How to Create a 21st Century Classroom

I spent last Friday morning presenting with Joanne Eliuk at the Canadian Safe Schools Network 20/20 Conference.  This conference, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Safe Schools Network had a focus on Technology and Digital Citizenship, Diversity and Inclusion and Health & Wellness.  While we were identified as being a workshop that fit into the "Technology and Digital Citizenship" focus, what keeps being reinforced the more we dialogue with educators is that these practices are all interconnected. It all comes down to the relationship we develop with our students and how that relationship can help students learn and grow that creates a 21st century classroom.

Joanne and I gave a presentation on The 21st Century Classroom.  This was a presentation we’ve given before at Halton’s Innovation and Technology Symposium in the fall.  At that time, our presentation highlighted our own “Ten Easy Steps” and then some points within those steps for an educator to consider.

This time, Joanne and I decided to take away the points from our presentation and just provide the steps.  We did this for a few reasons; we wanted a more informal presentation, we were hoping for more discussion, we wanted to be able to field questions more easily.  However, the biggest reason we changed our format was because we believe that there are big picture philosophies that go into a 21st Century classroom but also that the way each teacher dives into those philosophies is different.  Again, as in our classrooms, what we noticed is that the more you allow people to explore their own ideas, the more our understanding grows as well.

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  Everyone has different ways they can effect change in their classrooms or schools.  What works for me might not always work for someone else, and vice versa.  Once you peel back the day to day strategies that are used and look at the deeper thinking that goes into a 21st Century Classroom, you’ll see aspects of our “easy steps”.

So what do we identify as the steps needed to make a 21st Century Classroom?

  1. Make the classroom student centered
  2. Create an environment that is invitational
  3. Teach students how to take responsibility
  4. Ask students to be reflective
  5. Have a culture that promotes inquiry
  6. Make the learning adaptive
  7. Have assessment that is performance based
  8. Make your assessment transparent
  9. Mentor your students
  10. Integrate technology

On Friday, we intentionally put technology last, because technology is the least important thing in a 21st Century classroom.  Technology alone doesn’t make a classroom innovative.  Technology is a tool that should be used to improve student outcomes in your classroom.  It is not a magic bullet.  No amount of iPads or Smartboards or Kahoots will make a difference if the other 9 ingredients in a 21st Century Classroom aren’t being addressed.  

Joanne and I enjoyed the conversations that our presentation sparked.  It was interesting to hear so many other perspectives, especially from teachers in the elementary panel.  I found it fascinating to realize how interconnected the steps for a 21st Century classroom are.  We spoke about mentoring many times before finally coming to that step in our presentation.  Many participants spoke of the need to build a positive relationship with their students which ties in well with student centered, invitational classrooms.  

In the end, we spent a lot of time talking about what a classroom “looks” like and what it “sounds” like.  I think the biggest challenge comes down to understanding what it “feels” like to be in our classrooms.  If students feel welcome, included, listened to, empowered and respected that is when true learning happens.  If you are thinking, “My classroom feels like it needs some Chromebooks...”, you might be missing the point.

Notice, no technology
For anyone getting ready to join the Innovators Mindset book club, the look fors that George Couros identifies link up well with the steps Joanne and I spoke about.

I might be paraphrasing...
Creating a 21st Century Classroom of your own doesn’t have to be hard.  Really, it’s been the 21st Century for seventeen years.  If you want to make your own 21st Century Classroom, just find a classroom and walk in.  Maybe we should re-title our presentation to “How to Create a Classroom”.

In the spirit of Open, if you are passionate about creating a 21st Century Classroom of your own, feel free to use our presentation and adapt it for your own building.