Thought leader Steven Paine discusses 21st century skills and an action agenda.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
P21’s overall agenda of advocating for 21st century learning competencies being embedded in the core subjects has really come of age, says Steven Paine, President of Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21). “We continue to advocate for policy changes that support P21’s framework. We are working on supporting the needs of our 19 member states as they move towards an action agenda that embeds 21st century learning competencies in their state education systems, and the hard work this kind of implementation takes.” One way they are doing this is through their Exemplar Program – where they are collecting case studies of exemplary 21st century learning around the country – to show what it looks like in practice, and where it is happening. “We hope more schools and states will be inspired by the multiple pathways that can be taken to make learning more exciting, more relevant, and more rigorous, to truly prepare students for the challenges of college, career, and citizenship,” he says. Here, Steven offers further inspiration, guidance and advice for educators cutting through the jungle (sometimes literally, as you’ll read) and moving forward into a brave new education system.
Victor: Any lessons you bring forward from your time as the State Superintendent of Education in West Virginia that have helped to inform this vision?
Steven: When I was the State Superintendent of Schools in West Virginia, my team and I did much of the work that P21 is supporting. We began by embedding 21st century skills framework in our core subjects and changing professional development to better prepare educators to teach 21st century learning competencies. We conducted leadership training for principals to assist them in transforming their schools into 21st century learning schools. We also began to look at other ways to assess students that aligned with NCLB and our new curriculum with 21st century learning competencies. A lot of policy work occurred between my team at the Governor’s office, the state legislature, and the business community to transform the West Virginia school system.
I have learned firsthand how to implement a 21st century learning action agenda in a state’s school system. With my experience with West Virginia and with P21’s work, we are looking to a guiding blueprint to help schools leaders at the state level embed 21st century learning competencies into their curriculum. No blueprint currently exists, and with the numerous changes and demands facing education leaders, P21 is perfectly positioned to provide vital support to states seeking to make 21st century learning a reality.
Victor: What advice do you have for education advocates and administrators particularly when dealing with education technology?
Steven: I would advise education advocates and administrators to truly grasp the potential impact that education technology can have in accelerating learning. However, education technology is not the silver bullet in enhancing student learning, it is instead a tool that needs to be coupled with effective teaching from high quality educators to enhance the learning process for students. It is critical that we do not look at education technology in isolation, but in collaboration with students, teachers, administrators, and parents to accelerate student learning. We need effective, highly skilled educators that can creatively use technology in the classroom to create a meaningful 21st century learning environment for students.
Victor: What specific challenges or trends do you see going forward?
Steven: In regards to P21, there continue to be problems with the traditional accountability systems for student learning required by federal and state policies. We have an opportunity to work with states to create improved accountability systems that truly measure what students know and can do. Standardized testing is part of an accountability system that does that, but there need to be other balanced and comprehensive components within the accountability system that assess authentic student learning.
As seen through the members of P21, organizations and companies recognize the need for 21st century learning competencies and are partnering together to advocate for 21st century learning in our nation’s school system. We have also seen the impact of 21st century learning under the development of the Common Core State Standards. 21st century learning competencies are perfectly complementary to the Common Core State Standards, as P21 has outlined in the P21 Common Core Toolkit, and we are supporting our member states as they tie in 21st century learning skills into their curriculum, shift practices in pedagogy and professional development, and create opportunities for the community to be a true partner of engaged learning in schools. A lot of work still remains to be done
Victor: What role does P21 play in the education technology field?
Steven: Many of our strategic council members operate in the education technology field directly or by using education technology daily on the job. All of our members understand the importance of education technology and we are very fortunate to have members that can advise us on how to best use education technology to augment the learning process. The experience from our strategic council members helps drives our agenda and how we support our member states.
Victor: Your view of education these days?
Steven: First, I want to stress that there is no substitution for an outstanding teacher in the classroom. Today, teachers are becoming facilitators of knowledge, often times with the use of education technology. Skillful educators today do not use the same strategies employed years ago. Teachers instead have adopted new strategies that allow students to be successful in the world they live in. For example, businesses require workers that can work in small, collaborative groups, and this has prompted teachers to use project-based learning in the classroom that allows students to work in small groups. Additionally, most jobs require use of technology, which is why teachers now strive to give students experience working with technology through group projects and classroom assignments. Students need to be prepared for the future, and effective, high-skilled teachers are the ones preparing them for that future.
Second, kids can be self-directed learners through the guidance of expert educators. Social networking has the power to be incredibly impactful for future learning as more students have access to education technology. Students have the capability of learning from each other through the use of social sites, with the supervision and support of teachers. We are at a place in technology where students can receive much of their instruction outside of the brick and mortar classroom. There are instead new learning outlets that we need to take advantage of to propel student learning. Above all though, education policy decisions must be tied to research and proven effectiveness so everything we use to engage students has promise.
Victor: What new and emerging technologies on the horizon do you see as crucial for education?
Steven: Again, I believe there is so much potential power behind social networking for students to use each other to accelerate, motivate, and engage their learning. Another emerging technology is internal networking between schools and school districts, where educators and administrators can share educational resources. A popular current trend is BYOD – bring-your-own-device. The problem with this trend though is that students who are do not have their own devices need to be compensated with technologies at school so that we provide equal opportunity and access to technology for all students.
Victor: Your message to educators and education leaders nationwide?
Steven: My overall message is that learning needs to be active, engaging, and fun. We need to place students’ needs at the core of our efforts, and we can do that by asking students on how they learn best, what kind of learning activities they enjoy, and what they need to keep up with the world around them. Students need to be in a learning environment that piques their interest and allows them to be innovative and engaged. If we don’t property utilize education technology and new strategies in the classroom, we risk losing students.
Students additionally need help applying the academic content they are learning to real life situations. One of the most common concerns I hear from the business community is that students do not know to how to apply what they have learned and are unable to communicate and collaborate with others effectively. Only through engaging instructional strategies that allow students to apply their knowledge to real world situations will students reach their full potential.
Victor: Any advice for leaders looking to modernize their schools?
Steven: I would advise school leaders to explore the functionality of buildings to best meet the needs of students in the 21st century. When we were looking at the best instructional practices to use in West Virginia, there was a need for complete redesign of existing schools and novel, creative design for new schools. Education technology in the classroom can call for new learning spaces. There are so many ways to organize a classroom to engage students effectively. New education technology drives the changes in design of school facilities, and buildings need to be constructed to accommodate new learning models, such as hybrid learning and online learning, and allow for more collaboration for both students and staff.
Victor: Thoughts on technology in education in general?
Steven: A colleague of mine recently visited Costa Rica. While on a bus, they had a stopping point in the middle of the jungle where there was a single building that said, “Internet Here.” Today, technology is found all over the globe and is the great equalizer. Students in low-income, rural communities have the same access to knowledge as any other student due to technology. With access to the Internet and to Federal Express, you could virtually do business with anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world. In West Virginia, there are isolated communities where students have the same access to rigorous curriculum to students in urban communities due to education technology. Education technology has allowed any student to be competitive and successful in the global community, regardless of their zip code.
Victor: Anything else?
Steven: Education technology, coupled with rigorous state standards and high skilled educators, can truly revolutionize opportunities for students. It takes thoughtful policy structure to enable these opportunities, practitioners and administrators that are willing to recognize and ensure the needs of our students’ futures, and deeply committed, caring, and skillful educators that place the needs of our students first.
Victor: Thank you, sir!
Steven: Thank you, Victor!
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. Innovative CEOs, founders and educators: enter the EdTech Digest Awards Program.