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  • Destiny Yarbro

P21 Skills in the Classroom

According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the principles of 21st Century Skills are fourfold:

  • Key Subjects: Traditional subjects like the 3Rs should be learned under broad themes so that subjects are not distanced from each other and students are unable to see their interwovenness. “...Examples of interdisciplinary themes include: global awareness, financial literacy, health literacy, and visual literacy” (Ledward & Hirata, 2011, p. 2). As we guide a student to become global citizens, the segmented subjects of the past are unnecessary and even stunting.

  • Learning and Innovation Skills: P21 (2016) identifies four Cs that are necessary for all students in today’s world. (1) The ability to think Critically, (2) the ability to Communicate effectively, (3) the ability to Collaborate with those in other disciplines and with differing backgrounds, and (4) the ability to Create, not just manufacture. (An antiquated skill that had value in the last century for those who would work in factories but has very little value today.)

  • Life and Career Skills: Far from being abstract or theoretical, students must learn skills that are applicable to and prepare them for their futures. Too many students have graduated without the ability to work on one’s own, manage time, prioritize, and break down goals to make them achievable. Valuable skills that are “essential for all students to be lifelong learners and contributors in the 21st century,” include “synthesizing information, working effectively in diverse teams, managing complex projects, and demonstrating responsibility to the community and environment” (Battelle for Kids, 2020, p. 5; Ledward & Hirata, 2011, p. 2).

  • Information, Media, and Technology Skills: The skills that have been important in the past are now absolutely vital during COVID-19. The ability to learn, work, and function online has never been more necessary for teachers and students alike than during this time. Hand-in-hand with these skills is the ability to use information responsibly and meaningfully in the digital sphere (P21, 2016).

Realigning Questions

The skills listed above will have an impact on my teaching practices and beliefs. The questions that came to mind as I read through the P21 principles are ones I wish to review regularly in my teaching career to keep me on track:

  • Rather than shying away from the technology that my students use so readily, do I both encourage technology-enhanced projects (not simply writing assignments) and nurture technology-free times (to help students detox from the ever-present digital influence) in the classroom?

  • Do I teach the 3Rs through the passions of my students, but also in ways that engender the 4Cs?

  • Am I willing to adapt my expectations and set aside test-driven acquisitions in the classroom so that my students can find joy in learning across disciplines?

  • Do I help my students look forward to the future and clearly connect the skills they are learning today to their future goals and dreams?

  • Do my students know that the ability to know everything is not a prerequisite to success in life, but rather is highly dependent on the learnable character qualities in the 4Cs?

  • Are my students learning the technology skills needed to give them full reigns in their creativity?

With the age differences between teachers and students, there are elements of 21st century skills that will not come naturally to me. However, I can exemplify the desire to learn and model to students how they can be life-long learners. I can also pull on resources that others have created to make up for any gaps between my students’ technology skills and mine. That said, I will do all in my power to learn so I can lead out in the ways that matter most.

Which P21 Principle is Most Important for Success?

As I tried to identify one of the P21 principles that is most important for success, I was reminded of the Brookings reading from this week. Their research showed that teachers, students, parents, and distant “shareholders” have different priorities for the students (Care, Kim, Anderson, Gustafsson-Wright, 2017, p. 11). Just as we are encouraged to engender “learning that bridges disciplines” in our students, there was much crossover in the skills above for me (Ledward & Hirata, 2011). For example, I have already found that creativity in this day and age is heavily reliant on the ability to work with the technology available to us. Also, C4s can be learned as life skills are developed; as we encourage our students to become the best version of themselves and seek to make the world a better place. So rather than one skill standing out to me, I saw the interconnectedness of these principles rather than their standing alone.

All of the skills listed above are valuable, yes, but I feel these are obsolete unless students are endowed with a love of learning, a perspective greater than themselves, a desire to understand both people and subjects, and self-compassion even more than self-esteem (Neff, 2013). As these elements of a student’s character expand, so does their desire to learn what is most valuable to succeed in life, to help others along the way, and to become a responsible global citizen.


Battelle for Kids (2020). Making 21st Century Education a Reality for Every Student. [PDF]

Care, E., Kim, H., Anderson, K., & Gustafsson-Wright, E. (2017, March 24). Skills for a Changing World: National Perspectives and the Global Movement. The Center for Universal Education at Brookings. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from

Ledward, C., & Hirata, D. (2011, January). An Overview of 21st Century Skills. [PDF] Pacific Policy Research Center. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from

Neff, K. (2013). The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion. TEDxCentennialParkWomen. Retrieved from

P21. (2006). Framework for 21st Century Learning. [PDF] Retrieved October 16, 2020, from

P21. (2016, January). Framework for 21st Century Learning. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from


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