The success of the Relevance Triad © is dependent on the utilization of the vast array of experiences, curiosity and creativity that children bring with them to the classroom. Tapping in to these qualities, as instructional gifts, goes a long way in assisting students toward the discovery of a meaning-ful and relevant learning experience. They represent the A/B line of the triangle I'm using to represent the Triad. It is a line that is vibrant, and one that is teeming with opportunity if teachers will pause long enough to take stock of the potential that exists along this line to inform the design of incredible learning experiences.
The B/C line represents both the "what" and the "how" of a student's instructional experience. It's important that we separate these two, what and how. Within the context of the Triad, they are decidedly different.
The "what" of the B/C line is the curriculum. It represents the common understanding (however flawed) of what it means to to be educated in our current system of public education, one that relies on a standardized process of curriculum and instruction. It reflects the prescribed notions of what it means to be competent, measured against standardized assessments of achievement. I do not subscribe to this notion of achievement. Yet, it remains a steadfast element of the current public school environment. The standards simply define what must be taught, and hopefully will be learned.
I am most concerned with the "how" of the instructional practices of teachers that define the B/C line. The most freeing statement I ever heard from the office of Teaching and Learning in a district I worked in was: (paraphrasing) "You must teach to the standards. How you get there is up to you." Wow! This opens up some amazing creative possibilities. It is this creative license that can make unpacking the standards either a dreadful experience or an enlightening one for students.
In my book, The Education Kids Deserve, I challenge teachers and building administrators to rethink how they engage with their students in the service of learning. Frequently, what we observe in classrooms today closely resembles the practices that were common place fifty, or even one hundred, years ago. There continues to be a preference for "stand and deliver" or "sage on the stage" delivery models in classrooms that we deem to be well managed because the students appear to be engaged, when what actually is being observed is their compliance. Teachers understandably rely on their own successful experiences as learners by teaching as they were taught. Regrettably, these practices overlook the needs and interests of a vastly different generation of students sitting in contemporary classrooms. The role and practices of teachers must change to successfully engage students in an instructional experience that they will consider relevant.
What should a 21st century teacher look like? In my book, I offer some key characteristics that are worthy of deliberate reflection and action.
No longer are teachers expected to be the smartest person in the room. Rather, they are simply the most experienced person in the room.
No longer will teachers need to be the guardian of facts to be revealed in the evolution of a topical sequence. The facts are now public and readily available all day, every day.
The teacher's role is the one of head learner, coach and guide - no longer a master to please, but an expert to collaborate with.
Teachers are the facilitators of discovery.
Teachers will guide students toward self-reflection and self-assessment, understanding that their gains are measured against themselves rather than in comparison to their classmates or their global peers.
Teachers substantially base their instructional decisions on the needs and interests of their students, relying on a foundation of meaningful relationships.
21st century teachers understand that the complexity of thought and the higher order attainment of rigor is reliant on students experiencing personal relevance to the leaning on a consistent basis.
Teachers collaborate with their colleagues across grade levels and disciplines to assure a cohesive educational experience.
These critical professional attitudes and behaviors define the effectiveness of the Relevance Triad's B/C line. A teacher's reliance on status quo practices, however defined by their personal experiences and preferences, is no longer sufficient. The defining characteristics and attributes of today's learners demand something that is substantially different.