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We're 10 percent finished with 21st Century

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By Keith Davis

    In the “education industry,” we have begun to hear a great deal about preparing students for the future and equipping every student with 21st Century Skills.

    There has long been a great debate among educational philosophers about exactly what to teach, and how it should be taught.

    The term 21st Century Skills, generally speaking,  are the “soft-skills” that anyone who has ever thrived in a job understands are required; things like creativity and innovation, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, along with information literacy, media literacy, and mastery of modern technology.

    I suggest to you that people in the 1890s, and maybe even the 1790s, were talking about the importance of these skills as well, and it seems like they have given the talk a new (though 10 years late) name.

    These things, along with core knowledge in reading, mathematics, science, history, government, and the arts, have always been critical to success in a career.

    Some people wonder if some of these soft skills can even be taught; some people just seem to be more creative than others, some get along better than others, some are better organized.

    We understand that everyone is not at the same starting point, and all of us do not have the same innate abilities, but we do believe that all children can learn, and that we can teach every child to be successful if given the time and supports.

    This is the rub.  Policymakers and theorists continue to add to the things that our classroom teachers are expected to teach our children.

    Each new “thing” laid on us by federal or state authorities doesn’t seem like that much, but the cumulative impact is substantial.

    Folks get angry because we do not devote as much time to cursive writing as we did in the 1960s, but we also didn’t teach kids how to use the internet, how to develop PowerPoint presentations, or about suicide prevention, drug abuse resistance, or what to do if you come upon unexploded ordinance.

    The stress that all teachers and administrators have is trying to fit it all in and how to balance tradition and technology while making sure that kids know what they need to know to be ready for college or a career (which is really the same skill set).

    All that sounds a little defeatist, but it really is just setting up to inform you that we have a great many of the tools we need to do just what is expected.

    We do not have more time to teach, but we do have technology and a collaborative spirit to determine the best path.

    In our Measures of Academic Progress assessments and in our regular team made assessments, we have data with which to individualize instruction in specific skills so instead of wasting time on topics for which he is not ready, or wasting the same time on topics he already knows, a student can get “just in time” instruction for what he needs to know in order to be successful on the next topic.

    By using project-based learning, teachers can incorporate all these soft-skills while at the same time teaching content.

    It is not about deciding the “or” (as in, “Are we going to teach this OR that?”), but instead, our teachers are using “and” thinking (as in,” Our district’s teachers are learning to use effective instructional techniques to target multiple hard and soft skill objectives at the same time”).

In Bullitt County schools, we have excellent students and truly phenomenal teachers and administrators.

    I would not want my kids anywhere else in the state.

    For those who have been watching us for a few years, you know we will never declare success, no matter how high we score on state or national assessments.

    We have a long, long way to go to become the great school system that we will become, but we can be proud of the progress we have made.

    I want to renew my call to you all to become supporters.

    In school, volunteer if you can, offer expertise, speak to a class, or help a kid practice reading.

    Outside school, encourage your neighbor’s child or your niece, talk to any kids you can find about how 80 percent of all newly created jobs require some post-secondary education, and encourage them to develop a good work ethic.

    Our school system can be the absolute pride of the community, attracting businesses, and driving up property values, but it does take a community effort to support the schools.

    If you want to find out how you can get involved, call us at 869-8000, drop by a school, or visit our web site.

    We look forward to a great school year and value your continued support of our future.