Moving On... 21st Century Learning by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

10/21/2011 1:18:16 PM
Fork Road

 Image by hubertk

A few days ago was graduation day for 6th graders at my school. I started teaching these same students Spanish as little 1st graders when I started working there. It was bittersweet to hear them sing “Time of your Life” from Green Day, since I will be moving on to another school as they are.

Another turning point; a fork stuck in the road.
Time grabs you by the wrist; directs you where to go.
So make the best of this test and don’t ask why.

I have accepted a one year consulting position as the 21st Century Learning Specialist at the Martin J Gottlieb Day School here in town. A new challenge, new perspectives and above all  excitement in working and learning with the faculty, administrators, students and parents of the school community.

Try googling a “21st Century Learning Specialist?” You will get relatively few results. Most of them will point you to Kim Cofino and her position as the 21st Century Literacy Specialist at the International School of Bangkok (ISB), Thailand.

Kim, as one of the pioneers of such a position defines her role in one of her blog posts.

The 21st Century Literacy Specialist position combines the process and best practice approaches of successful technology facilitation with the wealth of resources available in the library. ISB is actively seeking to build a Learning Hub that successfully blends the traditional role of a library with the requirements of the 21st century global student. The role of the 21st Century Literacy Specialist is to bridge that gap. The focus of this position is to help core subject teachers utilize web 2.0 technologies in the classroom, to create a global and collaborative approach to learning. The design of authentic and engaging international projects which incorporate social networking, blogs, wikis, and podcasts, and whatever comes next, is paramount to the success of this position. The 21st Century Literacy Specialist works in collaboration with the Media Specialist and Technology and Learning Coordinator to ensure a seamless transition between traditional and digital literacy skills.

So, what is a 21st Century Learning Specialist? Here is my vision.



In a previous post of mine, I documented my thoughts on Changing-Shifting a School Culture- Train of Thought. It took me to one of Will Richardson’s post Wanted: School Chief Learning Officer where he asks if schools:

  • Welcome innovation and contributions from its teachers?
  • Encourage (and provide time for) reflection on successes and flops?
  • Tolerate mistakes and reward thinking out of the box?
  • Share information openly?
  • Foster learning for everyone?
  • Experiment with new ways of doing things?
  • Work across departments and unit boundaries with ease?

I see a 21st Century Learning Specialist ( 21stCLS) bring awareness to these questions and facilitate a shift towards answering them.  Her/his  primary goal is helping others become self directed learners. If learning equals experiencing plus reflecting, then the 21st Century Learning Specialist needs to create an environment in the school community that allows those two things to happen.

Is there a difference between a Learning Specialist and a 21st Century Learning Specialist? Did the latter evolve from the first or is it  “just” a technology add-on?

The 21st Century Learning Specialist works within the Framework of 21st Century Learning.


1. Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes
2. Learning and Innovation Skills
3. Information, Media and Technology Skills
4. Life and Career Skills


1. 21st Century Standards
2. Assessment of 21st Century Skills
3. 21st Century Curriculum and Instruction
4. 21st Century Professional Development
5. 21st Century Learning Environments

The  21stCLS  is part of the support system and works with all the stakeholders of the school community including

  • Teachers
  • Administrators & Staff
  • Students
  • Parents

The  21stCLS models and helps (in planned and unplanned moments) all stakeholders involved understand how learning is changing and the way technology is changing society. He/She is making her own learning transparent in order to teach. He/She creates, maintains and facilitates a learning environment for independent-self directed learners.

The 21stCLS spends time with teachers in their classrooms, not to criticize their teaching nor overthrow their lessons, but to listen and observe. He/She will encourage awareness and reflection in teachers on their teaching AND learning practices as it relates to 21st century skills.  The 21stCLS will identify leaders and coaches among the faculty as an integral part to the success of a learning community. By observing and reflecting together with the teachers, the 21stCLS will be able to understand better where each teacher fits within the learning community. Who is receptive, motivated, passionate  (about what?) and ready to take initiative? Who will take responsibility in their area of influence?

The 21stCLS becomes the community’s connector for (global) learning opportunities, relevant and current educational discussions. His/Her goal is to equip and enable others to collaborate, connect, communicate and create. He/She helps shift and (return if necessary) the focus on student and life long learning.


 image by afagen

Albert Einstein said:

I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.

A 21st CLS cannot MAKE anyone learn. He/She can only provide the conditions and environment where learning and communication is possible and more convenient. An environment where its members feel safe to try…fail..try again…and succeed.

Shifting the mindset of a school and its stakeholders towards  21st century learning and skills is a process NOT a program. It requires each member to recognize that they are an important component in the overall process. The 21st CLS is present to help identify learning goals of the community and facilitate communication and collaboration among its members.

I want to close this post with yet another quote (by Socrates) that summarizes my vision of a 21st century learning specialist.

I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.

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