I recently read an article which outlined four essential skills students need in order to be successful in the 21st century. These four skills were:
1. knowing more about the world
2. thinking outside the box
3. being smarter about the sources of information
4. developing good people skills.
The article declared our children need to have an education that delivers opportunities for learners to develop each of these skills. It backed up this declaration with quotes from a variety of business and education leaders.
As I read the article, I thought, “Yes, these are the skills our students need.” Then I thought, “So do teachers.”
Knowing that I must first possess each skill before I can teach it, I looked at each one individually and came up with ideas on how to jump start my own 21st century education. Here’s what I came up with.
I started with the first skill, knowing more about the world. The world has shrunk as much for teachers as it has for our students. No matter where you live, small town America, the inner city, suburbs, farms, major metropolitan areas, the entire world is available to you via the internet. We are all global citizens. We must teach children how to live in the global society by first living in that society successfully ourselves. Where to start? Investigate foreign cultures, learn a new language. Take a small and deliberate step to enlarge your world.
Skill number two was thinking outside the box. The article expressed that interdisciplinary combinations such as design and technology, or mathematics and art are the type of thinking outside the box which has provided us with the many advances of our age. Google and You Tube were given as examples of such creative thinking. How do we make sure we are challenging our students to think across the disciplines? We start with ourselves. First, our personal approach to challenges should reflect a conscience effort to think outside of our norm. A realization that we must “live it” to “give it” should guide our own problem solving efforts and encourage us to be broad thinkers. Second, we should commit to thinking outside the box during our lesson planning. We must purposefully provide learning opportunities that require interdisciplinary combinations. This conscience planning must take place consistently. Third and most importantly, we must celebrate this kind of thinking when it occurs.
Skill number three as outlined in the article was being smarter about the sources of information. We have more information available to us now than ever before. But, all information is not created equal. We have to teach our students how to decide what information is credible and what information is not. This is a tricky skill. A skill that must be practiced personally before you can naturally pass it to others. Are you in the habit of checking sources? Or do you assume that if it’s on the internet it must be true? The next time you’re surfing the net, look around at the source of what you find. Develop for yourself a short set of questions you can ask when sorting and sifting information. Then help your students develop their own litmus test for information.
The fourth skill the article spoke of was developing good people skills. The emphasis was put on collaborative learning- problem solving in teams. This was one area in which I felt fairly confident. I have used collaborative learning for quite some time. But as I continued to read, I came across a statement that made me pause. The article said, “…the ability to work in teams and with people from different cultures.” The moment I read the end to that statement, I realized I had more work to do. How do I create the opportunity for my children to work with people of different cultures? It is possible, it will take planning. I bet if you’re still reading, you have many ideas in your head already about how to make this happen. Just as I experienced a flood of ideas when I read it. The amazing thing is I had not thought about that aspect of team work until I read the article. So, as a beginning step in working with people of other cultures, I recommend that you read from a variety of sources. Take your head out of the education journals and read a magazine out of your comfort zone. Start building some schema for other cultures. Then build on that schema and branch out further. Remember from skill one, we are all part of a global society.
In conclusion, the skills outlined in the article are important for our students, but I believe they are equally important for our teachers. We must make a deliberate effort to grow ourselves if we are truly going to teach our children how to live successfully in the 21st century. Start with small steps. Be consistent in your personal growth. Celebrate successes along the way- no matter how tiny.