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Troy Thomson: Wanting to be a Highly Accomplished Teacher? Change Learning Through 21CLD


by Troy Thomson
Expert Educator Columnist, Australia

Which one are you – the sage on the stage or the guide on the side. In fact, why can’t you be both? I would contend that a highly accomplished teacher would be – they just know when to switch between the two. Furthermore, I would go as far as to say that the highly accomplished teacher should be explicitly directing ‘whole class’ learning for no more than 20% of the time. The remaining time, students should be engaged in inquiry, project based or discovery learning. And this is where we can differentiate between the proficient and highly accomplished teacher. The proficient seeks more control of the learning and assessment experiences whilst the highly accomplished tends to hand this control over to the students. This is where 21st Century Learning Design (21CLD) can assist a proficient teacher to become a highly accomplished one.

21CLD is a global professional learning program that has been aimed at teachers to assist them in redesigning their current learning experiences to incorporate 21st century skills. It forms part of the Microsoft Educators Network professional development offerings (link) with a 2 day face to face course being offered (please check with your regional Microsoft Office for confirmation). The program is the product of the research based Innovative Teaching and Learning (ITL) project where they have defined 6 key skills:

  • Self-regulation
  • ICT for Learning
  • Collaboration
  • Knowledge construction
  • Real world problem solving and innovation
  • Skilled communication

Each of these skills has a rubric that helps teachers ‘identify and understand the opportunities that learning activities give students to build 21st century skills’ [1] – a process known as coding.

The coding of your learning experiences is based on a series of questions – with yes and no responses. The more questions you get through with a yes response – the higher 21st skill level you have in the learning experience. The real power in 21CLD is when you code with a colleague or within a faculty – conversation soon emerges around how learning experiences can be improved usually when your peers start with ‘Have you thought about trying….’ The other major benefit is that 21CLD is so simple to implement across a faculty or indeed a school. Once initial professional learning has occurred, time needs to be set aside for teachers to collaborate on their learning activities – sometimes this could be in faculties and sometimes across faculties.

Technology has had a significant impact on classrooms and when we look to integrate technology into our learning experiences it should not be about technology for technologies sake. Rather it should be about the clinical integration that by using technology in this experience we are really enhancing the learning that is taking place. My favoured model for the integration of technology is SAMR. The image below explores this model and if you are familiar with this then you will see that there is a nice correlation between 21CLD and SAMR. [1]


One of our Master Trainers in Australia, Pip Cleaves (@pipcleaves) has recently created SAMR meets Microsoft where she has outlined how Microsoft Products (OneNote, OfficeMix, OneDrive, Sway & Win 8 Apps) can be used at the different levels of the SAMR model. This would be a very good starting point, after you have coded your learning experiences with 21CLD.

So moving from proficient to highly accomplished….

When I have conversations with teachers about whether they are proficient or highly accomplished educators, I always use 2 benchmark questions, funnily enough they are based on titles from 2 books. The first question I ask is ‘Who owns the learning?’, and Alan November publication. The second is a slight rework of a Robyn Jackson title ‘Never work harder than your students & other principles of great teaching’ when I ask who is working harder in your classes – you or your students? Throughout the conversation, you see the nod of the head and the acknowledgement that they are working harder than their students. I then walk them through a couple or re-worked tasks that have been through the 21CLD coding process and the conversations end up with these teachers wanting to change.

An important caveat is that it is not about trying to get all six skills into each and every learning experience that would not be good practice, rather a sincere commitment to raise the level of our activities so that these 21st century skills do reach our students. You as the teacher, are both the sage on the stage and the guide on the side as you plan what skills need to be taught, when they are taught and more importantly how.

Finally a quote from a great coach, Mark Sparvell (@sparvell) ‘what doesn’t challenge us, doesn’t change us’ and 21CLD certainly will challenge you.

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