Haiti, The GG, and My Cousin Phyllis – Leading in the 21st century

Haiti, The GG, and My Cousin Phyllis – Leading in the 21st century

[Update: Read Phyllis’s  bio in Canadian Nurse.]

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about how the catastrophe in Haiti has highlighted the need for 21st century learning – and teaching – skills. As I watch the news about Haiti, and research and read about 21st century skills, I see clearly that what is essential in our society is global awareness.

 phyllisMy Hero

This is my cousin Phyllis (actually she’s my husband’s cousin, but I claim her too). Phyllis, a retired community health nurse, university professor, and motel owner/manager, is my hero. She brought both her parents into her home and nursed them with grace and dignity through their final illnesses. She developed cancer in 2004, underwent treatment, and in 2005 spent a month in Indonesia nursing tsunami victims.

Today Phyllis left for Haiti. As part of a medical group working with Food for the Hungry Canada, she travels with two doctors, two other nurses, and a load of medical supplies. Unless plans change once they arrive, they are headed for Child Hope, an orphanage in Port-au-Prince that has been deluged with injured quake survivors. One of the mission workers has been posting updates about conditions. Like so many other people, they are relying on individuals who hear about their needs and help as they can.Daphne


Phyllis, a true 21st century learner and teacher who lives global awareness, is taking a camera to Haiti. As she did in Indonesia, she will photograph her journey and create a presentation when she returns. She is determined that people will see the needs in Haiti as long term.


The GG

gg2Another 21st century leader is Michaelle Jean, our governor-general. During the telethon Canada for Haiti, she said,

 “We are right now in an era where what we call the civil society is something big and international. There is this sense of togetherness that is happening in the world today, and what Haiti is experiencing has touched the hearts of everyone on this planet. So we must come out of this stronger than ever. We must grow from this and learn from this and also know that it’s Haiti today, but it’s also around us in our communities. We can make a difference to bring about change, and this dream of a better world — it has to be a shared responsibility; it has to be everyone’s business.”

Indeed it does.

What do the experts say about global awareness as a 21st century skill?

Here are some excerpts from the research: the emphasis (bold) is mine.

In her ASCD article “The 21st Century Skills Movement,” Paige Johnson summarizes the skills and knowledge included in the Framework for 21st Century Learning:

1. Core subjects and 21st century themes (such as language arts, mathematics, science, global awareness, and financial literacy).

2. Learning and innovation skills (such as creativity and innovation and critical thinking and problem solving).

3. Information, media, and technology skills.

4. Life and career skills (such as initiative and self-direction).

In its Framework for 21st  Century Learning, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills actually lists Global Awareness first under its Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes.

In his article, “Missing: Students’ Global Outlook,” Daniel S. Alemu says, “Schools of the 21st century must be capable of equipping students with appropriate tools—knowledge, skills, and disposition—needed not only to excel in academic subjects and fit in the rapidly changing technological world, but also to become functional global citizens.”

Howard Rheingold, in his July 09 address to Reboot Britain, (found on Helene Blowers’ blog LibraryBytes), discusses his 21st century literacies. I’ve added some thoughts:

Critical consumption – Everyone needs a “crap detector;” the ability to differentiate good from bad information. [Could we explore with students how many fake Help Haiti sites have sprung up on the web?]

Attention – learning when focused attention or multi-tasking is appropriate; being aware of paying attention

Participation – Young people create as well as consume online. These media enable (don’t guarantee) that people can inform, persuade, and influence the beliefs of others. They can help people organize collective action on all scales. [Could we encourage our students to create and participate in the global response to Haiti?]

Collaboration – Using the technologies and techniques of participation and attention to organize collaborative efforts. Rheingold points out that emergent collective responses (he cites examples of children in California and in Chile using social networks to organize protests) have now become global responses, as with the 2005 tsunami [and now, of course, Haiti].

Network awareness – (I quote Helene Blowers for this) “the combination of reputation, social capital, “presentation of self” and other sensitivity to individual positioning within the network collective.” [Could we help our students to see that building their reputation and social capital can be done while using their skills to help others around the world?]

Good News and Bad News

The world responded dramatically and quickly to help Haiti, most immediately through online technology. Our own Ruth Elliott (@RIElliott) devoted hundreds of hours to coordinating tweets and creating Twitter lists on Haiti to enable information to get to the people who needed it. Dozens of volunteers organized and attended crisis camps like this one at USC where volunteers worked “to design improved maps of battered Port-au-Prince neighborhoods, concoct better family-locater services for quake victims and speed more accurate and timely relief information from more closely coordinated data feeds.”

Geoff Livingston details 5 Social Media Lessons From the Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort. There were mixed results. ‘“Mobile raised tons of money in the world that still had a power grid and IT infrastructure,” said Tom Watson, author of CauseWired. “And it failed rather completely in a world devoid of those industrial luxuries. No ‘app’ was capable of getting anything done in Haiti itself. And we should be up front about that.”’

Social media contributed heavily to the traditional media with local bloggers and photographers providing material to the networks. While the earthquake and its effects were explored, the background story of poverty and violent history was not. And there is no guarantee that the long-term effects of the earthquake will hold our attention for long.

What Next?

