21st Century Skills That Students Will Need

By in expert-voice, Our experts

While we are only two decades into our new century, the combination of historic, exponential development and introduction of social media–which has also imparted exponential changes to all our lives–means that educators are feverishly trying to construct/reevaluate the skills that students will need to succeed in school and thrive in a workforce that is evolving everyday with the parameters mentioned above.

The key word “educators”, the adults, are writing these bold initiatives and mission statements for kids…

Full stop. That is how things have always been done–adults evaluating the needs of kids without, you know, really consulting kids. If you want to build a new ship, you shouldn’t start with the same materials/ideas that might not construct the ship that is needed.

Or, wanted.

George Couros, who is the author of The Innovator’s Mindset, and has a quarter-of-a-million Followers on Twitter, is heavily invested in the idea of redesigning the culture and practice of education now and for the future. George often thinks not just through the minds and imagination of teachers, but that of students as well.

There is no doubting that students will need a list of skills to be successful as contributing and thriving citizens in world that will never change as slowly as it is right now. However, it would be a fatal error if we only harvested those skills from educators–especially educators who are architects in designing a school system that needs a drastic overhaul.

The number one skill, although it is more of an attribute, that students will need is to be curious.

Every critical skill that students will develop over the course of their lifetime will flow in and out of being more curious about their world. Curiosity is a self-sustaining and self-directed engine that never runs out of fuel. But, if we can’t install it during school, then we drastically reduce the chances that it will be adopted later in life.

And, as intimated by the questions on the first image, we need to know what students are curious about. We need to build learning around their emerging curiosities–students need to be partners in designing curriculum and space for curriculum that is wired into their sensibilities and learning modalities.

Generally speaking, we have analog teachers teaching digital teens. This isn’t a criticism. This is just a fact. And, if we don’t acknowledge this divide, then we will most likely teach kids in a way that is not aligned to their most authentic selves. It will be challenging then to believe that students will leave school more curious than when they started.

There is another skill that is entwined with being curious. That would be being fearless. The world of tomorrow is going to bring unprecedented challenges and problems for students to tackle and work through. With successes will come failure, maybe even more failure than expected. Fear of failure will not only hobble their journeys in life, but it will skew their beliefs having negative ideas about failure–when nothing could be further from the truth.

 

There is a couple of blind spots anytime we try to build a list of skills/attributes that students will need to be successful. These blind spots are created by the word “successful” itself. As we can see by the Winston Churchill quote, society’s typical definition of success does not involve the reality of failure. And, to share this myth with our students is almost immoral. Not only do we distort the idea of what success could mean, we limit its parameters to achievement. But, what happens when students fall short, as they will–as they should–of achieving goals, aspirations, and dreams? What next? Did we impart the skill of resilience? Did we impart maintaining enthusiasm to go onto the next…failure? No. The proof would be the amount of anxiety and stress that students have today compared to when I was a kid in the 70’s. That is because we played. We played a lot. We played a lot without adult supervision.

There is a very powerful TED Talk on this by Dr. Peter Gray called The Decline of Play and The Rise of Mental Illness. In this talk and in his books, Gray has dove deeply into the psychology of play. At the heart of the power of play is this:

 

Through play the child learns to take charge of the

World and not simply respond passively to it.

Play becomes the most important thing for kids to do–which they were born naturally to do. It becomes a survival skill. When children don’t play, and continue to get coddled and smothered by adults, they become weaker, more fragile, and less curious.

21st century skills must be defined through and supported by curiosities of students that enable fearlessness and nurture the power of play. Without this, students will be limited in their potential. With this, they will be boundless. As educators, we have a moral imperative to ensure that the potential for all students is towards infinite possibilities…