One educational outcome from this pandemic is a global reflection on how students engage in their learning. As they moved into the digital classroom, teachers and students were forced to adapt to a changed environment that has had an impact on technological skills but also creativity.
This creativity is driven by a need to keep students engaged and ensure that even if the access to learning is online, it is meaningful. However, this is not just a proviso for the online classroom, it is also an underlying principle of 21st-century learning.
This holistic approach is all about making connections, so that courses are no longer content-driven; instead students are engaged with the world around them. It gives our teachers a chance to seize that teachable moment and put the learning into context.
At Verdala International School, our curriculum is driven by inquiry; this empowers students to ask the questions of why and how. We have a written curriculum that creates opportunity for discussion and perspective but also values an understanding of current affairs and learning outcomes that reach beyond the planned lesson, giving our students a deeper and longer-lasting learning experience.
When the Azure Window fell into the sea, teachers reflected and related to the symbolism not just to our country but also by connecting to the effects of climate change versus natural change. Recently, when Capitol Hill was viciously overrun, it was the right moment to discuss the fundamentals of democracy and citizenship.
At VIS we pride ourselves on offering 21st-century learning; however, this is journey not an outcome. As a school we are all on that pathway of exploration, reflecting on how we can improve our teaching and learning, which is changing all the time.
Our VIS definition of learning tries to encompass this holistic approach, as it is not just about the academic, but also about well-being and resilience
COVID opened a door to educational software that can enhance the educational experience of our students as they integrate these tools on a daily basis. Twenty-first-century learning should be a holistic combination of learning approaches that value both the ‘academic journey and the well-being’ of our learners.
Michael Fullan’s research, published in 2014 in A Rich Seam – How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning, refers to the six Cs – character, citizenship, collaboration, creativity, communication and critical inquiry. If we can tie all these together into our practice then we are putting students in the best place possible for success on each of their individual pathways.
Our curriculum fosters this approach as we use project-based learning to make those connections with the students, but also to engage them in their own learning journey, taking responsibility and reflecting on the process. When our students move into their careers, they are most likely to find themselves working on projects in the workplace and will need those core transferable skills they have acquired. They will need to collaborate, to communicate and share ideas, and have the resilience to manage failure. Above all, they will need an ability to adapt to change.
Our VIS definition of learning tries to encompass this holistic approach, as it is not just about the academic, but also about well-being and resilience. However, you cannot offer holistic education without an organisational understanding of what that means.
In developing this concept within in our community, we collaboratively agreed on our understanding of this definition, and these values now underpin all our decision-making and the learning experiences we design and encourage.
The ethos of a school is often determined by recruitment; employing teachers who offer a diversity and perspective, but also a common understanding that we are working together through collegial discussion and continued professional development to find ways to inspire students to engage in their learning journey.
As educators, we need to invest in our own growth mindset in this ever-changing teaching environment, valuing alternative approaches, joining our students in reflecting on the why, but looking forward to the how.
Ultimately, we want our teachers to have the licence to seize those teachable moments that will engage our young people with the world they live in; only in that way will they connect with, and possibly contribute to, positive change.
Totty Aris, head, Verdala International School
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