How to Support Teachers for 21st Century Learning

via eClassroom News

Experts weigh in on how administrators can support teachers in implementing collaboration and creativity

Implementing broad concepts like critical thinking and communication may seem like natural next steps to educators, but unless teachers receive support from school policy and infrastructure, providing students with a true 21st century education may not be so easy.

This was a key topic of discussion during a recent Connected Educator Month webinar, hosted by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and EdLeader21—a national network of school and district leaders focused on integrating the 4Cs into education.

The 4Cs–communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity–are part of P21’s mission to help educators teach students 21st century skills. Webinar panelists said this task can’t be accomplished without support from school administrators in the way of space design, instructional practices, and school policy.

Dana Strother, chief academic officer at Douglas County School District in Colorado, said her district “looked at Bloom’s Taxonomy and vetted our state’s standards through the taxonomy” during an evaluation of instructional practice.

“Areas that were lacking we improved through what we call ‘World Class Outcomes,’ and instructional design that allows for the 4Cs. We also provided CIA curriculum and instruction alignment and wove authentic learning experiences into the curriculum for support,” she said.

The district also made it a priority to provide supporting infrastructure through district policy on risk-opportunities.

“It’s important to let teachers know, in various ways, but also through policy, that we support risk-taking opportunities, or new strategies, projects, or professional development opportunities that may be new or unique,” she said.

For example, Douglas County lets teachers experience inquiry-based professional development opportunities in order for teachers to learn through the same practices they’re expected to teach students.

“We’re asking teachers to incorporate new kinds of teaching that include the 4Cs, so why should teachers in turn be taught in a different manner? Sometimes by thinking outside of the box and going against traditional methods, especially from an administrator standpoint, the results are better,” Strother said.

Randy Fielding, chairman and founding partner of educational facilities planning and architectural design firm Fielding Nair International, said he believes school design also factors heavily into incorporating the 4Cs into a student’s daily life.

Fielding’s design firm tries to incorporate 20 “learning modalities” into school design, which include concepts, such as Independent Study, Peer Tutoring, Team Collaboration, and One-on-One Learning, to support the 4Cs of instruction.

“To have a truly 21st-century school, you have to inspire organic collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication, and focusing on design can help.”

“To have a truly 21st-century school, you have to inspire organic collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication, and focusing on design can help. For example, you could have a ‘watering hole’ space off hallways where students could casually converse; you could have a ‘cave space’ where students could reflect for independent thinking; and you could have a ‘campfire space’ where everyone gathers to collaborate,” Fielding said.

Panelists emphasized that it’s also important for administrators and teachers to understand that instruction focused on the 4Cs doesn’t just work for certain kinds of subjects, students, or teachers.

“The 4Cs work for every kind of student and teacher in classrooms across the country,” said Donna Harris-Aikens, director of Education Policy and Practice at the National Education Association (NEA). “It’s less a series of requirements and more just authentic learning. For example, a math class could use its English and design skills to help draft a proposal to help senior citizens in their community make their homes more accessible. For this kind of project, you need the 4Cs in STEM, English, and community service.”

Fielding said it’s important that school and district leaders support teachers in working together to develop collaborative projects for their students.

One of the schools his firm works with has a student-run lunch program through which students negotiate with local farmers. They serve the week’s menu selections on carts around the school so students can taste-test their creations. Students in the program generate quarterly reports on profit and loss, and send those reports off to the school board.

“Students get credit for working in this program, which essentially teaches them collaboration skills, analytical skills, and even creative skills, thanks to cooking,” he said.

However, panelists said that there are still barriers for teachers who want to pursue the 4Cs, including getting first-world experience on how to actually teach broad concepts like creativity.

“That’s why we introduced the Creative Innovator Network in our district, which allows teachers to collaborate with not only their peers on different projects, but also local businesses to brainstorm ideas on how students can better serve the community,” said Strother. “We also bring students into the teacher professional development sessions to hear their voice and how they enjoy learning, so that teachers can adapt their instruction.”

“The biggest barrier for teachers is time,” said Harris-Aikens. “Finding time to make everything work effectively and collaborate is hard, especially because planning, or collaborating, time needs to be on a consistent and continual basis. Students also need a large amount of time to work on these projects, and to have time flexibility in case they make mistakes, as well. Administrators need to make sure teachers and students can have that time in their day.”

For more on this topic, watch the full webinar.

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Gordon Bethune is a character. He’s also one of the most accomplished American business leaders of the past few decades.

Now retired, Bethune is credited with resurrecting Continental Airlines, the flagging carrier he led from 1994 to 2004 that has since been acquired by United Airlines. Perennially ranked last among major airlines in customer satisfaction, Continental was losing hundreds of millions of dollars each year and fighting insolvency. Bethune, who was promoted from COO to CEO less than a year after he joined the company, successfully transformed the beleaguered airline into a profitable and respected industry leader.

