 20 perfect choices wandering around our school everyday. Working at a JK-12 school means I pass members of the graduating class of 2025* every morning at carpool, and every afternoon during lunch.
So that’s my new collaborative challenge for every member of the faculty and staff at our school.
What does X look like for the class of 2025?
This question is my filter when looking at curricular changes, at new edtech tools, at new hardware or at new policies. What does this look like for the class of 2025? The goal is not to build that environment out of 2011 materials, or to reject anything that doesn’t reach those heights. Rather, it’s a basic compass reading. If our vision for 2025 doesn’t include age-segregated hour-long silos of content delivery, then chocies made to support that practice probably aren’t a good choice for us now.
In this light, I find some good reasons to support our teachers in their move towards flipped classrooms and the like. I certainly think that 2025 will have a lot more distributed and personalized tools for content delivery. But that’s a starting point, not a destination. Now let’s get those videos out onto the real web, for the whole world to view, critique and remix. Let’s pull apart the testing and evaluation structure and see what’s at the meaningful core of those activities. Because there’s a world of changes we need to make, and no matter how much we’d like, members of the class of 2025 have birthdays all the time!
Sometimes they bring me a cupcake.