Why Catholic Education in Ontario Got 21st Century Learning Right… 10 Years Ago

This is NOT a Top 10 Article

As the world of education continues its search for skills that transcend convention, we scour the web for a package of ideas that come ready made to help us prepare our children for  the future. Everywhere we look, there is one content farm or another publishing the top 5, 6 or 50 tools and strategies that we need in education to become ’21st Century Teachers and Learners’. Unfortunately I find them lacking, published only for tweets, hits and advertising. That is not what education should be about.

As a Catholic educator in Ontario, Canada, it was far from my mind to explore a document that was well over a decade old until it was brought to my attention by a friend, colleague and mentor – Michael Wetzel, the Principal of Blessed Pope John Paul II in Toronto.  In fact, as I began to focus on the Ontario Catholic Graduate Expectations (the CGE’s),  I began featuring the seven guiding principles in my talks and workshops across the province. You see – when educators sit in one of my audiences, they tend to expect a razzle dazzle workshop that urges them to begin using tech in the classroom. But when my audience is presented with the CGE’s, there is now an immediate sense of surprised relief as they begin to understand how simple it is to navigate 21st Century teaching in the light of these expectations.

Take a look below and compare these 7 concepts to how you approach 21st Century Education. In Ontario, the Institute for Catholic Education governs the CGE’s. The original documents may be viewed here.


1. The Discerning Believer

Believe it or not, we as Catholics are encouraged to reflect, to question and to reform our beliefs and our faith. Our calling here is NOT ONLY to promote social responsibility and solidarity, but to also respect ALL faith traditions, world religions and the life-journeys of ALL people of good will. This expectation calls us to be critical and responsible, not recluse or easily led.

2. The Effective Communicator

The entire world of education agrees that the skill of Communication is one that the graduate of 2030 and beyond will need to master in order to be a contributor to society. Looking at the graphic, you will notice that the ears are quite exaggerated to show how important a role listening plays in communication. Now more than ever, we need people who are honest and clear about their ideas, and who integrate their faith in the use of arts, media and technology.

3. The Creative and Holistic Thinker

I’m not entirely sure this one needs to much explanation. Creativity always tops the list of needed skills for 2030 and beyond. It’s when we add the beauty of holistic thinking that we solve problems in an innovative and responsible way. This thinker cannot be trapped within one subject area – this thinker longs to integrate all parts of the whole.

4. A Self-Directed, Responsible, Life-Long Learner

Yet another skill that educators have identified to guide our future into 2030 and beyond. Leadership, innovation, initiative, flexibility and adaptability. This skill helps develop confidence, respect and dignity for one’s self and others. This skill resides in those who constantly self-reflect, self-evaluate and make changes to improve. Our future depends on this skill more than any other for the sake of balance and a higher standard of living for us all. This is every educator’s dream…

5. The Collaborative Contributor

It has become the mantra for all of education to call for our schools to provide more and more opportunities for collaboration. Yet, time and time again they fail to provide the ‘HOW-TO’ of collaboration – especially for the youngest members of our society. What does it mean to be interdependent, to think critically and to not only work to your own potential but to help those around you reach theirs? There must be respect and appreciation for originality and integrity especially in the 21st Century. Contributions made to the growth of the team are just as important to the growth of the project.


6. A Caring Family Member

It would be very hard to argue that the family structure is under immense pressure to stay together. Words like compassion and love are only effective when they are bound by respect – not the bottom dollar as so many clever marketing campaigns will have us believe. Intimacy and love are bound to value and honour within the family context. Unity, strength and honour bind the family together and that strength feeds the community in the light of our God-given gifts. What a beautiful and critically important principle.

7. A Responsible Citizen

When we look at some of the horrible things that streak across the web, it’s hard not to panic. Cyber-bullying, harassment, defamation and degradation can all be weakened, if not eliminated if we embrace the basic principles of accountability, equality, democracy, peace and justice. The responsible citizen in our Catholic view, should find it difficult to walk away when there is someone in need, seeks and grants forgiveness but also respects and affirms diversity of our world’s people and cultures. This is all done in the formation of Catholic traditions.

I realize that it may not be ‘trendy’ to use faith as a TOP 10 article but let me tell you something – if it’s right, it’s right and if it works, it works.  No system is perfect, but this one has such beauty and a positive outlook that is hard to overlook.