Over the past two weeks, I have led a discussion with a group of teachers with the goal of discovering what great teaching looks like in their division. So far, we are forming our meetings around statements of beliefs about teaching and learning. As a backdrop to these discussions, I asked the teachers to keep in mind how they connect their content to the development of 21st century skills: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.
In one recent exchange, a teacher made the statement that if we are looking to describe what great teaching looks like or is manifested in their classes, where do these 21st century skills fit in with the aspects of teaching that do not necessarily primarily concern content. I asked this teacher to elaborate on this comment and he shared that great teaching, in his opinion, is found more in the “intangibles” of being a teacher. For example, advising students with difficult character issues, being present in the hallway or at the games, getting to know the student as an individual, and taking a personal interest in the student's well-being.
My response was that in order to deliver on those “intangibles” he was likely modeling those skills in a very practical manner. Without knowing it, this teacher was helping his students develop these important skills.
I read many articles about connecting the 21st century skills to content. The majority of these articles have been very helpful to my own teaching. They have served to inspire my own creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. I have also read a number of articles that suggest that one of the most powerful factors in student achievement is the relationship between teacher and student. Skills are important. Content is important. Modeling appropriate uses of each is also important.
Tomorrow, when you open your door and welcome your students, do not take for granted the power of how your interactions with them not only establishes the foundation for content area achievement, but also how these interactions re-enforce the skills necessary for success in the 21st century.