We started the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) in 2002, and Cisco was one of its founding members. We began by asking one simple question: “What skills do young people need to be successful in the new global economy?” Our answer: The 4 C’S: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
By the time 2008 rolled around, schools and districts were asking us a different question: “We like the 4C’s, but how do we actually make them happen for our students?”
In response to this second question, we developed “The 7 Steps to Become a 21st Century School or District.” Our hope was to create a framework that would help schools, districts, and their leaders with a methodology to implement 21st-century education initiatives. Here they are:
Step 1: Adopt Your Vision
It’s critical for a school or district to embrace a vision that includes 21st-century outcomes. Most of the districts we are working with have used the 4C’s as their starting point. It’s a great place to start.
Step 2: Create a Community Consensus
Once you have a starting point for your vision, you’ll need to reach out to your internal audiences (students, teachers, parents, administrators) as well as your community (business leaders, community leaders, etc.). You will need to use your best communication and collaboration skills to create a community consensus.
Step 3: Align Your System
Once you have agreed upon a vision, analyze the alignment of that vision with your current educational strategies (e.g., curriculum, instruction, professional development, assessment). Many districts have used P21’s MILE Guide to help them with this analysis.
Step 4: Build Professional Capacity
Perhaps the most important step is to provide professional development around the 21st-century outcomes you have embraced. It is unfair to expect teachers to teach these competencies if they don’t have the requisite training.
Step 5: Focus Your Curriculum and Assessment
Adjust your curriculum and assessments to embed 21st-century outcomes into both. Many U.S. districts are now contemplating how to blend their 21st-century outcomes into the new common core standards or their state’s equivalent.
Step 6: Support Your Teachers
You cannot expect 21st-century education to happen in every classroom if you don’t provide teachers with the support they need. Among other things, this should include technology support that will enable effective communication, collaboration and innovation.
Step 7: Improve and Innovate
The most impressive schools and districts in the country have implemented their 21st-century education through a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement. They have embraced professional learning communities and they have adopted protocols to help their educators continuously improve.
It isn’t enough to rhetorically embrace the 4C’s or 21st-century education. You need to take steps to make them happen for every student in your school or district. We have created three tools to help:
- A new book, The Leader’s Guide to 21st-Century Education: Seven Steps for Schools and Districts
- A professional learning community, EdLeader21, comprised of leaders committed to using the seven steps.
- A video, “The 4C’s: Making 21st-Century Education Happen,” which shows how three districts are using the 4C’s to transform education.
Twenty-first century education is hard work. We hope the “7 Steps” and these three new tools will help you on your journey.