Our mission as educators has always been and will always be to use the best of our own education, experience, wisdom, and capacities to teach students to succeed. We are experts at combining information, cognitive complexity, and the recourses available to us to create standards and experiences that will enable our kids to lead great lives.

As our society rapidly evolves, we are challenged with re-focusing our mission to deliver student experiences that directly reflect the competencies needed to thrive today. Given the intricacies of our education system, our challenge – and thus the solution – has three primary components.

The first component of our challenge: our students need skills that look drastically different. On the one hand, our nation is desperate for skilled workers to fill massive voids in our economy – skills that a college-only mentality does not cultivate – and on the other hand, our nation is at the cusp of a time when the landscape of careers available to graduates is unforeseen, as many of the jobs our rapidly-evolving society will need in the coming decades do not exist.

If we paint a new, modern portrait of a graduate, what will it look like?

The portrait of the modern graduate merges the uniqueness of each student with opportunities to be successful in the workforce. Likely, the modern graduate will not only be able to articulate their strengths and interests, but they will have spent much of their K-12 educational career developing and refining their strengths and interests in an environment that was tailor-made for them, and they will have a clear understanding of exactly how their strengths and interests will lead to gainful employment and bring value to their community, regardless of higher education.

Likely, the modern graduate will be fluent in technology recourses which create new pathways to develop and refine the skills associated with their strengths and interests. The modern graduate will possess the ability to harness the opportunities that today’s tools present, as well as the agency to inform and shape the opportunities and advantages of tomorrow’s tools.

Likely, the most valuable aspects of the modern graduate will be characteristics rather than knowledge. Employers will increasingly focus on virtues like empathy, gratitude, humility, and kindness as the foundational competencies that tomorrow’s workforce will need to invent the roles that don’t yet exist, as traditional competencies for the jobs of today and yesterday are fast becoming irrelevant.

The second component of our challenge: identifying the right skills for students in our districts, and incorporating them into our instructional practices. In other words:

What does the portrait of the modern learning environment look like?

Defining the ways that school will foster and inspire the modern graduate is a multi-step process, but it also presents a multifaceted opportunity to re-focus our mission:

  1. Connect and collaborate with our communities, expand stakeholder engagement in the future of learning, and work together to paint the portrait of the modern learning environment.
    • What are the needs of our communities today and tomorrow?
    • What are our school districts’ roles in responding to those needs?
  2. Identify the competencies that are important to our districts’ students and the values and principles of instruction that are important for our districts’ educators.
    • What skills do we want all students to develop, with or without respect to age or subject?
    • What elements and types of instruction do we want to see in every classroom, with or without respect to age or subject?
  3. Empower our district leaders to champion the transition.
    • How can we engage our leadership and create a brand, or vision, for the modern learning environment?
    • How can we support and fulfill our vision through strategic planning?
  4. Unite our districts and build culture & community through a shared vision for the modern learning environment.
    • How can we equip district and school leadership to share that vision and re-focus our mission as educators at scale?

The third component of our challenge: making it all happen, actionizing our strategic plans, and, creating pathways in the classroom for our ideas about modern learning to manifest in the experiences of each student.

This step can be the most daunting as we are flooded with solutions to digitize, modernize, and personalize learning. However, with our unified vision for the portrait of the modern graduate and the modern learning environment, we have the foundation we need to develop the instructional and technological infrastructure that will support modern learning at scale.

Our instructional design, curriculum content & access, and technology tools will synchronously create the pathway for our teachers to create environments that draw connections between the strengths and interests of students and their successful career paths. We can then empower our teachers to become fluent in facilitating modern learning with a) relevant professional learning content, and b) a support system in place for success and shared responsibility. Deploying modern professional learning requires careful and comprehensive planning, but more significantly, it elevates the importance of the role of our teacher as we endeavor to re-imagine school for life beyond 2020.

Digital learning alone is not the solution to our challenge. Our challenge is overcome when digital tools converge with the fundamental drivers of our education system – aligning leadership, instructional models, modern curriculum, digital ecosystem, professional learning, and community. Digital Convergence refers to the blueprint by which we paint the portraits of the modern graduate and the modern learning environment, develop an instructional & technological infrastructure, develop teacher proficiency in the modern learning environment, and engage our communities in the future of learning.

For more information, contact Rebecca Osburn at rebecca.osburn@modernteacher.com

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