I’ll be looking for examples of students using their 21st century skills to respond to and help their fellow global citizens in Haiti, and I hope to share some with you.   

And by the way, if you could take a moment to include Phyllis and her group in your prayers, I know they’d appreciate it.

Biblioburro and the 21st Century Library

Watch this video at Ayoka Productions

The Biblioburro

Every weekend, Luis Soriano, a primary teacher in La Gloria, Colombia, loads a collection of his own books into the “Biblioburro” pouches on his donkey’s back, and travels to remote villages to bring reading to children. Ayoka, the not-for-profit organization that filmed the Biblioburro video, provides some background information.

When Soriano was a child, his family fled local violence, moving to a city. Soriano not only found comfort in a library but had a teacher who encouraged him to read. When he became a teacher in his home town he discovered that most of his students couldn’t do their homework because they had no books at home, and so the Biblioburro was born.

He and his wife, Diana, have built (mostly by hand) La Gloria’s first public library, where he can at last display and circulate his entire collection of books.

So what does the Biblioburro have to do with a 21st century library, you ask? Aside from the obvious — many people know about the Biblioburro thanks to YouTube, and Twitter — there is food for thought here for teacher librarians looking at harnessing the power of Web 2.0 for their schools. I re-discovered the Biblioburro thanks to an LM_Net post that arrived as I was reading the rather intimidating issue of School Libraries Worldwide – Volume 14 Number 2, July 2008.

The Demands of the 21st Century Learner

The theme of this issue is New Learners, New Literacies, New Libraries. The issue explores the ramifications of web 2.0, and the urgency of the need for change to accommodate today’s learners. School librarians need to demonstrate leadership 21st century skills, or risk being left behind. In these days of budget cuts and standardized testing, revamping our practice, our libraries, and our schools is certainly not an easy task for most of us.

So what exactly is so intimidating? In his article Youth and their Virtual Networked Worlds: Research Findings and Implications for School Libraries, Ross Todd looks at the challenges posed by today’s students. He says, “Key challenges for school libraries relate to conceptualizing the school library as a knowledge commons, shifting instructional emphasis from information provision to knowledge development, and engaging the whole school community in appropriate pedagogical and policy decisions in relation to Web 2.0.” 

It isn’t enough just to use a few web 2.0 tools in the library; this is actually a dramatic shift involving one’s entire school. 

Why so urgent? Todd cites the research of Marc Prensky. ‘Marc Prensky, educator and developer of game technology for learning, claims that young people are powering down in schools–not just their devices, but their brains. He claims: “It’s their after‐school education, not their school education, that’s preparing our kids for their 21st century lives – and they know it. …When kids come to school, they leave behind the intellectual light of their everyday lives and walk into the darkness of the old ‐fashioned classroom” (Prensky, 2008, pp. 41, 42). In this brave new world of Web 2.0, the visionary, creative and learning centered leadership of school librarians can play a vital role in turning on the lights.’

So how do we go about turning on these lights? In another article in SLW, Towards School Library 2.0: An Overview of Social Software Tools for Teacher-Librarians, Jo-Anne Naslund and  Dean Giustini look at educationally useful web 2.0 tools, and how they can fundamentally alter the learning experience. ‘ʺWhen a studentʹs work is seen, and commented on, and collaboratively enhanced by a larger participative audience, students are drawn into extended educational ʹconversationsʹʺ (Hargadon, 2008).’

Another article giving extensive practical advice, and the most powerful article in this issue for me, is Towards a Transformative Pedagogy for School Libraries, by Marlene Asselin and Ray Doiron. They develop a “proposed pedagogical framework for school library programs in a Learning 2.0 environment” by answering these questions: “(1) Who are the new learners of the Net Generation?; (2) What literacies do today’s students need to live and work in the world?; (3) How do we teach the new learners?” 

The article’s conclusion contains a call to action. “It is time to situate the new literacies of the real world in schools and make school libraries the bridge between in‐school and out‐of‐school literacies. “ It also identifies “actions necessary for libraries to advance these activities – studying today’s learners in order to develop meaningful user‐centered services and programs; engaging in a collaborative change process as a profession; embracing the need for immediate actions; taking risks; and accepting that learning will happen as you go.”

Other Practical Advice

Joyce Valenza’s Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians, a living, evolving, wiki, provides a blueprint for tls looking for specific ways to upgrade their practice. In every area of librarianship, ranging from Reading to the Digital School Library and the Information Landscape to Access, Equity, Advocacy to Digital Citizenship, and much more, the wiki provides specific, hyperlinked criteria for using web 2.0 to meet the needs of your stakeholders 24/7.

We must ground our efforts in the context in which we live. In their article Things That Keep Us Up at Night, Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson say, “Rather than creating a perfect library, we need to reshape our thinking and create the perfect library for our individual institution. . . . Teachers, administrators, parents, and students must demand the essential services we provide.”

And the Biblioburro?

I have felt rather overwhelmed by the fact that I have a ways to go to achieve 21st century librarian status, but when I look at what Luis Soriano has accomplished, I feel ashamed. If Luis Soriano can survive guerrilla warfare, displacement, and being held hostage by bandits to empower his students, then surely, with the expert assistance I’ve described, I can empower mine as a 21st century librarian.

I finish with this quote taken from the Ayoka site:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead