Innovations in Education Showcased on “21st Century Learning”

Submitted by Bedford Television


Don Thomas, host of
Don Thomas, host of 21st Century Learning

How has society changed over time and how must education evolve to meet the challenges of a flatter, more competitive, more complex world? This question underlies each of the six-episodes of “21st Century Learning,” as a variety of educators discuss their experiences and innovations with host Don Thomas, retired teacher and author of “Schoolmastery: Notes on Teaching & Learning.”

To see any or all of the six “21st Century Learning” programs below, go to:

Technology in schools: Seen through the framework of one district’s approach to 21st century innovation and reform, Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills of Bedford, Massachusetts describes his system’s one-to-one technology pilot program that uses iPads to enhance its core educational mission. At the center of the initiative is the high school’s efforts to “flip the classroom,” using the iPad as a research tool, interactive digital textbook, and notebook  as well as a mechanism  for differentiated instruction, organization, real time feedback and progress tracking.

Teacher recruitment and retention: Who is attracted to teaching in the 21st century and why do they stay— if they do— given stress-filled, sometimes demoralizing working conditions and comparatively low pay? Guest Susan Moore Johnson of the Harvard School of Education shares her understanding of why people are motivated to enter careers in education and how to choose, train, engage, support and keep qualified educators.

Susan Moore Johnson leads courses in teaching policy, organizational change and administrative practice.  She collaborated on the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, publishing “Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools” in 2004.

Student-centered, collaborative learning through the Harkness Table model: Principal of Phillips Exeter Academy, Thomas Hassan, explains how the Harkness model— small classes meeting around a large table— began at Exeter in the 1930’s, effectively “flipping the classroom” from a teacher-centered environment to a student-centered learning collaborative. The innovation, Hassan explains, is that the teacher is a “traffic cop” rather than a “sage on a stage.”

The Harkness method is described as “labor-intensive but incredibly effective” and one that prompts students to delve deeply into material rather than merely skim the surface. While small classes are not always possible, Hassan makes the case that lessons from the Harkness model are applicable to all classrooms.

Charter Schools, seen through City on a Hill School in Boston, Ma:  Erica Brown, Executive Director of City on a Hill School—one of the original 14 charter schools in Massachusetts (1995)—talks with host Don Thomas about the history of the school, the value of charter schools as laboratories for innovation, and the high graduation rates achieved by the City on a Hill education model.

The crisis is not in education, but in child-rearing: Dr. Robert Evans, the guest in this segment, is a clinical and organizational psychologist and Executive Director of the Human Relations Service in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He argues that non-school factors play a far larger role in a child’s life and in how a student does in school than the school itself does, despite the attention on schools as sources of educational problems. These family and societal factors, says Evans, make the job of education harder and must be acknowledged—and adjusted for— before true education reform is possible.

Dr. Evans, a former teacher, is the author of three books: “The Human Side of Change,” “Family Matters: How Schools Can Cope with the Crisis in Childrearing,” and “Seven Secrets of Savvy School Leaders.”

Millennium schools and the power of teaching teams: Why is it that the least experienced teachers commonly get the toughest classrooms and receive little-to-no support or mentoring during their first years in the profession? Education professors and collaborators Vivian Troen and Katherine Boles discuss what they call the “trilemma” of modern-day teaching: the failure to attract capable candidate to teaching, the failure to train them, and the failure to support and develop them throughout their careers. Troen and Boles advocate for teaming veteran educators with newly-minted teachers in a model that provides career-long, collaborative professional development and steps for mastering the complex art and craft of teaching.

The guests in this segment, veteran educators Vivian Troen and Katherine Boles, are the authors of “The Power of Teacher Teams: With Cases, Analyses, and Strategies for Success” and “Who’s Teaching Your Children? Why the Teacher Crisis is Worse Than You Think And What Can Be Done About It.”

Teacher training models: Don’s guest in this segment is Katherine Merseth, Senior Lecturer and Director of Teacher Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of “Cases for Educational Administration” and “ Inside Charter Schools: Promising Practices and Strategies in Five High-Performing Schools.”

Looking at the expanded field of teacher education programs, such as Teach for America and Boston Teaching Residency, Merseth worries about the coming generation of teachers and advocates for schools of education to increase the level of new teacher support, during training as well as the first years of work.  Through Harvard, she has worked to developed a mentor- supported model that is grounded in the belief that there are four places in which teachers learn about teaching: as a student, through graduate schools of education, as an intern in the classroom setting, and while on the job as an educator.

“Really, when we learn about teaching is in the moment when something happens in the classroom. You make an instant decision and sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t. To be able to instantly reflect on the experience [with colleagues and mentors in a supportive environment] is a most powerful motivator,” Merseth says.

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