Category: Education Topics

2018! Help Your Teachers Create 21st Century Classrooms

To succeed in school, compete in the job market, and become a contributing citizen in our democracy and the global economy, our students need to learn in classrooms that develop the four 21st century skills, called the 4 Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.


You can motivate and engage teachers to consider what kinds of instruction develop these skills by having them learn during faculty meetings in ways that you want their students to learn. When teachers experience great 21st-century classrooms, innovative types of learning become a part of teachers’ DNA and open conversations about how the 4 Cs will impact learning in their subjects.



I recommend that you set aside three faculty meetings for teachers to experience the 4 Cs and connect what they’ve learned to classroom practices. It makes no sense for principals to expect students to collaborate and problem solve and then lead faculty meetings where teachers passively sit and receive information. A faculty meeting can and should model expectations for how teachers interact with students in the classroom.


To get the process going start by dividing teachers into groups of four to six and have them choose articles to read about the 4 Cs and 21st-century classrooms before your faculty meeting. In the box below, I’ve created links to five sources.




  • Organize faculty into groups of four to six, introduce the 4Cs of 221st-century learning, and invite teachers to discuss why these are important for the challenges our country and the world face today.
  • Have each group choose a spokesperson and share with everyone what their group discussed. Record teachers’ ideas on a whiteboard. Have teachers choose two articles to read.
  • Close the meeting by asking teachers to discuss and share ways they can integrate into their classrooms: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
  • Have a reporter for each group write on chart paper their top three ideas and share with the faculty to end the meeting.


  • Recap what was discussed at the first meeting by posting the teachers’ ideas you recorded on chart paper.
  • Have groups read a different article, discuss it focusing on: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.
  • Repeat how you ended the first meeting. This might seem repetitive but it is not.  It is valuable to spend time on what is important; the revisit helps communicate this important message to staff.


You’ll find that even with reading and discussing articles, teachers depth of understanding will vary, this is perfectly fine.  Like their students, their background knowledge and personal experiences will determine the types of suggestions they offer. But over time, if made a focus, staff can collectively come to a deeper understanding of the 4C’s.

Below you’ll find some examples of how teachers at your school can foster and build 21st-century skills into students’ learning experiences. It’s helpful for teachers to discuss these suggestions through the lens of how each one fits into their subject.

  • Encourage teachers to abandon rows of desks that only separate and isolate students. For collaboration to take place and for students to have opportunities to choose and discuss materials, they need to sit in groups and work together or separate into partners who report back to the group. Remember sitting in groups but doing the same work done in rows is not effective.
  • Initiate student-led literary discussions. Have teachers build on the turn-and-talk strategy that asks students to turn to a classmate and discuss questions about a read-aloud text or an aspect of a lesson. The next step might be having students discuss a text for 5 to 20 minutes with a partner, using questions the students themselves composed.  Then, students can make the transition to small-group discussions.
  • Use inquiry learning. Put the questioning process into students’ hands by asking them to compose interpretive, open-ended questions. (A question is open-ended if it has two or more answers that text evidence supports.) This is a powerful technique because students need to collaborate and communicate to write open-ended questions; they also need a deep knowledge about, and an understanding of, the reading material. Teachers can also show students how to compose guiding questions, which works well when groups read different books in a particular genre or on a specific theme. A guiding question is broad and can’t be answered in one or two sentences.
  • Integrate technology by asking all faculty members or specific departments to read an article on their computers shared through a Google Doc. Then, let the communication begin! Teachers write their responses to an article and pose questions so everyone who received the article can read all the responses and questions.
  • The next step might be to use Google Docs with students. For example, teachers can post a short reading selection on Google Docs for students and have them respond to questions in writing. Students can use the articles and all responses for a whole-class discussion. Also, students can collaborate and write a blog, informational piece, play, and so on and post their work on Google Docs for peers to read and respond to.
  • Use the jigsaw strategy. If you have several questions you want students to discuss, divide the work among groups. Give each group a question and have them discuss it. Once groups discuss, they choose a spokesperson who explains the ideas discussed in the class. Not only does jigsaw advance all the 4Cs, but it also moves lessons forward.
  • Try chat centers, a spin-off of jigsaw that gets students out of their seats and moving around the room. You can put questions about literary elements, vocabulary, or a text all students have read or listened to on five to seven sheets and post them around the room. Assign each group a chat center, have members discuss the questions and then present their findings to the class. To communicate clearly and effectively, students have to adjust and clarify their ideas so that their classmates understand their thinking.


Encourage teachers to work closely with a colleague, choose a strategy they’d like to implement, share ideas, observe one another’s classes, debrief, and when they’re both comfortable, try another one. I always invite teachers to start small and add new strategies slowly to ensure success and maintain the desire to develop the 4Cs in all students. The 4C’s are often referred to as 21st Century Skills; soon it will be 2018 all schools should focus on these skills!

Check out my book! Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook, Scholastic, By Evan Robb

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Got a YouTube page too with some great videos in education!