What did he learn during his decade-long tenure at Continental? We recently had the good fortune to interview Bethune, who talked about his background and the lessons in leadership and management he learned during his time at the airline. Here are seven of those key takeaways, in Bethune’s own words.

1. Treating your customers and employees well is the right thing to do—and it’s good for the bottom line.

“I arrived in February of 1994, and Continental was consistently dead last in customer satisfaction metrics. And then, we consistently ranked first. To this day, we have a record for JD Power Awards. We were on Fortune Magazine my last six years for the 100 Best Places to Work in America. We were the most admired airline in the world, according to Fortune. Those are kinds of things that are long-built records. But I didn’t do it. The team did it.

How did we do it? We became America’s most on-time airline. How did we do that? We focused on that every day, and the record still stands. So, it can be done from a dispirited last place. We lost something like $600 million in 1994. In 1995, we made $225 million—with the same people and the same airplanes. So, it wasn’t anything wrong with the employees. It was the management—and it always is.”

2. Don’t forget where you came from.

“I used to be an airplane mechanic—that’s how I started off. And do you know how much faster I could fix an airplane when I wanted to fix it versus when I didn’t want to fix it? That’s where the money is. They don’t teach that at Harvard Business School. But they do teach it when you’re growing up. These are basic things, but I think too many companies forget it.”

3. Make a real effort to get to know your employees.

“I communicated a lot during my time at Continental. I did a voicemail that was 3-5 minutes that basically told everybody what was going on, and what they could expect. The twist was that you could voicemail me back through the phone service, and they could tell me what was on their minds. In any case, it was a secure, frequent, respectful voicemail to employees.

You ever watch a football team when they have a huddle before a play? It’s not just the big shots in the huddle. It’s the team. Everybody’s got to know what we’re doing. That kind of respect for your employees—they notice that.”

4. You can’t outsource employee relations. It’s up to the CEO to create a team atmosphere. 

“Your employees and their attitudes are the differentiating competitive edge you have, and I think we utilized that extensively while I was at Continental. You have to gain and earn the trust of your employees. But not only that, you have to make them feel rewarded in order to get your product at a level that it can beat the competition. Everybody’s looking for better fuel burn and all these accounting tricks you can do, and all the cost savings you can do. But having employees that want to do a good job is invaluable.


When I was at Continental, I would always go to the airport an hour-and-a-half before my flight, and I would visit Continental employees in the crew room or break room or baggage room. It’s the same as going to somebody’s office and thanking them for doing a great job. CEOs don’t normally do that. They try to delegate that to their HR departments, but you can’t. If you want to be the leader, then you have to appreciate and respect your employees. One way to show them that is to get off your ass, go to their office—which might be a cockpit—and say hello and thank you.” 

5. If you ask your employees to make sacrifices, then you should make them, too.

“One thing I did that differentiated me was during the holidays. In particular, Thanksgiving and Christmas were tremendously high-stress days because, of course, everyone wants to be with their families and it’s a maximum travel time in America. I would go out to the airport and work on those days—I would load bags, do work behind the counter, greet customers. I’d make an effort to tell them when I was out there that I appreciated them working on Thanksgiving, and that I appreciated their work in general.


You can’t imagine how much goodwill that you earn when your team knows that you’re willing to give up your holiday because you’re asking them to give up theirs. You become a true member of the team then. You’re not the manager. It’s a team. The quarterback doesn’t necessarily enjoy any more prestige than the right tackle, and if you go to the Super Bowl then everybody gets a ring. That’s just the way it works. You can write notes all you want, but it’s better to get off your ass and get out there.”

6. Listen to your customers, even if your competitors aren’t.

“In 1994, the United States had already passed a law that you couldn’t smoke on domestic flights. But we flew in Central and South America and Europe, and those were smoking flights since international flights were exempt. I would have customers complain about smoking and, of course, if you were a working flight attendant, and you worked the back of the plane, it was a different atmosphere—it was cloudy, grey, and smoke-filled. I was on a flight down to Costa Rica, and I walked back there, and I said, ‘We are going to stop this.’ We had the senior VP of international sales writhing on the ground in my office because they were all convinced that we were going to lose our business.


And, you know what? We picked up more business doing that than anything we did. We had so many people ditch Alitalia or Air France to fly on us because we were non-smoking. And while it angered some customers, we got more customers because of the rule. We trail blazed the international non-smoking flights by listening to our customers and listening to our own employees. We made a lot of money because of it, too.”

7. Consumers want one thing—and it’s not what you think it is. 

“All good airlines are always looking for a way to differentiate their product. But the best way to differentiate your product is to be consistently reliable and dependable. I think people value that the most. They’ll say, ‘Screw the movie, but don’t lose my bag!’ I’ve seen airlines debate crazy things, like whether the flight attendants should wear Kate Spade handbags or another brand. And I said, ‘Who gives a shit?’ Why don’t you give them their bags? That’s what they want!’ ”

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