Identifying 21st Century Learning Skills and Tips for Peer Coaches

What are essential skills for learning in the 21st Century? How are they defined by OSPI? How can teachers encourage these skills in their classrooms and encourage student-centric learning?

At their essence, 21st Century Learning skills are essential abilities for students to adapt, navigate, critically analyze, and innovate in an increasingly complex, global work force. According to OSPI’s Definition Matrix in the Framework Develop for Career and Technical Courses, there are three main categories in which specific skills are identified:

Many of these skills focus on a student’s cognitive development, critically analyzing information and sources, and the various social abilities when working independently or collectively. These skills develop over time with the neurological and physical development of the individual, with intentional guidance and demonstration (teaching and coaching), and opportunities to practice. Encouraging conversations where essential learning skills and standards are identified, defined, and discussed can be helpful by peer coaches when these conversations allow educators to have a clear and shared understanding of the learning skills and standards and provide an opportunity to start collaborating upon how to incorporate into content and curriculum. These conversations are critical because according to Foltos in Chapter 6:

Educators and the Peer Coaches that work with them find it easy to talk about 21st Century skills but much more difficult to turn abstract ideas like critical thinking, analyzing and synthesizing information, transference, information literacy, and creativity into practical classroom learning activities.

Les Foltos. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.

Peer coaching conversations provide opportunities to generate criteria to measure and evaluate the success or effectiveness of current classroom practices and methods to achieve the expectations of the 21st Century Learning skills.  So how are educators able to develop deeper levels of thinking or more complex skill processes inherent in the 21st Century Learning Skills and ISTE Student standards?  How can peer coaches encourage and foster discussions around these abstract ideas?

Encourage Growth Mindset

While much of Dweck’s work focuses on student learning, peer coaches can also employ these specific phrases to assist educators and families. Visit this resource for more information and language to encouraging resilience and growth mindset.

Learning Activity Checklist

In fact, research by Foltos and Eva Reeder discuss in particular the importance of intentional design in curating an environment and establishing a learning culture. To promote discussion, they have created a Learning Design Matrix for peer coaches and educators to discuss how to improve learning by examining activities in four categories: Standards-based task, Engaging task, Problem-based task, and Technology Enabled Learning task (Table 6.2, page 116).

Include short and long term goals

While peer coaching, it is important to remember “the coach needs to start small by asking the collaborating teacher what he or she wanted to emphasize before there was any serious discussion of how to improve the learning activity” (L. Foltos, personal notes, April 2009). By focusing on immediate goals, the peer coach and educator can converse about immediate tasks and build upon these conversations and collaborations.

The standards for learning in the 21st century are rigorous, complex, and abstract to reflect the innovative, creative, and collaborative thinking skills necessary to navigate a changing, global environment. Peer coaches and educators face the difficult task in evaluating the extent current teaching practices, methodologies, content and curriculum develop and encourage these abstract skills. Using specific phrases to encourage a growth mindset, evaluative tools like the Learning Matrix, and short and long term goals can help guide these conversations.

What tools have aided your conversations on 21st Century Learning skills?

Resources & References

“6 The Design of Learning Environments.” National Research Council. 2000. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9853.

21st Century Skills Framework for Developing Leadership PDF by OSPI

Dwyer, C. (2010, February 16). Using praise to enhance student resilience and learning outcomes. American Psychological Association.

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.

Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek.

Harvard, Blake. “How parents can help their kids with studying.” 31 Oct 2019. Viewed Oct 2020. Parent Partnership, Edutopia.

ISTE Standards for Coaches | ISTE. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2020, from

Interactive Modules created by Jeff Utecht Consulting Inc. in partnership with the Association of Educational Service Districts of Washington (AESD) It was created to be used by educators and organizations to support students. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Lee, Laura. “7 Guiding principles for parents teaching from home.” 03 Apr 2020. Brain-based Learning, Edutopia.

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