student success

We Collaborate in the Workplace, Why Not in the Classroom?

Early learners at Joseph R. Pye Elementary School in Ladson, South Carolina work in small teams to design and build spaghetti bridges. Middle school students at Rancho Minerva Middle School in Vista, California run a graphic arts shop and work with community organizations to build 3D-printed materials. And high-school youth at Ballston Spa, New York’s Clean Technologies and Sustainable Industries Early College High School, team up with college students and professionals to develop cutting-edge solutions in renewable energy. Each of these P21 21st Century Learning Exemplars illustrates the 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity), core skills for successful 21st-century learning in their classrooms. Most notably, these activities highlight the need for collaboration. Study after study demonstrates how essential this skill is for success. MetLife noted in a survey that 94 percent of employers characterized working in teams as either “very important” or “absolutely essential.” A 2014 Association of American Colleges and Universities study highlighted that 83 percent of employers viewed teamwork as a high-priority skill for recent college graduates. A full body of research shows that collaboration is too important for college, career and life success to leave to chance. It doesn’t happen spontaneously—and so, we must consider how to introduce it thoughtfully to today’s students. We owe it to our children for collaboration to be introduced and cultivated throughout a young person’s life—from cradle to career. After all, collaboration not only increases their prospects for employment and job advancement once they leave school, but also improves our youth’s commitment to civic participation (particularly when they work with others in their community on social issues). Teaching collaboration itself—rather than as a means of organizing instruction to teach other subjects—should then become a priority in K-12 and post-secondary spaces. We must come together to empower and support educators to thoughtfully incorporate this skill in their instruction. A newly released policy brief that highlights the importance of assessing and measuring collaboration, created in conjunction with Pearson, offers actionable strategies on how to train and teach collaboration skills. Along with identifying the core elements of successful collaboration, the brief makes important distinctions as to what it looks like across educational disciplines. After all, collaboration may look different depending on the classroom—just as it does in the real world. I believe this brief can have great impact on our students’ learning—and am excited to see that organizations like Pearson have joined the effort to develop the tools to drive that transformation in the classroom. And as a former educator, I understand the research behind the need for collaboration in the classroom and its impact on success in the workforce, but also recognize many teachers do not have the tools to parlay that research into practice. Here at P21, we aspire to build these deep partnerships among businesses, policymakers and educational practitioners—and bring them together to develop research like this that supports our teachers. For example, we will release a series of rubrics over the coming months with Pearson that outline how to measure collaboration. Furthermore, while collaboration is essential, we also believe in the need for our students to learn the other 4Cs (i.e. creativity, critical thinking and communication)—and are developing additional briefs with Pearson around these skills. By also providing these types of tools and resources for our parents, they can join our businesses, policymakers and schools in promoting 21st-century learning nationwide and closing the skills gap. Let’s come together and provide our students with the necessary collaboration skills and tools necessary for tomorrow’s workforce.
David Ross is the CEO of P21, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. In this role, David oversees all of P21's programs, which span the entire 21st Century Learning continuum, and its growing state support services. Most recently, David was the CEO & Founder of the Lurner Group, an educational consulting company that partners with starts-ups, non-profits, and school districts on ...

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