Partnerships to Incorporate 21st Century Learning Skills into the Classroom

I can’t remember a time in my life when school wasn’t something that I was involved in. I went from watching my older sister go to school when I was just a youngin’ and yearning to participate. Then the day came when I began preschool and eventually headed off to elementary school. I always loved going to school! I remember going into middle school and the excitement of having more responsibility and the opportunity to learn in multiple classes, and that only grew as I went into high school. Then came college and as a true education junky, I was called to be a teacher… bringing me right back to the beginning. While my love for continual learning was a constant in my life, so was my questioning. Throughout my educational career I always wondered the one question that most other students can resonate with… “how am I going to use this in the real world?”. Sometimes this question came a little snarkier than others, but often I genuinely was interested in how I would possibly use my experiences in The Oregon Trail simulation once I grew up. Fast forward a decade or two and I am finally finding out some significance to more than the question of how the content I was learning would help me in the future… but to why the methods of how I learned the content would help me in the future.  

Nicole Krueger writes in her article, Preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet, “The massive shifts technology and globalization that are expected to transform the workplace have already begun. In many industries and countries, some of the most in-demand jobs didn’t even exist five or 10 years ago – and the pace of change will only accelerate.” So why should we be teaching the exact same things now as we did years and years ago… if it isn’t getting our students ready for jobs that will be in high demand when they are older?  

Krueger also references an incredibly insightful TedTalk by Aspen Meineke, on how it’s educators responsibility to spark the imagination of their students. You can watch it here

Both Meineke and Krueger speak to the importance of HOW content is taught and not only WHAT content is taught. But how can we focus on the how instead of the what? Here is where collaboration and 21st century learning skills come into play.  

21st Century Learning Skills:  

The Ed Glossary defines 21st century skills as: “a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are believed—by educators, school reformers, college professors, employers, and others—to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and contemporary careers and workplaces.” Instead of just teaching our students the “what” content such as mathematics, ELA, science, social studies and other tradition subjects, we need to start infusing our classrooms with these “hows” of learning.  

First off, educators cannot remain in a bubble and hope to be launched into the future. Peer coaching and collaboration are key for teachers to get practice with these skills first hand, and to also share their knowledge with peers. This brings me to my research question for this module:  

“How can coaches help their learning partners to understand and incorporate 21st century learning skills into their teaching?” 

ISTE-C Standard 3: Collaborator 

Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches: 

a. Establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies. 

As a newbie to the term “21st century learning skills”, I started my research by searching for examples of what some of these special skills were. This led me to a wealth of knowledge from the group “Battelle for Kids”. They have created a fantastic model that represents 21st century skills.  

Each of these overarching aspects to the overall 21st century skills came with a list of skills that fall below them:  

Learning and Innovation Skills:  
These skills help students to become more fluent at adapting to complex situations and environments. They include: 

  • Creativity and Innovation 
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving 
  • Communication 
  • Collaboration 

Information, Media, and Technology Skills: 
These skills assist in the ability of citizens to adapt in a world of constant information, technological, and contribution changes. These “functional and critical thinking skills” include: 

  • Information Literacy 
  • Media Literacy 
  • ICT (Information, Communications, and Technology) Literacy 

Life and Career Skills: 
These skills will help students to work effectively in their future careers. They include social emotional skills along with contextual knowledge. They are: 

  • Flexibility and Adaptability 
  • Initiative and Self-Direction 
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills 
  • Productivity and Accountability 

You can find more depth information regarding this model here.  

While this list gives an incredible insight to some of the skills that can help students be more adaptable and future-ready, it does not all need to be done at once. As Foltos states in his book “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration”, start small and start positive.  

So how can coaches help their learning partners focus on the how of teaching instead of the what? Begin incorporating activities that encourage the acquisition of one of the 4 C’s. Encourage educators to become familiar with the ISTE student standards to help promote the “Information, Media, and Technology Skills”  branch. Become versed in the SEL teachings that encourage the skills that fall under “Life and Career Skills”.  

What do you do in your coaching/classroom to promote 21st century skills? What do you do in your own practice to stay fresh with these skills? Comment below! 


21st Century Skills Definition. (2016, August 25). The Glossary of Education Reform. 

Aspen Meineke. (2020, January 9). Help Students Find Their Spark [Video]. YouTube. 

ISTE Standards for Coaches | ISTE. (n.d.). ISTE. Retrieved November 5, 2020, from 

Krueger, N. (2019, November 22). Preparing students for jobs that don’t exist. ISTE. 

Partnership for 21st Century Learning. (2019). Battelle for Kids. 

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