By WRAL Tech Wire STEM News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – What will today’s students need in order to be successful citizens tomorrow?

Ken Kay is CEO of EdLeader21. He has been the leading voice for 21st century education for the past decade.

He co-founded the Partnership for 21st Century Skills in 2002 and served as its president for eight years. Also, as executive director of the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, Kay led the development of the STaR Chart (School Technology and Readiness Guide), used by schools nationwide to make better use of technology in K-12 classrooms.

Along with Valerie Greenhill, Chief Learning Officer at EdLeader21, he has authored “The Leader’s Guide to 21st Century Education: 7 Steps for Schools and Districts,” released by Pearson Education in June, which provides a guide to help move schools and districts forward in the quest to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century; focusing on such topics as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity for all levels of education.

WRAL Tech Wire STEM News sat down with the former attorney to learn more about his efforts as he prepares to speak at the Global Schools Network (GSN) Leadership Conference on Tuesday and Wednesday in Chapel Hill:

Why did you decide to participate in the GSN event?

I was honored to be invited as I am passionate about the need to create new models of 21st century education, particularly those that include global competence. I’m thrilled to be speaking to school districts in North Carolina that have this as a major focus of their vision for 21st century education. More than 40 percent of the students in the state are included in this network, so the impact of these leaders is tremendous and I want to be involved as this program enters its second year.

What can attendees expect to hear/learn from you this week?

I have spent the last decade traveling around the country working with educators who are trying to create a 21st century model of education. In that journey, I have met hundreds of innovative educators and learned from them. My team at EdLeader21 has tried to synthesize these best practices into the “7 steps” for becoming a 21st century school or district. I will be sharing those steps with the attendees.

Why did you form Edleader21?

My co-author, Valerie Greenhill, and I felt that we wanted to start a new organization to help schools and districts implement their 21st century education initiatives. So, with our partner, Alyson Nielson, we founded EdLeader21 at the end of 2010. It is a professional learning community of leaders devoted to implementing 21st century education in their schools and districts. As of today, we have 95 schools and districts from 30 states participating in the community.

What does 21st century education mean to you?

Most importantly, it means that we need a model of education that is updated from the model I experienced 50 years ago. But, specifically, it means we need to add to our current “content mastery model” – those 21st century competencies that will allow our students today to be effective 21st century citizens and successful in the 21st century economy. For me, that includes prioritizing the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) in our updated education model.

You outline the 4 C’s in your book. How can they help educators?

The 4 C’s end up helping educators in three ways: First, they are critical student competencies that need to be taught and assessed. Second, they are the attributes of great teaching and need to be incorporated in 21st century pedagogy. Third, they are the attributes of 21st century leadership. If we want to teach students the 4 C’s they need to be modeled by teachers and leaders. Therefore, the 4 C’s are an appropriate organizing principle for school and district transformation and offer a strategic direction for students, teachers, and leaders.

What are the biggest challenge(s) you see when it comes to educating our kids today?

State and federal policy can be a huge challenge because they are not currently designed to encourage innovation within schools and districts. Today much of federal and state policy inhibits innovation. If we want students to be innovative citizens and workers, we need innovative educators and policies that will support them.

In your opinion, what changes in skills are expected for professionals in the near future, and how are or should these skills be communicated to students in today’s educational system?

I believe the 4 C’s are the skills that most employers, be it for-profit or not-for-profit, are looking for today. I do think we can do a better job of explaining to students and parents why the 4 C’s are so important in the 21st century workforce.

Thank you for the time, and enjoy your visit here in North Carolina.

You’re welcome. I’m looking forward to it.

Coordinated by VIF International Education, on behalf of public and private partners, the Global Schools Network Leadership Conference is a two-day event this week inside The Great Room at Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill that features 18 leading school districts, keynotes and panel discussions from top educational minds from around the state and country.

View GSN Leadership Conference full program online.