By Emma Kapp
When I joined the Battelle for Kids team, I was quickly connected to powerful stories from school systems committed to advancing 21st century learning for every student. I then got to see this commitment on display when I participated in a virtual site visit with our national network, EdLeader21. Network members had a front-row seat to learn how educators at Southwest Allen County Schools bring their vision of 21st century learning—their Portrait of a Graduate—to life in the design and implementation of student learning experiences.
Educators from 24 districts across the country joined this virtual site visit. It was amazing to see this professional learning network connect and learn from one another to accelerate deeper learning experiences during a global pandemic, while separated by thousands of miles, engaging through a computer screen.
The educators at Southwest Allen County Schools are empowered and equipped to model 21st century learning, creating conditions for their students to be 21st century learners. Here are my favorite three examples of how educators and students demonstrated 21st century skills and mindsets.
Collaboration & communication in action
Kindergarten teacher Sarah Kent showcased her daily Number Talk in-person with students. They took turns telling Mrs. Kent what they saw on the smartboard. After a few minutes, one student demonstrated an intentional and strong command of academic language when she exclaimed, “My thinking changed!” Mrs. Kent asked the kindergartener how it had changed and what caused this shift in her thinking. The enlightened kindergartener shared that hearing how her friends responded made her look at it differently.
Critical thinking & creativity in action
Fourth-grade teacher Heidi Wilhelm also shared her daily Number Talk, which was a virtual experience with students. She showed a clear commitment to cultivating self-awareness and metacognition with her students. However, a virtual setting empowered Mrs. Wilhelm to rethink ways to deliver deeper learning. To show where students were in their thought process, they used hand motions to signal whether they were still thinking or if they were ready to share. Her students were engaged and willing to explain the different ways they approached problem solving.
Student agency & lifelong learning in action
Adam Schenkel collaborates with his high school students to produce Homestead Live, a weekly news broadcast shared with the school and the greater Fort Wayne community. Students displayed learner agency when they explained how they choose which stories are covered each week. Mr. Schenkel also demonstrated his intentionality as a co-learner and said he often feels like he’s learning more from his students than they are learning from him. Modeling the necessity of being a lifelong learner along with his students enriched this deeper learning experience.
It was exciting to observe how Southwest Allen County Schools put 21st century skills and mindsets into practice. Just as inspiring to see, though, was the number of other educators from across the country who joined the virtual site visit and prioritized time to connect and learn alongside their fellow network members. Being part of a professional learning network gave educators the opportunity to offer feedback, share insights, and ask questions.
In just an hour and a half, I witnessed the powerful ways education systems are being transformed class by class and educator by educator. Transforming the system is not easy work, but it’s essential because, now, more than ever, students need an education that prepares them for our rapidly changing world.
We bring educators together to learn from and inspire one another as they bring 21st century learning to life for students.
Learn more about joining EdLeader21, the national network of Battelle for Kids.
Learn more about Southwest Allen County Schools’ Portrait of a Graduate.