Defining and Implementing 21st Century Skills


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In the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, I am exploring further into the ISTE Coaching standards 1 and 2 along with understanding the foundations for becoming a successful peer coach. Included in this week’s assignment is the investigation of 21st century learning and the work of peer coaching surrounding this learning.

When teachers do not effectively integrate all aspects of technology in the educational process, today’s students are not fully engaged and miss out on authentic learning experiences emphasizing collaboration, creativity, and innovation (Belau et al., 2011, p. 1).

After reading this quote, I began thinking about my graduate work in peer coaching, my teaching practices, and my students and developed the following question:

How do coaches guide collaborative peers toward integrating 21st century skills within learning activities?

21st century skills. Coaching. Technology. Student learning. These terms resonated throughout the week, as I focused on how they connect to the coaching standard for teaching, learning, and assessment. As a coach-in-training, I recently attended a district technology teacher leader workshop. The topic of implementing 21st century learning into our classroom was discussed with teacher leaders. Participants wondered how they would begin these conversations with their teachers back at their buildings. Facilitator, Teri Calsyn, suggested taking “baby steps” when working with colleagues (personal communication, November 3, 2015). By taking small steps and setting norms, coaches and peer teachers can begin incorporating 21st century skills to improve their teaching and impact student learning. But exactly what are these skills?

Defining 21st Century Skills

To help think about 21st century skills, my professor created a brainstorming session using Google drawing. My colleagues and I created a “chalk talk” on the “Characteristics of 21st Century Learning.” A chalk talk is an activity done on either one chart paper, with 3-4 students, or students using computers (a shared document) and silently recording ideas about a topic or question. After five minutes of silently writing, we had created an interesting, messy chart on the characteristics of 21st century learning: (Listed below are some ideas that were shared.)

  • 4C’s: collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking
  • Real-world problems
  • Problem solving
  • Digitally literate
  • Information literate
  • Flexibility/Adaptability
  • Lifelong learners
  • Student choices
  • Connection to outside resources (A. Tremonte, R. Ingersoll. B. Todd, M. Scott, personal communication, November 3, 2015)

Using the above activity as a stepping stone for defining 21st century learning, I delved further into other resources. My colleague, Annie Tremonte shared with me the site Partnership for 21st Century Learning. This resource for 21st century learning provides an in depth framework on the essential skills needed for student success. While Partnership for 21st Century Learning does not provide a simple definition for 21st century learning, it has developed a vision for student success; a framework that comprises the mastery of key subjects areas with 21st century skills. Basically, the core subjects are being integrated with the four 21st century skills- collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.  Mastery of these skills and systems provide students with the opportunity to be better prepared for their future.

To attain their goals, coaches and teachers begin identifying skills that need to be taught.  Foltos suggests, that coaches and teachers, “define what kinds of skills and competencies they believe that students need for success in their future” (p.105). To identify these specific skills and competencies, I thought about two documents, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the state technology standards, which both focus on raising student achievement.

Examine the Standards

To better understand these skills and competencies, I accessed the Kindergarten CCSS writing standard, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.K.6, which states, “With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.” For the Kindergarten technology standard 1.1, states that students will “Generate ideas and create original works for personal and group expression using a variety of digital tools “ (Washington State K-12 Educational Technology Standards, p.10). This technology standard aligns well with the above writing CCSS. Therefore by examining the standards or competencies for students’ expectations, the next step is for coaches and teachers to work together to incorporate learning activities that support these standards.

Design Effective Lessons

What does 21st century learning  look like for all students? According to Foltos, students are actively engaged in their learning. They are using skills to solve real-world problems, and all students are using technology as a collaborative tool to share their ideas (p.105). To support effective learning activities, coaches are encouraged “to ground their work in research and link their ideas and beliefs with what leaders in the field are saying” (Foltos, 2013, p.109). During our face-to-face meeting this week, the Learning Activity Checklist, designed by researchers Reeder and the Peer Coaching team, was introduced as one tool to use with a peer teacher to improve teaching and learning ( p. 111). I found this checklist helpful after observing my learning partner’s lesson and we used this as a guideline to adjust the lesson.

Resources for 21st Century Teaching

As I pondered over my question of how to assist teachers toward thinking differently about 21st century learning, I wondered about resources that might support this type of learning. While exploring, I discovered a new teacher resource called Teacher Center found on the site. This site guides teachers through three steps toward designing lessons that integrate technology into the curriculum. Step 1 takes teachers through a video on “How to Design Tech-Rich Lessons”. Step 2 offered digital tools and tips to incorporate the 4C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Then the “Digital Learning Wheel” based on Alan Carrington’s Padagogy Wheel, effectively aligns the digital tools to the learning activity. Finally, step 3 provides lesson templates on designing a lesson integrating the appropriate digital tools.

In addition to the Teacher Center tab, I noticed the Common Core Explorer section which suggests appropriate digital products that align to the CCSS. For example, teachers select a subject area and grade level and then standards from Mathematics or Language Arts. Once the standard is selected, it displays apps, games, and websites that support that standard.

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Overall, Common Sense Graphite resources guide educators “gently” toward integrating technology into learning activities by providing appropriate grade level materials, researched-based principles, and how-to videos on implementing 21st century learning into the classroom. Finding resources to implement technology in the class is one way to support  learning. Other possibilities are to combine coaching with learning communities to effectively enhance teaching practices.

21st Century Professional Learning

According to Beglau et al., (2011), “Many teachers do not know how to design and support technology-rich learning environments.” In order for students to achieve 21st century learning, educators need effective professional learning experiences. Beglau et al., (2011) suggest three indicators to better support educators:

  • Provide an effective coaching model;
  • Online communities for greater collaborative idea sharing; and
  • A fully-embedded use of technology (p. 4).

This model suggests that coaches and professional learning communities are a system, or network, that work together to support the classroom teacher. Stepping aside for a moment from peer coaching, it is important to note that the professional learning communities are effective, since it provides real-time professional development with others in the field and it empowers teachers with ongoing personal learning. Then examining the last point above, it suggests to fully use technology, so it can connect coaches and teachers to “data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that enable and inspire more effective teaching for all” (cited by Beglau et al., 2011, p. 5).

Further thoughts…

Looking back at my question, How do coaches guide collaborative peers toward integrating 21st century skills within learning activities?, my findings show that coaches should consider a combination of resources when guiding teachers. The best teaching practices are when teachers converge with colleagues, coaches, and various learning communities to  enhance their uses of technology to impact student learning.

Recently, I spoke with K-2 teachers about how they integrate technology in their classes. Most of the teachers I spoke with utilize technology with their students. Probing further, I found that not all teachers practice integrating 21st century skills when utilizing technology. Nevertheless, educators are working toward helping students develop these skills, but it is a practice that needs to be in the forefront of professional development. My professor suggests, “Starting small, with a carefully defined, teacher-driven focus, is one way to ensure the small successes that bring the teacher back to the coach with ideas for what to work on next” (Foltos, 2013, p.117).


Thought Process on Implementing 21st Century Learning

Module 3-2
Copy of Flow chart- module 3


Beglau, M., Hare, J. C., Foltos, L., Gann, K., James, J., Jobe, H.,… Smith, B. (2011). Technology, coaching, and community: Power partners for improved professional development in primary and secondary education. ISTE White paper, special conference release. Retrieved from

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2015). Framework for 21st century learning. [PDF file]. Washington, D.C.. Retrieved from








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