Many of you are familiar with the four C’s of the 21st-century learning framework: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. But step back for a second and remember why you teach students in the first place–so they can be successful adults who contribute to society and thrive while pursuing a fulfilling career. This is why we add to our list of 21st-century learning skills a fifth C: career readiness.

Career readiness can be engrained into the teaching and learning landscape in many ways. Educators across the nation are latching on to project-based learning (PBL) as an effective teaching method for building 21st-century skills. Career-focused PBL gives students the freedom to explore a variety of careers from the comfort of their classroom.

Here are three educators whose innovative learning strategies are empowering their students to build the skills they need to succeed in 21st-century careers.

Start the Career Conversation Early

– Dr. Genevra Walters, superintendent of Kankakee School District

From the time a student walks through the door of a school in Kankakee School District to the time they walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas, they are constantly transitioning to their next stage of life. Since I started in education, I’ve used the motto, “The transition to adulthood starts in preschool.” Today, the phrase is the mantra pushing my teachers and principals to think past the traditional style of teaching and incorporate hands-on project-based learning that offers students a chance to explore a plethora of careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics).

Research shows that the earlier and more often you talk with young children about careers, the more students will envision themselves going to college and working in those fields. To help make all of our students aware of the career options available to them, in 2015 I created a virtual career wheel for Kankakee teachers to follow. Each grade focuses on a different segment of careers, so as students move through elementary school they are able to explore a variety of fields and recognize where their interests lie.

For example, first grade focuses on careers in agriculture, food, and natural resources; while third-grade students focus on business, marketing, and management. During the year, students do four hands-on, cross-curricular projects to further experience what it takes to work in a specific career. The projects make the career wheel come alive because students can apply their classroom knowledge and make connections to the real world. Kankakee’s teachers use a web-based curriculum resource, Defined STEM, which provides hundreds of project-based lessons that are based on real-world problems in STEAM careers.

Since we implemented this model, data shows that in one year (2016 to 2017), reading comprehension scores increased 8 percent, math application increased 9 percent, and math computation had a 42 percent increase. We have also seen an increase in student engagement in all of our K-6 classes, and have built partnerships with local businesses and industries that support students’ exploration and curiosity about future career options.

(Next page: Career readiness through real scenarios; teamwork)

About the Author:

Dr. Genevra Walters is the superintendent of the Kankakee School District in Kankakee, IL. Follow her on Twitter @walters_genevra.

Dr. Nicole DeVries is the administrative coordinator for teaching and learning at Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Follow her on Twitter @nicscud.

Jamie Harbin is a PreK-6 grade STEM teacher at B.B. Comer Elementary School in Sylacauga, AL. Follow her on Twitter @jsharbin1.


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