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What does 21st Century Education look like? - Gilda Scarfe

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

In the 21st century, we are facing severe difficulties at the societal, economic, and personal levels. Societally, we are struggling with financial instability, climate change, and personal privacy invasions, and with lack of tolerance manifested in religious fundamentalism and racial crises. Economically, globalisation and innovation are fast changing our paradigms of business. On a personal level we are struggling with finding meaningful employment and achieving happiness. But one of the most important issues our society is facing is educational progress which is falling behind the curve of technological progress resulting in social pain, lack of fulfilment and depression.

The world we live in is ambiguous, volatile and uncertain and literature from around the world now commonly suggests that there’s a crisis in education which is not just a local or national one: it’s an international crisis.

Children are routinely being taught-to-the-test through common practices in teaching, based around question spotting and learning stock responses which may gain marks, but which feign competence and mask a lack of understanding. And we have to ask ourselves the question as to whether the relentless culture of teaching children to the test is actually providing the young men and women that we want to graduate from our schools, to make up the society, economy and leaders of tomorrow and how all of this affects their wellbeing.

There is a growing problem of high levels of anxiety and poor mental health affecting young people. This can be partly blamed on the impact and emotional intrusion of social media, but we cannot ignore the roles of the school, the curriculum and the testing culture in contributing to growing levels of anxiety and depression in youngsters.

Both academics and those who influence education policy are now increasingly drawing attention to the vocational expectations of future careers, suggesting that there is an economic imperative that the young people leaving schools and universities need to be equipped with a range of soft skills which means they are adequately equipped for a very different employment market.

There is a consensus within the research which supports the argument that our current students will more successfully navigate the future economy, and their social environment, if they become more competent in soft skills such as self-awareness, optimism, positive relationships, decision-making, team-working, problem-solving, working under pressure, responding to change and so forth.

There has been a quote going around for some time now that says something like 'we have to deal with the Maslov stuff before we can deal with the Bloom stuff.' If I recall correctly this attributable to Katheryn Craig, but similar feelings have been expressed by others. This statement points to our need to address basic human needs in our learners, as identified by Abraham Maslov in one hierarchy, before we can address the learning and intellectual development identified in another by Benjamin Bloom. No matter what you think about either of these models of human development and behaviours, I do believe this linking of them both points towards a fundamental point of prioritisation for schools and their learners.

I feel this is as a staging point between the formal and informal curriculums, because when we are faced with learners who have not developed self-awareness and emotional regulation, confidence and optimism, we have to be quite overt in helping and supporting them, before addressing their learning and intellectual needs. This then becomes part of the visible curriculum and activity of any school and many educators, though the time spent on addressing such issues is still not fully recognised, or valued, by many, especially those outside of the system. We should be focusing on supporting the development of the whole child, and not just aspects, especially those most easy to test or measure. We deal with the complexity of this challenge daily and understand the challenge to show this to those not directly involved, or who lack understanding.

Schools play an increasingly important role in assisting children to develop cognitive, social and emotional skills. As such, calls have been made for schools to adopt a new paradigm of education for the 21st century. Twenty-first century schooling has been conceptualised in many different ways and has multiple components, including new technology, new pedagogies, interdisciplinary curricula, open learning spaces and reformed teacher training, to name a few however, a core proponent of all conceptualisations of 21st century schooling is the need for education to develop the ‘whole student’ through social, emotional, moral and intellectual development

My focus is the use of positive psychology interventions to assist a whole student learning.

I want you to think of a time when as student you were excited about learning. What was the word that capture what you felt at the time?

I have asked this question of hundreds of teachers in my training. The range of feelings recalled was vast but common responses include ‘angry’, ‘elated’, ‘embarrassed’, ‘frustrated’, ‘humiliated’, ‘relieved’. I ask the question in order to make the point that: Learning itself is an intrinsically emotional business (Claxton 1999:15). If you are responsible for helping others to learn, then you need to recognise this emotional component of the teaching-learning exchange and to be able to work with it; in short, teachers need to use emotional intelligence.

Through my observation I have learnt that as educators you have three things to offer your learners. Firstly, your subject expertise, derived from your qualifications and/or professional experience. Secondly, you have your expertise in pedagogy, which informs your practice. Thirdly you have your emotional intelligence and resilience. Too often, I observed that learners were not getting the full benefit of the teacher’s expertise in the subject and in learning and teaching methods because of the teacher’s failure to use emotional intelligence, resilience and mental toughness. This resulted in learners wasting energy on negative, fruitless emotions, less fulfilment for the teacher and missed opportunities for enhancing the teaching session.

What does it mean in practice to use emotional intelligence and resilience in the classroom? Examples of its use include: acknowledging and discussing with students the expectations that they bring to a new topic/lesson and creating a dialogue; acknowledging individual students within the class; actively listening to the students; developing a critical self-awareness of yourself as a teacher, particularly how you interact with your students but also normalizing challenges.

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living and the study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Martin Seligman the father of positive psychology has been working on incorporating positive psychology into education to decrease depression in younger people and enhance wellbeing and happiness and he called this movement positive education.

Positive education emphasizes the importance of training the heart as well as the mind in education. The goal of positive education is to help reveal and develop the child’s ability to effectively engage their combination of character strengths.

What we need is proactive, non-stigmatised positive psychology training and programmes in our schools, workplaces and our communities to move the bell curve to the right!

Creating a framework sets measurable outcomes that determine the whole school ecosystem, a metric of success by providing the evidence and shared to the school community.

Teacher training: training the teachers to understand the science of wellbeing and its domains together with emotional intelligence and mental toughness will provide the basis of a whole school approach to wellbeing and resilience.

Curriculum: A taught curriculum involves the purposeful application of positive psychology and emotional intelligence within scheduled class time. This may entail a clear scope and sequence that is developmentally appropriate, lessons which are culturally sensitive, a dedicated team of teachers who can respond and adapt to student feedback, and a focus on long-term goals in the delivery of positive education lessons. This approach primarily takes the ideas and findings from positive psychology and EI and blends them with practical curricula. There are a growing number of empirically informed and scientifically structured wellbeing programs that develop scope and sequence of skills to young people

Coaching: Coaching Psychology has been shown to improve the mental wellbeing of children adolescents and adults. Coaching Psychology is recognised as an application of Positive Psychology whereby coaching provides the method of application of Positive Psychology research, such as experience of positive emotions, recognising and using strengths and developing interpersonal skills.

Coaching is increasingly being recognised and evidenced within the fields of education as effective intervention for learners, staff, schools and organisations. The majority of Coaching approaches to date have concentrated on academic or school performance; however, coaching has been demonstrated as being effective as holistic support for improving wellbeing and improving learning.

Measures: Establishing a measurement would be especially beneficial in helping schools to identify the interventions that are most likely to be effective given the unique characteristics and culture of the school. If schools are to invest in wellbeing approaches, they want to be able to invest in the most effective, cost-effective and appropriate interventions for their students.

Change can be created despite the challenge’s schools are facing today. If you have a school leader who understands the importance of building resilience and mental toughness as part of the school approach and empower teachers through well-defined training, you create a wellbeing ecosystem which will be long lasting.

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