Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Should There Be a 5th C in the Partnership for 21st-Century Learning?

By Peter DeWitt — January 08, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication are not new words for us. Let’s take collaboration for example. It’s a word that we hear constantly and is at risk of being a buzz word that teachers and leaders are tired of hearing, because not everyone likes to collaborate. Sometimes it seems like collaboration when in reality one person is doing all the work.

Collaboration reminds me of a Tweet I recently saw after Mariah Carey’s performance on New Year’s Eve, where Jennifer Sheng wrote, “Mariah Carey was like that one person in a group project who didn’t do any of the work and now has to present the whole project.” We have all been a part of those collaborations.

The same can be said for creativity. There are teachers and leaders who want creativity from their students, but create rubrics which end up stifling creativity instead of inspiring it. Other times those rubrics help guide students to being more creative. It’s really hard to look at a word like creativity and then decide what it really means when it comes to student learning.

And we know, that we all can work on our communication skills. There were times as a teacher or principal that I thought I communicated well, but the communication strategy I used only led to more confusion (another C?). Critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication were introduced to us by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. The 4 C’s are brilliant, and they help students prepare for their college experience and the workplace.

Are they really new to the 21st century?

No, they are not. However, they are four areas that are increasingly more important as we find ourselves in the second week of 2017.

In a recent blog I posted called When It Comes to the 4 C’s, Some Principals Aren’t Making the Grade, I took comments that came through a survey I used on Survey Monkey to ask whether principals are as good as they think they are when it comes to the 4 C’s and posted them in the blog. The point behind the blog was to get us all to reflect on our practices like I did earlier with communication. Additionally, it wasn’t shut down a conversation between leaders and teachers but to actually highlight that the 4 C’s are much more complicated than we think.

What’s Missing from the 4 C’s?
One problem with the 21st century skills, which have really always been necessary long before the 21st century, is that schools focused on the 4 C’s for students, and then realized the adults charged with teaching those students may not know how to collaborate, communicate or have a good grasp on creativity and critical thinking skills. In our teacher pre-service and leadership programs the 4 C’s may be discussed but there isn’t always a good conversation on how to actually do it in the classroom.

The other, and most important issue, when it comes to the 4 C’s is that they are missing a very important 5th C. That 5th C is school climate, and like the other 4 C’s, the success of the school climate is dependent on how we all approach it as a school community. Without an engaging and supportive school climate, schools will never dive deeply into the other 4 C’s. And without a proper school climate, initiatives, creative ideas and collaboration will never meet their full potential.

School climate is the plate that everything else sits on. The National School Climate Center (2007) define school climate as,

The quality and character of school life and experiences that reflects norms, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching, learning and leadership practices, and organizational structures; a sustainable, positive school climate fosters youth development and learning necessary for a productive, contributing, and satisfying life in a democratic society."

There is no better time than ever to focus on school climate because the social-emotional health of our students is at risk, which also directly impact on creative they are, their critical thinking skills and how they collaborate. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is key to building that positive and inclusive school climate where students learn to explore the other 4 C’s. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social-emotional learning as,

the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."

SEL is instrumental in increasing a students level of self-efficacy and inspiring them to take control over their own learning. In a meta-analysis involving more than 200 studies and 270,000 students, Durlak et al (2011) found “those who participated in evidence-based SEL programs showed an 11 percentile-point gain in academic achievement compared to students who did not participate in SEL programs.”

Durlak et al (2011) found the most successful SEL programs were those taught by classroom teachers or school personnel, and included assessments of social-cognitive and affective competencies that SEL programs targeted such as emotions recognition, stress-management, empathy, problem-solving, or decision-making skills.”

Additionally to the above, CASEL offers SEL Competencies which help students find that all important self-efficacy, and those competencies are:

  • Self-awareness: The understanding of one’s emotions.
  • Self-management: Being able to regulate one’s emotions, setting goals, and understanding how to reach those goals even during times of stress.
  • Social awareness: The ability to be able to empathize with others.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to surround one’s self with healthy and positive relationships, and how to help others in need.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make positive choices for one’s self.

In the End
There is no doubt that the 4 C’s are still very important even after they first came out so long ago. However, part of the problem is that we throw students into the deep end of the 4 C’s and have never, or may have never, established a school climate that will help deeply support the students before they dive in. We can’t do the 4 C’s without fostering the important 5th C.

For more information on how to do that, read 7 Ways to Create a More Positive School Climate.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the best selling Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.