While policy makers and education leaders have been talking about the need to teach 21st-century skills for more than a decade, not enough attention has been paid to how this can be done, Ken Kay believes.
A veteran of the computer industry, Kay led the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) for nine years before leaving this organization to found EdLeader21, a professional learning community of superintendents who are integrating 21st-century skills into instruction.
Along with Valerie Greenhill, Kay has written a book on the topic, The Leader’s Guide to 21st Century Education: 7 Steps for Schools and Districts, and at the Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference in San Diego in March, he shared his advice for teaching 21st-century skills with school district chief technology officers.
During his time at P21, Kay and his colleagues identified 18 skills that were important for students to learn as they prepared for 21st-century careers. But Kay told conference attendees he came to realize that 18 skills were too many for schools to manage.
After talking with business leaders about which of these skills were most important, he distilled these down to the “four Cs”—critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
Well into the second decade of the 21st century, Kay said he has grappled with the question: Should we still be calling the concept “21st-century education” at this point? To answer this question, Kay suggesting posing another: “Do you have a model of education that is preparing kids for the jobs of the future?”
If the answer is “yes,” then “you can stop calling it 21st-century education and just call it education,” he said. But the truth is, most districts still aren’t fully preparing kids for the world they’ll inherit.
The seven steps to 21st-century education that Kay outlines in his book are: