Wednesday, September 21, 2011

21st Century Skills are so Counselor Centered

By Patrick O'Connor

There’s good news and bad news on the education front.  For counselors, this creates yet another opportunity to show the importance of our work to teachers, business leaders, and the world as a whole, as long as we act quickly.

First, the bad news.  Education leaders have decided America’s students are lacking in key 21st century skills.  This recent criticism is yet another effort by elected leaders to try and “reform” education without really knowing what’s wrong in the first place…

…and how do I know that?  Take a look at the list of key “21st Century Skills” outlined by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and see if you see anything familiar:

*  The three R’s (reading, writing, and ‘arithmetic);
*  The four C’s (Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation)

If you’ve been in education for more than 5 years, you’ll recognize these seven items as the key skills for the New Millennium.  If you’ve been in the classroom for just a little longer, you’ll remember these were the skills in the report called A Nation at Risk, way back in 1983.

As well meaning as our policy leaders may be, they’re coming a little late (and ill prepared) to the party if they think they’ve discovered some new problem with education that needs to be remedied.  These skills have been identified as missing in action for a long time.

Why is this good news for counselors?  Because each of the 4 Cs is an essential life skill, or “soft skill”, that can easily be taught by counselors, either in the classroom as part of a team teaching effort, or in counseling seminars before school, after school, or during lunch.

The possibilities here are endless.  By teaming with a Language Arts teacher, you could take a problem from a classic book—say, Moby Dick—and brainstorm alternative ways the conflict could be resolved.  After teaching some basis problem solving skills, students could use their creativity to solve the problem, and come up with a creative way to communicate the solution.  Have the students work together in teams, and you’ve created a lesson plan that touches on all 4 Cs at once, thanks to your counseling insights and your co-teacher’s literary expertise.

The same thing exists with current events, story problems, and more—there is no classroom that couldn’t benefit from your counseling touch in helping students hone their 21st century skills.

What if you can’t find a willing classroom to partner?  Go it alone.  Even brand new counselors can think of enough real life examples from case studies or past experience to put together a brief workshop that highlights each of the 4 C skills.  If you can create a number of these workshops, you can package them as 21st Century Skills workshops that could be modified for adult learners, presented to outside school groups, and shared with the school board—and each of these audiences gives you the potential to demonstrate the value of counseling in your school and in the future of your students.

It seems politicians always want to find a way to try and make education look bad.  By responding (not reacting), counselors are not only modeling behavior for students at a time of criticism; we are showing internal and external audiences a new level of important for counseling in the curriculum of the new classroom.

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