EdCuration Blog: Learning in Action

21st Century Skills are Non-negotiable for Today's Students: Why All Teachers Must Play a Role in Preparing Kids for Tomorrow

Mar 24, 2021 9:10:08 AM / by EdCuration Staff Writer

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What are 21st Century Skills?

As educators, our role is to ensure that students have the tools and skills they need to be successful--not only in our classrooms, but in the world beyond school. We often refer to these as 21st-century skills. 

Many scholars have set out to describe 21st-century skills, though there is no widely adopted definition. UNESCO’s Cynthia Scott “defines 21st Century Skills as the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to be competitive in the twenty-first-century workforce, participate appropriately in an increasingly diverse society, use new technologies and cope with rapidly changing workplaces.”   

What we can agree upon is that these competencies facilitate students’ successful integration into the socio-economic world that exists beyond their school years. Unlike traditional educational models, which tend to be static in nature, 21st-century teaching and learning is dynamic. It promotes the application of rigorous thinking patterns across content domains and encourages learners to employ a wide range of tools to achieve performance goals. 

Richard Cash, author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century, names six critical 21st-century competencies: 

  1. Innovative Communication
  2. Critical thinking capacity
  3. Creativity
  4. Flexibility
  5. Self-Initiative
  6. Leadership Skills

A Closer Look at Leadership

Each skill area is important and complements the others. We can actively encourage development across these competencies throughout the school day and year. Let’s take a moment to examine the last of these, leadership skills, in greater depth. 

“Leadership skills involve galvanizing others toward the accomplishment of a specific aim or aims, meanwhile exercising integrity, ethical maturity, interpersonal skills, strategic problem solving, and awareness for the common good”, explains Louise El Yaafouri in The Newcomer Student: An Educator’s Guide to Aid Transition. “We strive to promote these skills at school because they aid children in developing positive human character--and also because we understand that businesses favor candidates with strong leadership and productivity skills.”

It’s important to keep in mind that leadership isn’t all about guiding or persuading others. It must also encompass diplomacy, fairness, equity, and accountability (virtues that should also be modeled by teachers and mentors). True leaders bear in mind the best interests of the whole and can find a balance between spirited command and pragmatic partnership. These capacities must be explicitly taught. Or, in the words of NFL football coach Vince Lombardi: “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”

One way that leadership skills are fostered in the classroom is through interactive and cooperative structures. Such activities are rich with opportunities to practice project planning, team building, time and project management, goal setting, problem-solving, and diversity awareness. Authentic and purposeful community service also supports leadership skills development.

If you’re not sure how best to grow student leaders (or if you’re looking to add depth and breadth to existing programming) programs like Lead4Change produce powerful results. Lead4Change is an engaging, evidence-based curriculum that teaches 6-12 graders how to effectively lead and serve. Its innovative leadership lessons are easily integrated into any subject area or setting and are aligned with current educational standards. Lead4Change’s downloadable lesson plans are also privately funded--meaning that they’re available at no cost to educators and youth club advisors. 

Since 2012, 1.8 million students have taken part in Lead4Change’s curriculum, which includes a framework for community service. An independent evaluation of programming saw participant growth across ten critical leadership factors and socio-emotional skills. Why is this important?

Leading and serving are inextricably tied to 21st-century success--they are non-negotiable skills.  Leadership capabilities stand apart from other skill sets in that they can be directly applied to all other 21st-century competencies. In fact, (as we are likely to have experienced for ourselves) quality of leadership can enhance or diminish productivity, goal outcomes, and the ever essential culture of a workgroup. 

Fortunately we have a number of ways to develop these qualities in the students in our care. The Newcomer Student reminds us that, “The school setting, with all its safety nets in place, is an ideal ground for testing, modifying, and strengthening healthy leadership abilities.”  

The question is, what steps are you taking to support students as leaders at school and in their communities?


Topics: Student Leadership, College & Career Readiness

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