The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

The Landscape has Changed, the Skills are the Same

As someone that is never a fan of buzzwords in education, a term that often gets an eye-roll from me is “21st Century Skills.” Books have been written, talks delivered, products sold, and all are based around a set of competencies that experts say students will need in the 21st century. Give the most often cited skills some thought though, and you will see skills that are not necessarily new or innovative. The ability to solve problems, to work with others, to communicate well, and resilience are all cited as major skills of the 21st century. These skills are coupled with statements about increased competition in the marketplace, and the projection that the jobs of the future do not yet exist.

If Doc Brown and Marty McFly were here to fly you “Back to the Future,” and we arrived in 1955, the skills and habits of successful people would be identical to those which are now cited as 21st century skills. Leaders and innovators of the mid-20th century had to solve problems, communicate and work with others. A quick search of “Sputnik” will lead to multiple articles about the increased competition students would face in the future. In addition, I don’t believe that citizens living in 1955 could imagine many of the careers that exist today.

The skills are not new. The landscape, tools, pace and communication medium are.

– The need for memorized facts has decreased with the rise of search engines, apps, and ubiquitous access to the internet. This has led to a rise of a new literacy (digital) where someone needs to determine what is fact and what is fiction when reading online.

– With a cell phone/tablet/computer, a person has the power to answer any factual question and make any information public, at any time. It has never been easier to be a published author.

– EVERYTHING is faster now. Information and people are always available. Society has become a race to who can share the fastest.

– There are far more options to communicate, making the need to connect with others more important. Good communication remains succinct, honest, and direct, regardless of the tool that is used.

Our strategies need to change. We need to embrace the new landscape and tools, but need to remember that the skills that learners will need to succeed in the future are no different today than they were 58 years ago. Our role is to work with our students so they can gain the skills they need to be successful using the tools they have at their fingertips.


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5 thoughts on “The Landscape has Changed, the Skills are the Same

  1. Pingback: Back to the Future? | Jennie's Blog

  2. Jennie Snyder on said:

    Thank you for your thought-provoking post. I agree that there are common skills that have always formed the foundation of innovation and success. Your post has really got me thinking about what’s the same and what’s different about our current age. And, more importantly, what this means for our work to prepare students. I really appreciate your pushing my thinking. You inspired me to write a response:

    Glad you are part of my PLN. Keep the discussion going.

  3. Dr. Dea on said:

    I tend to agree with what you say. Sometime ago as a guest blogger for Eye on Education, I addressed a similar question and recently reposted that response on my own blog at The point: skills that everyone claims as 21st century have been longtime requirements for success but the tools have changed. In the 20th century, the shift was a physical one–technologic automation got us moving: in the early part of the century beyond our communities and in the latter part of the century to the out reaches of our solar system. 21st century technology has moved us virtually–across the globe into worlds and ideas we read about in the last century. Like you, I’m not sure how we prepare students for a place we haven’t yet been. Therein may lie a clue as to the most important of the 21st Century skills: curiosity for the new and openness for the yet unproven.

    • Thanks for reading and responding!

      Without a doubt, we must foster curiosity in our learners, and a knowledge that there is a world beyond our local communities. Globalization has caused major shifts in where people work and who they work with, and we must recognize those important differences.

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