Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS), through its Forward Thinking, High Achieving: 21st Century Initiative, is positioning its educational community to be among the best in the nation. MCPS seeks to create a more engaging learning environment and context that will better prepare the children of Missoula for the future. MCPS is using the contracted services of PCG Education to facilitate the development of the initiative’s 21st Century Plan.
The process of developing the 21st Century Plan involves two phases.Phase One: In the fall of 2010, PCG Education conducted extensive data collection and analysis to identify major themes and emerging priorities. The themes and emerging priorities are related to elements of a 21st century education, as well as to the District’s capacity to undertake the initiative. Throughout the process, PCG Education worked in concert with MCPS to engage as many stakeholders as possible in discussions. The discussions provided the District with the opportunity to explore and develop a collective understanding of teaching and learning in the 21st century. MCPS closely examined the 4 Cs of teaching and learning: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity and Innovation.
Summary of Data Collection Instruments and Processes
Individual Teacher Surveys: 465
Onsite School Visits: 19
Focus Groups (District & Community): 42
Interviews with Individuals (District & Community): 28
School Capacity Profiles: 17
School Information Checklist: 17
District Capacity Profile: 1
The outcome of this two-part process will be a 21st century teaching and learning plan that will guide MCPS as it further provides an exceptional education to all MCPS students.
Phase One. Data collection and analysis were carried out over a four-month period from September through December 2010. More than 700 people (students, teachers, staff, parents, community members, school administrators, and District administrators) participated in the data collection process. Sources of data for Phase One included the following.
Strengths. By many measures, MCPS schools are successful.
· Student performance has risen consistently on the Montana Comprehensive Assessment System Criterion Referenced Tests (MontCAS CRT).
· MCPS’s high school dropout rate appears to be declining.
· The professional staff is established and committed to children’s success.
· Both the professional staff and the Missoula community voice a willingness to shape a model of education that will help prepare students for the career and educational challenges of the 21st century.
Clearly the Missoula community supports and is committed to MCPS. Community members expressed excitement about a 21st century teaching and learning initiative and an interest in becoming more actively involved in the schools. Similarly, MCPS conveyed that the District welcomes the continued participation of the extended community in its schools.
Key Findings. Six major themes emerged from the data.
1. There is willingness within the District to pursue the 21st Century Initiative, as well as a fundamental awareness of the critical components of 21st century teaching and learning (e.g., real world projects that promote the 4 Cs; student-centered, active learning environments; and integration of technology to support teaching and learning).
2. There is an appreciation of the fact that 21st century skills are multifaceted, that they include and extend beyond the traditional 3 Rs to embrace skills that are critical to success in school and the workplace (e.g., a problem-solving orientation, applied learning, personal responsibility).
3. There is an understanding within the District that current instructional practices emphasize student outcomes on standardized tests and demand instructional consistency that can be in conflict with the vision and purpose of 21st century teaching and learning.
4. There is a widespread perception throughout the District and the community that Missoula’s educators are highly skilled professionals and must be supported in their professional growth.
5. There is an appreciation of the fact that learning can occur anywhere, anytime and should not be confined by either place or time (i.e., school buildings or the master schedule).
6. There is excitement that MCPS has the capacity and enthusiasm to create and communicate a 21st century teaching and learning plan that aligns with and supports other initiatives in the District.
Each of the themes suggests areas for further study and consideration in Phase Two of this project.
Phase Two. The second phase of this project was initiated in January 2011 and will be completed in June 2011. In this phase, the data from Phase One will be reviewed and considered by the District leadership team and community work groups in a process that will:
· Define the conditions needed to establish 21st century teaching and learning more broadly in MCPS.
· Identify changes needed to more completely become a 21st century school district.
· Prioritize changes, identify action steps, and develop goal action maps for each priority area.
· Integrate this work into a 21st Century Plan that details how MCPS will enact its 21st century teaching and learning model.
The work of Phase Two will be reviewed, revised, and incorporated into a final 21st Century Plan that will delineate action steps, responsibilities, and timelines that will realize the District’s vision.
The 21st Century Plan will serve as Missoula County Public Schools’ road map as it implements a 21st century teaching and learning initiative that will prepare all of the children of Missoula to be lifelong learners, skilled employees, and active contributors in an ever-changing world.