21st Century Skills… Soft Skills? Say WHAAAT? - Part 1

Theresa Lambert

Currently 29 years as an educator.. gosh this is making me sound ancient! However, after 29 years, I can still say I LOVE my job! Most would describe me as a bibliophile because my favourite pastime is to get lost in fiction or devour a recommended educational read. My love of learning has led me to explore various educational roles such as a student researcher (SWST) for the Ontario Ministry of Education, a junior literacy coach, a board-wide special assignment curriculum teacher, and a grade 3-6 classroom teacher.

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This article is brought to you by the letter C. As I started drafting out how I would tackle writing about 21st Century Learning Skills (often referred to as the ‘5 Cs’ or ‘soft skills’), at the same time I am starting my summer holidays, (my last day of teaching was June 28th), Sesame Street popped into my head. I noticed that my summer mode was significantly different than my teaching mode and that when I stopped to actually compare the 2 modes- there was a distinct pattern of “c words” in both modes.


Do you remember how Sesame Street was always about a certain letter to teach the children? The same idea applies to 21st-century learning. My summer mode seemed more like  the‘soft skills’ and intentionally teaching students 21st-century skills… well.. there didn’t appear to be anything SOFT about this type of learning. The students and teachers will tell you flat out that it is darn hard work! Labelling 21st-century skills as “soft” gives an illusion that they are easy to learn, that there is not an urgency to learn them.

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The thing is we are ALREADY 18 years into the 21st Century! At our school, every single teacher works hard every single day and is exhausted... yet our hard work still left the majority of us not seeing a shift from summer mode in the students. Summer mode was happening all year long!

A large majority of students quit when things got tough, preferred to work alone as it was “too hard working in a group”, and were satisfied with rote regurgitation of learning. When asked to think deeply the room was usually silent or dominated by a select few. Our teachers felt there was a sense of urgency to develop problem solvers and thinkers. After all... these students were going to become our future! And our future needs students to be able to handle a challenge-citizens who can think outside the box. Students who can create things not yet invented to solve real-world problems. Students who can co-construct collective knowledge and not be afraid to connect with others in the community and around the world for support. Notice the “c words” jumping out? Our world needs these kinds of students and citizens. Students who have the confidence to know they can make a difference.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Theresa's "Say WHAAAT?" article!

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