Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wayfinding - How Does This Compare to Education Today?

I was relaxing this past weekend and was able to take some time to read the local paper, The National. I was lucky enough to find an extremely interesting article on the practice of wayfinding. The article defines wayfinding as "a professional discipline – part graphic design, part behavioural psychology – concerned with helping people navigate the airports, shopping malls, hospitals and neighbourhoods of today’s often-bewildering built environment." Wayfinders obviously have a lot of work in the construction crazed cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but I was struck by this statement and immediately identified wayfinding as a profession that relates well to education. If you were to replace a few of the words in the definition, you would have a very effective description of what educators are trying to accomplish with our students today.

As educational leaders, we are responsible for helping our students prepare themselves for a turbulent and uncertain future. This responsibility can effectively be summarized by the statement below from Schooling By Design.
"Schools exist to develop and deepen students' understanding of important ideas and processes in the disciplines, equipping them to transfer their learning in meaningful and effective ways, and cultivating lifelong habits of mind." (Wiggins & Mctighe)
If this is a summary of the purpose of schools, what kinds of skills should we be focusing on in our classes to ensure that we are accomplishing our overall goal - to cause meaningful learning? What are these essential skills that our students need to acquire to be successful in the world today? How can teachers act as wayfinders for their their students; guiding students along their journey of learning?

Recently, I attended a lecture by Grant Wiggins where he asked 500 educational leaders to compile a list of skills that they felt all students needed in order to be successful in today's environment. Surprisingly, this activity only took about 60 seconds, and Mr. Wiggins stated that he had done this on numerous occasions and the list always looks the same. It is great to know that most educators currently identify the same skills that will lead to successful students. Some published lists of these skills, commonly referred to as 21st Century skills are listed below.

21st Century Skills, Values, and Attributes
Tony Wagner’s Seven Skills from The Global Achievement Gap
1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
2. Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
3. Agility and Adaptability
4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
7. Curiosity and Imagination

Pat Bassett’s 21st C. Skills and Values (Independent School Magazine, Fall 2009)
1. Character (self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience, and courage)
2. Creativity and Entrepreneurial Spirit
3. Real-World Problem-Solving (filtering, analysis, and synthesis)
4. Public Speaking/Communications
5. Teaming
6. Leadership

Although educators have been able to come to agreement on these essential skills, it is necessary to ask ourselves about how effectively we are addressing these skills in our schools today. If we are to be true wayfinders; educators who prepare students for the future, we need to ensure that our students have extensive opportunities to master these skills so they can be ready for the world that awaits them.

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