Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

21st Century Learning: Professional Development in Practice

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

21st Century Learning: Professional Development in Practice

Article excerpt

Twenty first century learning, a concept that has been described and defined in variable ways by a number of influential organizations, dominates many of the policies and practices shaping the K-12 educational landscape at district, state, and federal levels. 21st century learning is typically used to describe the types of competencies needed to thrive in today's complex and interconnected global landscape. Examples of these skills include digital literacy, cultural competence, inventiveness, emotional awareness, entrepreneurship, critical thinking, and problem solving (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2013; Center for Public Education, 2013; Metiri, 2013; Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2013). However, what 21st century learning looks like in practice, its implementation into K-12 settings, how it is measured, and those proficiencies considered most significant have garnered attention from both supporters and critics.

Howard Gardner (2007) argues life in the new millennium reflects a time of rapid, immeasurable change ushered in by constant advancements in science, technology, and globalization. As a result, the ways we communicate with one another, access and share information, and process knowledge have been inextricably altered. Within the various narratives situating the 21st century learning movement there is a sense that a disjuncture exists between the past and the future we are rapidly emerging towards; hence, the educational demands of this century require novel and different teaching practices that not only align with workforce preparation, but that also embrace highly collaborative project-based learning environments. Following this logic, it can be argued that today's students, often referred to as digital natives, need interactive pedagogical experiences that prepare them to solve complex problems, adapt to changing circumstances, and utilize technology to create opportunity, network with other like-minded individuals, and organize in novel ways (Christenson, 2010; Friedman, 2007; Wagner, 2008, 2012).

While many schools and districts throughout the United States have committed their attention to the paradigm of 21st century learning, there is a need to ensure teachers have clear ideas about what it means to "be a 21st century learner;" developing this understanding while experiencing the learning process within this pedagogical framework is both practical and important. To do this work, many schools, including the one at the center of this investigation, have made a commitment to focus teacher professional development on 21st century learning. The following article discusses findings from an evaluative study of a professional development program at Rolling Meadows (pseudonym), a well-established, K-12 independent school located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This research was conducted as the school began developing their program and planning the initial phases of implementation. The study began with one primary research question: How does Rolling Meadows' professional development program reflect the administration's goal to incorporate 21st century learning as its guiding principle?

In early conversations with the Head of School, Deputy Head of School, and the newly hired Professional Development Coordinator, the importance of 21st century learning was emphasized as both philosophical and practical foundations of the PD program. As more was learned about the program's primary objectives, two other critically important questions emerged. These lines of inquiry served as lenses for examining the presence of 21st century learning in the program's initial conceptualization, design, development, and plans for implementation. These questions were:

1. What perceptions do teachers at Rolling Meadows have about professional development?

2. What specific steps are school leaders taking to develop and begin implementation of a clearly articulated and structured professional development program at Rolling Meadows? …

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