The ed-tech movement has struggled largely because it hasn’t been part of a larger movement to redefine educational outcomes, Kay said. Technology is an enabling tool, but if educators use a computer screen to replace flash cards and simply stick with a “drill and kill” pedagogy, not much changes.

“We need to redefine the outcomes for education,” Kay said. “Beyond content mastery, what else does a student need to be able to do? What capabilities do [students] need to have? Once you know the answer, it really opens up the technology side.”

Pedagogy plays a key role in ensuring that students develop important 21st-century skills.

“At the end of the day, what really matters is whether we’re going to change pedagogy,” Kay said. “The real issue is how we are teaching in classrooms, and whether each student is being taught differently [in order] to create outcomes other than just content mastery.”

And changing pedagogy requires changing school culture, he added.

“There needs to be a culture of change, of leadership change, and of teachers who begin to model these skills,” Kay said.

Many people ask how they know if they are in a 21st-century classroom, and Kay said such classrooms and schools feel different, because school leaders and teachers are constantly seeking new ways to improve their instruction as they emphasize student learning.

“The 21st-century classrooms are modeling the practices of the 21st-century workforce,” Kay said.

Kay said the “4Cs”—critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity—in combination with self-direction and global competence are six skills that make for an in-demand employee.

“I think they’d be ready for almost any job in the 21st century,” Kay said of students who exhibit these skills.

In pursuit of the 4Cs is EdLeader21, a professional learning community (PLC) that aims to help school district leaders enhance student learning of these skills in their schools.

Education leaders can follow seven steps in pursuit of that goal, Kay said:

  1. Adopt a vision of 21st-century outcomes and lead the implementation of this vision.
  2. Create a community consensus around this vision.
  3. Align the system’s efforts in pursuit of this vision.
  4. Build the professional capacity of teachers and school leaders to support this vision.
  5. Embed the 4Cs into curriculum and assessment.
  6. Support teachers in the classroom.
  7. Improve and innovate.

EdLeader21 offers resources to help with 21st-century skills implementation in schools, including a blog, monthly columns by education leaders, self-assessment tools, and professional development webinars.

What’s more, EdLeader21 consultants meet with school districts to fine-tune a strategy that will help each district meet its individual challenges as it aims to focus on 21st-century learning.

In 2009, a Center for Public Education (CPE) report defined a 21st-century education and what skills are needed in a changing workplace.

Changes that will require students to gain valuable life skills include…