Developing 21st Century Learners and Productive Citizens

The second day of the conference was another busy day! I participated in the Project Based Learning (PBL) Education Session, the Thought Leader Session with Deb Delisle, The Effie Jones Luncheon featuring speaker Dr. Tyrone Howard, and the General Session with Linda Darling-Hammond.


Education Session: PBL

Begin with the end in mind.


In the PBL Education Session, Rosanna Mucetti of Buck Institute and Matt Best, Assistant Superintendent in Davis, CA, pointed out that PBL is an ideal delivery model for standards and 21st Century learning skills. Beginning with the end in mind, Mucetti asked educators to reflect on the following questions:

  • What do we want our students to be able to do when they graduate?
  • What skills, dispositions, and attitudes do we want our graduates to possess?
  • Once identified, does our pedagogy result in mastery of content and 21st Century learning skills?

When thinking about curriculum and lesson design, the standards are the what and PBL is the how.  Mucetti and Best explained the 8 Essential Elements of PBL:

  • Content
  • 21st Century Learning Skills
  • In-depth Inquiry
  • Driving Question
  • Need to Know
  • Voice and Choice
  • Revision and Reflection
  • Public Audience

Through the PBL design, students experience deeper learning and knowledge rather than superficial rote memorization.  Best reminded us that projects in PBL are the main course not the dessert as projects traditionally have been implemented. Mucetti referenced numerous Buck Institute free resources available to schools including 450 PBL modules to view and PBL University.


Tomorrow is Too Late

I am more afraid of mediocrity than I am of making mistakes.

What we offer to our children tell them what we value.


Thought Leader, Deb Delisle, pressed superintendents to develop and implement a plan for the strategic transformation of public education.  In her presentation, Tomorrow is Too Late, Delisle emphasized the urgency to respond to our students’ future and stop working in a status quo system where students are tuning out and turning off.

Delisle pointed out that there is no silver bullet; however, the culture of an excellent school differs from a poor or mediocre school. When in schools, observe what the students are doing because of what the teacher has designed. At the school level, look at what the teachers are doing because of what the principal is doing.  Principal engagement is critical to the culture and level of rigor in the school.  Leaders need to ensure that every child is engaged deeply in learning. She asked that superintendents reflect on the following:

  • What is your plan for transformation?
  • What are your non-negotiables?  What are your principals’ non-negotiables?
  • Are you modeling the types of meetings you expect principals to conduct with their staff?
  • Are you cultivating a culture of problem solving?

Effie Jones Luncheon

We must put caring, competent, and committed people with our students.

I triple-dog-dare each of you to make a difference in our schools.


I attended the Effie Jones Luncheon and enjoyed networking with other superintendents and meeting fellow conference blogger, Jeanne Collins!  Dr. Howard delivered a powerful message about engaging in difficult dialogue about race and acknowledging the importance of what we do in public education.  He emphasized the importance of who we hire to teach and prepare our students for the future.  We must hire professionals that see the possibilities and potential in each and every student.  When hiring, Howard recommends asking the applicant why they want to work in this job, location, and with this population.  He also stresses the importance of improving teacher prep programs.  He concluded with asking educators to reflect on the following:


Do I give other people’s children the same I would give my own?


General Session:  Rethinking Instruction and Assessment

Value-added evaluation tools are inconsistent, unstable, biased, and unfair.  This could drive our best people out of the profession.


Linda Darling-Hammond expressed the need for change from 20th Century teaching to 21st Century teaching based on the change of job demands and the increase in amount  of new knowledge being created. Teaching is no longer about teaching content through lecture. This format along with multiple choice testing will not prepare students for today’s workforce nor citizenry.  Fortune 500 companies report that they want employees that can collaborate, communicate, problem solve, and have learned how to learn.  Therefore, educators must implement a different type of curriculum and pedagogy.


A new way of teaching means professional development that impacts practice.  Darling-Hammond recommends that effective professional development should be at least 50 hours of work focused on specific content.  The professional development must be intensive, sustained, and continued over time.


As I reflect on the conference, a common thread has persisted throughout each session today as well as yesterday: If we haven’t already, we must change the way we are teaching and assessing student learning so that our students are prepared to be 21st Century learners and productive citizens.


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