Students at James A. Garfield High School immersed in an engineering project during the Viva Technology Program

blog

July 18, 2013

Transforming Schools by Developing 21st-Century Skills

Students at James A. Garfield High School immersed in an engineering project during the Viva Technology Program

photo by U.S. Army RDECOM

If students are to learn the skills they need to succeed in tomorrow's competitive world, educators may need to rethink yesterday's teaching practices. That's the rationale behind teaching 21st-century skills, which include high-order abilities like teamwork and critical thinking.

While 21st-century skills are not easy to teach or learn, the first step is to break free from the old paradigm in which instruction takes the form of transmission of factual knowledge from teacher to student. This well-worn mode of pedagogy does not emphasize the importance of creativity, problem solving, or applying knowledge to different contexts.

V. Darleen Opfer, director of RAND Education, has outlined how 21st-century skills should be taught, based on how students learn. But it's not just teachers who have a role to play; principals can help by emphasizing human capital—expanding teacher training and professional development—and increasing the availability of technology-based education tools.

Opfer spoke to hundreds of principals today at the Southern Regional Education Board's annual High Schools That Work conference. There, she introduced a framework for how school leaders can transform their schools into 21st-century learning organizations:

“Schools—and school leaders—can play a substantial role in supporting 21st-century teaching and learning by offering continuous learning opportunities for students and teachers alike, promoting questions and dialogue, encouraging collaboration and team learning, and establishing systems to capture and share learning.”

Ironically, Opfer notes, furthering development of 21st-century skills may require that principals exercise some of those very skills themselves.

— Pete Wilmoth