I didn’t vote for Justin Trudeau’s government, and traditionally have never leaned politically in his direction, but like all Canadians am bombarded and intrigued by the media machine that is JT & co. Last week, when the @nationalpost published an article identifying him as the “most prominent and popular politician on the planet”, I decided that I should break down and read his 2014 autobiography, Common Ground.
So, what did I discover? That despite our divide on various political issues, I connected with his voice on many levels, especially his approach to both teaching and politics. In retrospect, I can think of many teachers turned politicians, but I hadn’t really thought about how teaching styles could overlap to political campaigns. Justin’s book (yes, I feel after reading CG we’re on a first name basis) helped me make that connection, especially in the context of my current learning about and teaching of 21stC skills.
Justin’s narrative of his days as a young teacher exemplify his use of 21stC skills before they were ‘all the rage’. He focused on engaging students and challenging them to use problem based thinking skills: ” if I could find ways to engage my students in tackling their lessons the way that the 7-Eleven puzzle engaged me, it would surely generate the light-bulb responses that I loved” (120).
His teaching philosophy also reflected the goals of many 21stC classrooms: “my goal was not just to teach students a certain body of material but to also give them the critical-thinking skills they would need to work problems out on their own throughout their lives” (121). He was clearly using strategies that challenged the status quo in the late 90’s, as he remarks that his “unorthodox approach puzzled school administrators a little, but made me popular with many of the students” (121).
Any teacher knows that to become ‘popular’ with students, you need to actually talk to them, listen to their learning needs and move beyond the curriculum to become effective and trustworthy. Justin’s description of his time at Grey Point Academy and other B.C. schools shows that he was just this kind of teacher, and this is also the road he took into his political career: listening, asking questions and making himself available to the voting public.
Common Ground changes gears in chapter 6 when Justin enters the political ring with a bid for a Liberal nomination in the Quebec riding of Papineau. Despite his change in careers, he continues to use the same 21stC skills he used to engage students with the voting public. In reference to his campaign in Papineau, he comments that he “did a lot of listening. The only real way to expand my understanding of the issues voters were facing was by asking them what concerned them and listening carefully to their answers” (179). Hmm….sounds a lot like teacher conferencing, doesn’t it?
He was also aware of the important and prolific use of technology by youth, and used this to his early advantage: “When a local blogger asked each candidate a series of questions about poverty, identity politics, immigration, and other issues, I responded with lengthy, personal replies…the other candidates chose not to respond to him at all, presumably assuming that few voters bothered to read political blogs. But even in 2007, I knew that the Internet was becoming a critical tool for expanding a political party’s outreach, especially to young supporters” (182).
By the time his career had progressed to the point of running for the leadership of the Liberal party, he shows that his value of collaboration and being part of a team is what set him apart from his opponents. On page 256, he comments that when deciding to run for the Liberal leadership he “…brought together a terrific group of friends new and old. Many had extensive experience in politics, and others came from the business world and the charity sector. We had a good balance of women and men, grizzled veterans and talented newcomers…”. He also sets out the importance of people in politics and states that the goal of his team was to not only earn him the Liberal leadership, but to also reconstruct the Liberal party. In this case, he was clearly successful as he and his volunteer team recruited over 100,000 new Liberal party members throughout his leadership race(286).
Once he set his campaign in motion, Justin again turned to personal communication and technology as a tool that other politicians certainly weren’t using “…visited 154 different ridings in 155 different communities. Those places I could not get to, I used every imaginable contemporary technology to reach, from Skype to Google Hangouts to Twitter chats to SoapBox” (274).
In terms of the Liberal leadership race and the following 2015 federal election, we know how that story goes. Justin’s use of personal communication with voters, using technological tools to campaign, focus on multicultural and gender collaboration, as well as his innovative focus of gathering support from the disenfranchised youth pays off: leading him to the PMO in grand style, with a majority government.
If Justin is the epitome of 21st century skills: unconventional, innovative, unpredictable, personable, inclusive and collaborative; then, it’s not too hard to see Mr. Harper as a representation of the ‘old’ system: boring, reserved, anti-technology, predictable, inflexible and focused on a single group of learners. In the political ring, Canadian voters answered soundly regarding what type of politician and policies they prefer. In education, our students are also telling us that 21st century classrooms are working for them.
Although politics and education seem to be quite opposing realms, it seems that they are both being influence by 21st century skills, and that those who are succeeding in each of these domains are those who are mastering these skills.