Avoid the Flaws With 21st-Century Skills Programs

In the last post, I identified five flaws in 21st-century skills programs in schools. These flaws result from using a 20th-century mindset to design and implement the programs. While this mindset was suitable in the past, it is inadequate in today’s modern world with increasing competition, change, complexity, and connectedness.

Context of Modern Work: 4Cs behind the 4Cs

The most innovative companies today use small, cross-functional teams that work in short iterative cycles using Agile, a simple and lightweight process that has become the standard for innovation. As Daniel Pink said to me on Twitter, “Agile is a brilliant model for schools. Shakes off much of the legacy thinking that holds us back.”


In 2010, a teacher and I started using Agile in a fourth-grade classroom. We thought because of its simplicity and flexibility; it offered a practical way to grow student independence while embedding real-world innovation skills. It took some trial and error, but the students had made great progress by the end of the school year. For example, when the class had a substitute for the day, the lesson plan given to her read, “The kids will tell you what to do.” Working in teams, the students went straight to their visual learning boards and managed their work for the day. The substitute teacher was amazed!
By the end of the year, our students were highly engaged, had formed strong relationships, and had experienced deeper learning. While there were certainly moments of doubt and experimentation, we were able to throw out what didn’t work, keep what did, and adapt to make the program authentic to education while still maintaining authentic skills practice. Over the past ten years, we have continuously improved our model to help students develop authentic and enduring 21st century skills. Now, we want to share our knowledge with you through our Livestream course “Certified Agile Classroom Teacher,” which will show you how to implement Agile to grow independent and collaborative learners. When you have an Agile Classroom, you can be confident that your students have learned the content and gained valuable life and learning skills. As a teacher, you will also have less classroom management to worry about, giving you more time to do what brings you joy.

Agile in education avoids the five flaws we mentioned in the previous post:

  1. Easy to Integrate 21st-Century Skills – Agile makes it easier to integrate 21st-century skills into any classroom with your existing content. For instance, you can use Agile in your English Language Arts course to teach these skills without altering the content. Agile can also be used in project-based learning to streamline the process of completing projects.
  2. Lightweight – the less process, tools, and forms, the better. Low overhead makes it easier to apply and increases the likelihood that students can run it independently.
  3. Frequent Skills Practice – students learn in short repeating cycles in which they engage in routines for planning, evaluating, reflecting, and improving.
  4. Authentic and Relevant – The skills and routines practices are authentic and relevant, as they are used by innovative companies today. These skills are in high demand in industry and will give students confidence in managing their lives and increased optimism for their career prospects. While it may not always be possible to connect the content directly to students’ lives, you can connect how the learning process is relevant.
  5. Small Projects – Agile involves breaking down a large project or goal into smaller, more manageable projects or goals. We plan, execute, and review each mini-project, repeating until sufficient progress is made.
Agile Classroom Framework

The Agile Classrooms framework provides clear and repeatable routines to help students become self-directed and collaborative without the drama. We will hold the  “Certified Agile Classrooms Teacher” course on February 4 -5 where you will learn how to use this three part Agile In Education framework. So, let’s shake off the legacy stuff in education that is holding us back together.

Thank You For Innovating For Our Students,

John Miller


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