Superintendent: Business community supports and demands increased skills
Dr. David Flowers, Superintendent, West Fargo Public Schools
Many of us already “out in the world” assume that since schools as we knew them prepared us relatively well, then schooling should continue to be a very familiar place for our current and future learners. It simply isn’t true. Three goals in the district’s strategic plan envision us continuing to provide foundational skills; helping all students be career and/or college ready; and producing lifelong learners with 21st century skills. Our board has adopted these as board policy, which is driving significant change and development in the district. Our business community is in full support of these goals, particularly the last skills. So just what are these skills, now that we’re well into the second decade of the 21st century?
The district is a member of Ed Leader 21, a consortium of districts across the nation trying to get better at defining, teaching and measuring 21st century skills. Ken Kay, director of the consortium, boils the most important skills students need into what he calls the four C’s: Critical Thinking; Communication; Collaboration; and Creativity. We are preparing students for a world in which the jobs they will assume have likely not been created yet. Tony Wagner at Harvard in his book, Creating Innovators, asserts that we must nurture innovation, for we are in an age when many people must invent their own jobs. Thus, there is a great need for them to have skills that will enable learners to network, adapt, learn continuously, etc. So how does this translate into change in the classroom? To acquire the skills needed, students must have greater access to technology and information; they must be engaged in real-world problem solving; they must have opportunities to collaborate with others to solve problems; they must have multiple ways of demonstrating their learning. All of this requires support and professional development of teachers as they themselves learn new skills. Being a facilitator of structured, collaborative learning opportunities must become far more common, and being a sage on the stage requiring students to merely regurgitate information on a test must become less common.