This week I have spent a good portion of my time working with teachers in grades PK-2 talking about creativity and innovation. Due to the changes that New Jersey is proposing in the new draft standards, which came about through their membership in the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (among other factors as well), the elements that are stressed in the P21 manifesto have populated themselves into the new standards. Themes such as:
- Global awareness
- Financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy
- Civic literacy
- Health literacy
and skills like:
- Creativity and Innovation
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- Communication and Collaboration
are all now written into our standards from PK-12.
If you come from middle or high school teaching into an administration position in which you work with grades PK-5, you will understand how stressful it is to work with elementary teachers. They are wonderful people; I should know, I am married to one. But when you look at all they have to do in a day and the limited time they have to do it in, having them sit in an afterschool meeting to work with curriculum is daunting. To introduce these ideas to our elementary teachers, we used our good friend Sir Ken Robinson. We took a page from the P21 Framework that centered on creativity and innovation and had the teachers use it as a backbone for writing down ideas that struck them while watching Sir Ken’s TED talk from 2006. From there, we had them answer two prompts in groups of 4-5:
- Identify the structures in place in your classroom that promote creativity and innovation either in your students or yourself.
- So what? What Now?
The responses were phenomenal, especially in relation to the areas where Sir Ken spoke about finding creative capacities and working with them instead of educating them out of them. However, one thing I have learned in administration in regards to any kind of meeting is that you have to be ready for the “don’t waste my time question of the day,” which is the part where you have to make it matter to them. A teacher asked the question very bluntly:
“where is this going? How are we to fit these ideas, which by the way we all believe in, into what we already do?”
My answer wasn’t great, I’ll admit, and it had a lot to do with explaining where the ideas behind the new standards revisions came from, but it stuck with me.
Last night, in my reader appeared an article from Patrick Riccards at Eduflack in which he debated the mode of delivery that the P21 people have chosen. This gem was smack in the middle of it:
The debate over 21CS skills should not be one between one set of curricular goals versus the other. This isn’t core knowledge versus soft skills. No, our focus should be on how we teach those core subjects that are necessary. How do we teach math and science so that we better integrate technology and critical thinking skills? How do we teach the social sciences in a manner that focuses on project-based learning and team-based activities? How do we ensure that a 21st century student is not being forced to unplug when they enter the classroom, and instead uses the technologies and interests that drive the rest of their life to boost their interest and achievement in core academic subjects? And most importantly, how do we ensure all students are graduating with the content knowledge and skills needed to truly achieve in the 21st century economy
One does not go forward by jettisoning the skills with which we gathered. To me it’s not about introducing new content, but rather how we engage students in content using the “soft skills” that we need them to develop. The ability to have a lasting understanding is our goal here, and providing relevant context to what we do in the classroom is a great way to get there. So my answer to that question is not to change the content of what you do, but to use the same skills you are trying to develop in the students in your own practice. Be innovative, be creative, be prepared to fail often, collaborate, model the behaviors you want to see in your students.