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What are 21st-century skills?

Debi ChristensenNovember 14, 2019

There’s no longer a question of whether you want to use technology in your school. Instead, the academic conversation has become, “How will we use technology?”

And that’s where instructional innovation begins.

The effective use of today’s technology requires 21st-century skills. Students, teachers, and even school administrators must learn the skills necessary for working and living in today’s world. They have to focus their attention on three basic areas of instruction: learning, literacy, and life. These broad terms present a variety of teaching challenges, but they can be overcome.

For students to acquire the 21st-century skills they need, teachers must find ways to integrate learning with practical yet innovative teaching strategies. They must teach students creativity, collaboration, and communication skills while making the learning relevant.

Students also need to be able to interpret, manipulate, and evaluate a variety of knowledge sources, especially online and in the news. Furthermore, today’s students need hands-on experience in being productive, demonstrating social skills, taking the initiative, being flexible, and accepting leadership roles.

While learning these skills, our students also must be able to understand their own thought processes and adapt accordingly to produce the desired results. This metacognition doesn’t come easily, but it’s necessary for learning how to adapt to new situations.

Just as teachers take their students through this process, school administrators must also guide their teachers through similar professional learning environments. The way to encourage 21st-century leadership skills is to model them with current technology.

Photo: Google Edu

21st-century campus leadership

If you want your teachers to instruct students in the creative application of knowledge in novel settings, start with your own leadership style. If you keep to yourself and let everyone else work in isolation, it’s time to reconsider how you can use the 21st-century learning skills in your work.

Campus leaders must demonstrate the behaviors they want their students to learn. Principals and supervisors have to be hands-on individuals who show a willingness to encourage others to step up and lead. You’ll find them flexible and eager to innovate. They also share an eagerness to continue their learning.

You can do the same things on your campus.

To prepare for leading the way, you have to be ready to step ahead. One of the best ways to ready yourself for the challenges ahead is to prepare yourself first.

6 ways to be ready for 21st-century skills

Students programming robot with tablet
Photo: Google Edu

1. Embrace change

Doing the same thing every year encourages complacency. Continued satisfaction with the status quo won’t take your campus to the next level. Change is always present; it’s one of the constants that leaders must regularly face. You can help your teachers adapt to change by accepting it yourself. Become a change agent instead of resisting it.

2. Devote time to your own personal development

School leaders are often selfless individuals who put the needs of others first. They are quick to take care of student and faculty needs but hesitant to do the same for themselves. If you fall into this latter category, it’s time to attend to your own personal growth. Flight attendants tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first so you can then help others. Personal development is your oxygen. Take care of it first.

3. Foster communication and collaboration

Announcing once at the beginning of the school year that you have an open-door policy encourages neither collaboration nor communication. Sitting in your office and waiting for your teachers to come to talk to you is an inefficient and outdated way to “collaborate.”

Today’s best leaders find ways to communicate with their teams through a variety of media, including face-to-face conversations, team meetings, and social platforms. They involve stakeholders at every level. That takes work and a commitment to using technology to lighten the load, but your faculty will appreciate how you include them.

4. Encourage the professional development of others

The 21st century demands that learners keep up with new developments. Your teachers need their own professional development opportunities. It’s the campus administrator’s job to see that they get the training and support needed to do their jobs. Because of how quickly technology advances, that often means they need continued training and support throughout the academic year, not only before school starts.

5. Allow for appropriate risk-taking

If you do only the things you cannot fail at, you’ll never grow — and neither will your teachers or their students. We must accept challenges and take risks. That can mean adopting technology we don’t yet understand, whether it’s smartphone use in the classroom or artificial intelligence as an instructional assistant.

If your plan doesn’t work, you can change it. Likewise, you must give your teachers permission to try and fail. Failure is part of the learning process, and it requires flexibility, which is another one of the 21st-century learning skills. It’s OK for everyone on campus to fail. But it’s never acceptable to give up.

6. Model the technology you want others to use

Admiring new technology from afar keeps you distanced from your faculty and students. Whatever excuse you give your faculty and their students for your shortcomings in technology, they’ll believe. You’re too old? Clumsy around computers?

Avoid creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by creating limiting beliefs and assumptions that aren’t true. Instead, experiment with the technology your campus has adopted. Your faculty will appreciate that you’re experiencing some of the same growing pains that they face.

Student and teacher looking at book
Photo: Google Edu

Students need a guide on the side not a sage on a stage

There are plenty of ways to acquire the 21st-century skills you need for effective leadership. Education service centers may provide some of the training you want. Thought leaders in the industry host workshops. Like your teachers, you can be part of a professional learning community (PLC), especially one that meets and collaborates online. School leaders also can benefit from working with a mentor or coach.

Taking responsibility for your own professional development shows how much you value learning. It reveals your commitment to the 21st-century skills everyone needs for learning and living.

The days of being a “sage on a stage” are over. More than ever, our students need a “guide on the side.” Teacher guides help students map academic destinations. Then, they take them on the journey to mastering learning by using technology. Their job is easier by having administrators who can walk the walk with 21st-century skills.

What have you done to model 21st-century skills at your school?

Photo: Google Edu

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