Essential skills for developing 21st Century schools

FEBRUARY 12, 2016 / News

Education systems globally are struggling to adapt to a 21st Century teaching and learning model, which develops the trinity of foundational literacies, competencies and character.

According to a 2015 World Economic Forum report, there are wide variations in skill performance of students in high-income countries, including New Zealand. The report emphasises that to thrive in a rapidly evolving, technology-mediated world, students must not only possess strong skills in areas such as Language, Arts, Mathematics and Science, they must also be adept in skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, persistence, collaboration and curiosity.

At the heart of change

Setting up three international schools, and more recently working at one of New Zealand’s biggest school start-ups at Hobsonville Point, Jan Menzies has wide experiences in education system change. In her judgement, Westmount School’s journey to a 21st Century Teaching and Learning model is easier, because vital foundations in Character and Values are already in place.

“Westmount has an appropriate balance between strong classroom leadership from staff, and allowing students the freedom to make good learning choices and grow as self-directed learners,” Jan says. “We have to acknowledge the significance of the social environment in enabling this balance. Of course, the impact of teachers is critical, but parents and the community also have a significant effect.”

In Jan’s experience, understanding attitudes to change is key to achieving a successful transition or transformation. Her studies for a Post-Graduate Diploma in Business developed her knowledge of change management principles and frameworks. Her management philosophy is articulated in a Chinese proverb that says ‘change reveals danger, or an opportunity’, depending on your perspective. Some teachers see change as a threat and will resist it, she believes.

“A key change demanded under the 21st century model is that teachers acknowledge that their students are their clients. Many state schools are stuck in an industrial age model, where the focus is not necessarily on learning to learn – it’s on standardisation and a silo structure which does not relate to the world students will face on leaving school."

Journey to Westmount

In the 1990s, teacher training in New Zealand moved from independent Teachers’ Colleges into universities. It was a change that Jan did not agree with because a consequence was the loss of classroom practitioners who brought experiences beyond theories to student teachers. “We have lost teacher input into education at a student level,” she says.

At the time Jan was a lecturer in Teacher Education and later a manager at the Auckland College of Education, with responsibility for recruitment, finance and student services. Instead of becoming part of a new way of teacher education, she took an opportunity to have a career change and work overseas, helping to set up a new international school in Jakarta, using the New Zealand curriculum. It was the right move to develop her experience blending business and education. It led to an opportunity in India, where she established a new international school that grew from 430 students to 1250 students in two years.

“I think the reason I was offered those roles is because I had an education background and a business background and international schools like the fact you can see education from both perspectives.”

Jan says Westmount is also the right move, allowing her to apply a growth mindset, and her business and education knowledge. “We are changing at Kaipara with the merger of two campuses.  We are evolving as a global education organisation. It’s very exciting times, and the career opportunity is unprecedented.”