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Empowering Modern Learners to Take Part in Their Journeys

Guest post by Amit Mehrotra

We've all heard the phrase "21st Century Teaching & Learning" by now, right? However, now that the 21st century is almost a fifth of the way complete, is it time to reimagine what this looks like?

In Peel District School Board, I am privileged to be part of a team that has been tasked with rolling out the new vision document for our Board entitled Empowering Modern Learners, which looks at 21st Century Competencies as merely one of the Innovative Elements that we need to focus on to prepare our learners for this new and ever-changing world. The vision was constructed in collaboration with all of our stakeholders, including students, teachers, administrators, superintendents, trustees, and parents, and coupled with current educational research.

The document is broken up into three different parts:

Our Belief Statements remind us what we believe about all our learners:

We Believe:

Our Moral Imperative speaks to why we need to do this work. Those of you who have read Simon Sinek's Start With Why or seen his Ted Talk know that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" and our students, teachers, and parents need to know why we are doing this work.

The Moral Imperative reminds us that "being a 21st-century educator is more about the journey than the destination" and that we "live in a world of constant change." It highlights that we need our learners to be resilient and that we need to not only innovate our practices but provide opportunities for students to be innovative in their learning.

The final component in the vision speaks to how we are going to make these changes through these Six Innovative Elements:

Learning Culture

Informative Assessment

Access to Technology

21st Century Competencies

Learning Environments

Models of Learning

None of these are completely new ideas, and many teachers are already doing much of this work with their students; however, when we're looking at a system-wide change, each of these Innovative Elements can seem very big. While it can take a while to investigate each of them individually, they are not meant to stand on their own. Diving into the work, you start to notice that they all intersect with one another in order to truly empower our learners.

Many of us know that students are disengaged from their learning, and while the end goal of this vision is to empower our students, it becomes difficult to empower students who are not at least somewhat engaged in their learning. I love the graphic by John Spencer which shows that the more agency a student has, the more empowered they become.

In my discussions with people about the vision document, I will often say how it can be summed up in one word: "CONTROL." As teachers, we must let go of the control we have had over students and gradually release it to them. This often makes teachers uncomfortable, as they think that a classroom that is not controlled by the teacher will be chaotic. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the learning will always be neat and tidy because sometimes learning is messy. What I will say is that I would rather have a messy classroom where students are valuing the learning experience rather than a neat and tidy one where students are compliant and looking for the easiest way to play the game and get an "A".

As a teacher, I can tell you that moving toward a student-centered classroom was not only freeing for me, but also it was amazing to see the shift in the learning culture of the classroom when students saw themselves in what they were learning and were happy to have a choice. I won't lie and say that every student jumped right on board. There were some who had mastered the game of school; who were upset and wanted me to just tell them what to do, but I wouldn't give into that. I helped them venture out of their comfort zone and learn along with the rest of us.

I'm currently part of an amazing team of educators entitled Modern Learning Resource Teachers. We are K-12 Resource Teachers who work individually and with groups of teachers, administrators, superintendents, and coordinators to help them understand what this work is all about. I always emphasize to teachers that this vision document will take a very long time to implement, and it is not just another initiative that we will have "in place" by a certain date. Instead, we look at this as a vision for what education can and should be moving forward.

If you want to find out more about the work we are doing in Peel District School Board, you can follow the #peel21st or #PeelEML hashtags on social media, or tune into our Empowering Modern Learners Podcast that we publish each week on iTunes or by checking out modernlearners.ca.

How do you empower modern learners in your classrooms or schools? Please share.

Amit Mehrotra is a Modern Learning Resource Teacher in the Peel District School Board. He is also a Level 2 Google Certified Educator and Google for Education Group Leader for Ontario. You can find Amit on Twitter @AmitMehrotra78 and check out his resources at bit.ly/AmitMehrotra.

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