21st Century Skills Have Always Been “Needed” Skills, But Now We Need Them More Than Ever

By AJ Juliani, 17 comments

It’s 2017.

Communication is changing fast (my 7-yr old daughter and I just exchanged Snaps while I am in Chicago and she is outside of Philadelphia in different time zones, with real-time interaction).

Collaboration has evolved to a point of instantaneous feedback loops (my colleague and I are on a shared Google Slide presentation changing and adding to slides for this week’s presentation in real-time, able to modify and go back to old versions if need be. We also shared this with someone who is going to be in the presentation to get their feedback on a teacher perspective.)

Critical Thinking has become a necessity in order to not only solve big problems, but every day issues (we know teachers learn best from other teachers, but it is increasingly harder to get teachers into each other’s room due to sub shortages and other factors. We bought a 360 camera and are going to film to elementary teacher’s lessons this week in order to share with other staff while they watch using VR headsets to see the entire room as if they were in the classroom on a visit.)

Creativity is a part of our everyday lives. No longer reserved for the few, we must all be creative and innovative in order to do our daily work (with all of the great work currently happening in my school district, I’m working with a small team to create an innovative and simple way to share out the stories of teaching and learning with our community!)

Yes, those bolded terms are what we commonly refer to as “21st Century Skills”, yet I’m fairly certain that these were always NEEDED skills.

Socrates was talking about these 21st century skills over 20 centuries ago.

The Socratic Method is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.

We still use this method today, and it is still effective.

Regardless of what we call them, the 21st century skills represent a type of skill that is not traditionally connected to standards and skills our students are evaluated on. Even though we know these types of skills are imperative to success in the workplace, in relationships, and in life–they are still seen often as “nice to have” instead of “need to have” for our students.

21st Century Skills in 2017

Seth Godin recently wrote an article, “Let’s Stop Calling Them Soft Skills“, in which he describes five categories of skills that we all look for in colleagues, employees, and students–yet, don’t seem to value over other content and standardized skills.

What I love about Seth’s view is that it is one outside of education. He has created businesses, written books, designed products, and even started his own altMBA school. Seth believes these so-called “soft skills” are more important now than ever before.

Information is easier to access, share, and create. Communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are happening across many domains. Godin’s five categories break it down into areas we can look to foster and empower in our schools:

The Five Categories of Skills

Self Control — Once you’ve decided that something is important, are you able to persist in doing it, without letting distractions or bad habits get in the way? Doing things for the long run that you might not feel like doing in the short run.

Self Control

  • Adaptability to changing requirements
  • Agility in the face of unexpected obstacles
  • Alacrity and the ability to start and stop quickly
  • Authenticity and consistent behavior
  • Bouncing back from failure
  • Coach-ability and the desire to coach others
  • Collaborative mindset
  • Compassion for those in need
  • Competitiveness
  • Conscientiousness in keeping promises
  • Customer service passion
  • Eagerness to learn from criticism
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Endurance for the long haul
  • Enthusiasm for the work
  • Ethics even when not under scrutiny
  • Etiquette
  • Flexibility
  • Friendliness
  • Honesty
  • Living in balance
  • Managing difficult conversations
  • Motivated to take on new challenges
  • Passionate
  • Posture for forward motion
  • Purpose
  • Quick-wittedness
  • Resilience
  • Risk-taking
  • Self awareness
  • Self confidence
  • Sense of humor
  • Strategic thinking taking priority over short-term gamesmanship
  • Stress management
  • Tolerance of change and uncertainty

Productivity — Are you skilled with your instrument? Are you able to use your insights and your commitment to actually move things forward? Getting non-vocational tasks done.


  • Attention to detail
  • Crisis management skills
  • Decision making with effectiveness
  • Delegation for productivity
  • Diligence and attention to detail
  • Entrepreneurial thinking and guts
  • Facilitation of discussion
  • Goal setting skills
  • Innovative problem-solving techniques
  • Lateral thinking
  • Lean techniques
  • Listening skills
  • Managing up
  • Meeting hygiene
  • Planning for projects
  • Problem solving
  • Research skills
  • Technology savvy
  • Time management
  • Troubleshooting

Wisdom — Have you learned things that are difficult to glean from a textbook or a manual? Experience is how we become adults.


  • Artistic sense and good taste
  • Conflict resolution instincts
  • Creativity in the face of challenges
  • Critical thinking instead of mere compliance
  • Dealing with difficult people
  • Diplomacy in difficult situations
  • Empathy for customers, co-workers and vendors
  • Intercultural competence
  • Mentoring
  • Social skills
  • Supervising with confidence

Perception — Do you have the experience and the practice to see the world clearly? Seeing things before others have to point them out.


  • Design thinking
  • Fashion instinct
  • Map making
  • Judging people and situations
  • Strategic thinking

Influence — Have you developed the skills needed to persuade others to take action? Charisma is just one form of this skill.


  • Ability to deliver clear and useful criticism
  • Assertiveness on behalf of ideas that matter
  • Body language (reading and delivering)
  • Charisma and the skill to influence others
  • Clarity in language and vision
  • Dispute resolution skills
  • Giving feedback without ego
  • Influence
  • Inspiring to others
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • Negotiation skills
  • Networking
  • Presentation skills
  • Persuasive
  • Public speaking
  • Reframing
  • Selling skills
  • Storytelling
  • Talent management
  • Team building
  • Writing for impact

The question then for us as educators (and as parents etc) is not only how we can work on building these skills, but more importantly give students opportunities to learn, showcase, and use these skills while they are in school.

Bo Adams, the Chief Innovation Officer and Mount Vernon’s Institute for Innovation, famously said:

If schools are meant to prepare students for the real world. Then why doesn’t school look more like the real world?

These skills shared above are important. They’ve always been important. However, maybe now more than ever before. In a world that is quickly changing, we need to continue refocus our why on giving students the skills and knowledge to actively learn and pursue their interests, passions, and dreams.

The next time you are in a curriculum meeting, bring up these skills. The next time you create an assignment, think about how it ties into these skills. And the next time you are at a faculty meeting or discussion with colleagues, ask whether or not these skills are being valued, looked for, assessed, and praised.

I know I have to do a better job at all of those things, and I’m hoping you’ll hold me accountable as well!


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