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Teachers’ work research project

February 25th, 2009

What are the skills, attributes and dispositions that teachers need to work successfully with 21st Century learners? This is the question that a small team of us has been thinking and talking about over the last year. To start the conversation we advertised for interested teachers to attend a workshop where we explored ideas about the qualities teachers might need to work with students in an increasingly complex, connected and fast-changing world. From that initial workshop we then invited some teachers to talk to us more about their views about the purpose of education, what is changing (or needs to change) in schools and teaching, and why.

We are now at the stage where we have quite a lot of data to think about. Today Jennifer and I met to talk about how we are going to write about what we have found out so far—not an easy task! The main problem is trying to pin down what we are actually looking for in this project and recognising “it” when we see it. How can we (who have been conditioned by our current education system) know what the characteristics are of successful teachers of the future? Yet this is an important thing to do if we are to produce the teachers we need for the future.

From the workshop and interviews it became obvious that the words that people used were not going to be good indicators of the qualities teachers need to work successfully with 21st Century learners. Phrases such as “life long learning”, “engagement” and “enquiry” for instance, were used by many participants but as a research team we sensed they had different meanings for different people…and anyway how could we differentiate between those who say they do this and those who actually do it?

We haven’t been into classrooms to see what teachers do and in any case the current context of schools may well be constraining what teachers are able to do, so looking at practice is also unlikely to help us identify this elusive “it”.

Yet, amazingly, when we have talked about our data as a team we have had high levels of agreement about which teachers seem to display what we are looking for, even though we can’t (as yet) define it! What is it that we believe we get a sense of in some places and not in others?

Given the exploratory nature of this project and the difficulty we seem to be having in identifying what exactly “it” is that we are looking for, Jennifer and I thought we might try making our wonderings about this project more public as we think about writing the article—and invite your input. By sharing our emergent, fledgling ideas maybe collectively we can get a handle on this slippery beast. We invite you to think with us and to tell us how these things make sense to you and to take this conversation about 21st century teaching and what it looks like into your experience and your life. As we publish this on the website, we look forward to hearing from colleagues we know and people we don’t yet know as we all puzzle through.

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