The Seven Steps to Becoming a 21st Century School or District

By Ken Kay
Last summer, as I was winding down my eight years as president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, I went around the country and met with 30 superintendents, asking them, “What can I do to support your efforts to implement 21st century education in your district?” Together we came up with the idea of creating a professional learning community (PLC) of education leaders committed to 21st century education. A team of us liked the idea so much that earlier this year we launched EdLeader21, a community of education leaders committed to building critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity into their educational system.

Seven-Part Blog Series

One of the major ways we are organizing the work of the PLC is a framework we created, “7 Steps for Becoming a 21st Century School or District.” For the next two months I will be sharing with you our seven-step framework in greater detail, as well as some suggestions for how you can implement some of these ideas in your own school or district.

A Streamlined Framework

Early in the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills we developed the P21 Framework for Learning to help educators understand the outcomes that students need to become effective citizens and workers in the 21st century.
Over the years we found some people had a hard time getting their heads around the framework. It called for 18 skills, and people thought this was too many. Others thought we wanted to replace content with skills, when, in fact, we wanted to fuse content and skills together. We came up with the phrase, “Fusing the 3R’s with the 4C’s.”
The 4C’s are:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity

We have found that in many schools and districts, parents, students, school board members, teachers, and administrators have embraced the 4C’s and use it as the starting point for their 21st century education initiatives. We have used the 4C’s as the organizing principles for the “7 Steps.”

What Are the “7 Steps”?

Once a school or district is inclined to adopt the 4C’s, these questions logically arise: What should we do? How do we get started? Where do we head? In order to address these questions we designed the seven steps.
Step 1: Adopt your vision: Use the 4C’s and more.
Step 2: Create a community consensus around the 4C’s.
Step 3: Align your system with the 4C’s.
Step 4: Use the 4C’s to build professional capacity around the 4C’s.
Step 5: Embed the 4C’s into curriculum and assessment.
Step 6: Use the 4C’s to support teachers.
Step 7: Improve and innovate: Create a 4C’s organization.
Over the next seven weeks we will be discussing these seven steps in more detail.

Leadership and 21st Century Education

If there is one factor that distinguishes successful 21st century schools and districts it is strong leadership. While individual teachers can adopt the practices of a 21st century classroom, the real impact on students is if an entire school and district embraces and works toward the same vision. We partnered with the Pearson Foundation to produce a video on “The Role of Leaders in 21st Century Education.”


In addition to the video, please reflect on the following two questions:

  • Does your school or district have a specific vision of 21st century education and an implementation strategy to make it actionable?
  • Are the education leaders of your school or district truly committed to implementing their 21st century education initiative?

Next week we will begin our seven-step journey with a focus on how you might adopt your own personal vision for 21st century education.
See you then!
Ken Kay (@kenkay21 on Twitter) is CEO of EdLeader21, a professional learning community for district and school leaders committed to 21st century education. He resides in Tucson, Arizona.
The Seven Steps to Becoming a 21st Century School or District” by Ken Kay was originally published on Edutopia.

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1 Comment

joanne Beltz

Our students need to be educated in a 21st. century setting. I thought the article was excellent.

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