How to be a 21st century school

It is Wednesday, February 3rd, and there is a full house in Madrid’s Telefonica Foundation auditorium. The reason: the launch of Viaje a la escuela del siglo XXI  (Journey to the 21st Century School). More than a book, it is a life experience written by the psychologist and researcher Alfredo Hernando Calvo. It reflects on his experiences, analyses and conclusions from his visits to the most innovative schools around the world. Schools with very different realities, in very different countries, but all with a common factor: the faculty as the source of educational improvement.

Who can be a super school?

The opinions of the guests at the book launch were unanimous. From the Montserrat school of Barcelona, to Madrid’s Padre Piquer Center, the Peruvian Innova Schools or the Ørestad Gymnasium in Denmark, everyone firmly believes that any learning center can become a super school, a 21st century school. The basic ingredients are an awareness of the need for change, courage, and perseverance in the face of error and adversity.

How does innovation happen?

Often innovation springs from technology. At the Innova Schools, digitalization has allowed for a blended teaching style. “30% of learning is independent student work through digital content and evaluation systems,” said the schools’ general manager, Jorge Yzusqui.

ICT are important but all the guests agree that it is not essential to generate innovation. There are other ways:

• project-based learning
• classes taught by students
• new assessment models
• personalized education
• gamification
• learning landscapes, or
• multiple intelligence palette.

In short, innovation, in any part of the world, is born from the answers to these two questions: What do we need to learn? How do we learn it?

How do we know if the innovation has been effective?

According to Morten Smith-Hansen, a teacher at Ørestad Gymnasium, success occurs for him when the boundaries that define class time and recreation time disappear. When a group of students are hooked on finishing their project instead of going out for recess, it is a sure sign that something has changed in the school.

The biggest concern for Ángel Serrano, director of Padre Piquer, was to reduce the high rate of absenteeism. They introduced cooperative multitasking classrooms in 2005, and in only one quarter saw students go from avoiding school to looking forward to going to class.

It is not only about improving grades, but also the students’ quality of life and their life skills. As Araceli Vendrell, director of communications at the Montserrat school, emphasized, “we help students to realize that they are capable of doing things.


These schools have created a new paradigm, a new way to be a school. They are unlike others, but are very similar when you compare them with each other. Therefore it is impossible to call them schools. They are something else, and need another name! So I decided to called them Schools21.”

In this book, Alfredo Hernando reveals the secrets of what he calls Schools21 on a journey that takes the reader to places as diverse as Sydney, Buenos Aires, Ahmedabad (India), San Diego, Bogotá, Enköpin (Sweden) and Barcelona, among others.

Without question, Alfredo’s work is an excellent compendium of multicultural educational experiences that illustrates different models of innovation, and different responses and strategies in light of the need for educational change. “The world is full of schools where teachers and students behave differently, where grades have another meaning…”

Learn all the tricks of 21st century schools by downloading the book Viaje a la escuela del siglo XXI (Journey to the 21st Century School)!

This post has been translated into English by Katherine Harwood from an original in Spanish titled Cómo ser una escuela del siglo XXI.

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