Let Students’ Questions Define Your Classroom

By Laura Robb

The practice of asking questions to drive students’ learning is alive and well in schools today. But here’s the rub! Too often questioning is recitation where the teacher prompts students for the “one right answer” to questions she has developed.  Moreover, at school, who should be posing the questions? To foster independent readers and thinkers, students need to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to asking and answering questions.  If teachers always control questioning, then student learning is greatly diminished because students aren’t discussing ideas that have relevance to them.  

On the other hand, when quality, student-generated questions define a class, meaningful learning takes place—learning that defines reading, research, collaborative projects, literary discussions, and units of study. As students wonder and question and use their questions to learn, they develop the ability to raise questions while reading. This keeps them focused on a text, but also motivates them to read on to find answers to their queries. 

When Do Students Ask Questions?  

Opportunities abound throughout the day for students to pose questions. Here are a few:

Mini-lessons:  Invite students to jot down questions they have while you present a mini-lesson and ask these when you’ve finished. Such questions clarify students’ understanding and help them absorb new ideas. However, students’ questions can offer you insights into what they do and don’t understand. With this information, you can design interventions based on observed needs.

A daily teacher read aloud:  Frequently, students pose questions about a conflict, theme, or how events connect. Reserving a few minutes for students to ask their questions shows them how much you value their thinking and provides you with insights into ways students react to the text.

Setting goals: Help students understand that raising two questions such as, Is there a strategy I should work on next? What do I have to do to reach this goal?” can improve their learning. Such questions develop independence because they place students in charge of decision-making.

Self-evaluation: Questions can also drive students’ evaluation of their work over time, such as reviewing several journal entries in their notebooks, the entire process for a piece of writing, several quizzes and test grades, or their participation in collaborative projects. Here’s a sampling of questions that students might ask: Did I improve? How do I know I made progress? Is there something I did that stands out? Did I struggle? How? What did I do to cope with my struggles?

A result of self-evaluative questions is the development of metacognition, the ability of students to reflect on their written work, collaborations, and learning to improve critical thinking and problem-solving.

Close reading: Isabel Beck and Margaret G. McKeown’s strategy, questioning the author, provides students with questions for fiction and nonfiction texts. The questions help students link words, phrases, and ideas to construct meaning from a passage they find challenging. While close reading, the student might ask: Why did the author use that word or phrase? How does the word or phrase connect to the information in the sentence? To information that came before the sentence? How does the paragraph or section connect to the title? The theme or main idea? The previous paragraph or section?  These questions can develop independence in unpacking meaning from challenging passages in texts.

Inquiry-based learning: Before and during a unit of study, students generate questions that drive their reading, investigations, experiments, and discussions. Researchers like Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith, show that when student-generated questions steer the direction studies take, they are more engaged and motivated to learn. Inquiry fosters collaborating, recalling and understanding information, analyzing texts, and meeting deadlines. Students enjoy the process far more than when teachers direct and control students’ learning.

Reading texts: Teach students how to pose open-ended, interpretive questions and invite them to work as a team when reading an assigned or self-selected text. Open-ended questions have two or more answers. Verbs such as, why, how, evaluate, explain, compare/contrast can signal interpretive questions. Returning to a text to write open-ended questions deepens students’ knowledge of plot and information, but it also raises the level of discussions to analytical and critical thinking. In addition, discussing their own questions motivates and engages students in the reading and in exchanging ideas.


The Teacher’s Role

Providing a model for students, one that shows them how to raise questions during diverse learning experiences is a primary job of teachers. Becoming a skilled questioner won’t happen quickly for most students. However, turning the questioning process over to students gives them opportunities to practice and to make their studies more meaningful. Equally important, when students are in charge of questioning, they develop independence in learning.

Meaningful reflection by teachers and students –reflection that considers improving questioning techniques and gathering feedback can create a learning environment that values students’ questions as a path to progress in all subjects.

Laura Robb’s most recent book is Read, Talk, Write 35 Lessons That Teach Students to Analyze Fiction and Nonfiction.

Colleagues, Co-Conspirators, and Creative Partners

By Steven Kellogg

         In a celebrated poem by Robert Frost called “A Tuft of Flowers,” a worker mentally sends a message to a colleague who has labored earlier that day on the same task with which the narrator is concerned, and he says: “Men work together, I told him from the heart, whether they work together or apart.”  And that’s the way we work, as librarians and teachers of reading on one hand, and authors and illustrators on the other. We are colleagues and co-conspirators who put our energies separately, but together, into the very important and exciting work of turning kids on to books, giving them a passion for their written and spoken language, and opening them up to its vast communicative and artistic range.  

        As creative partners, we depend upon each other to do our work with care and sensitivity. You rightfully expect authors and illustrators to put into your hands’ books whose words and images can be effective tools for reaching, inspiring, and moving the children in your care. Happily, that expectation is being validated by a surge of interest in literature-based reading programs throughout the country. It seems to be fueled by the growing conviction that children don’t become particularly excited about basal readers, workbooks, ditto sheets, nor do they file into libraries to check them out. They do become excited about stories and pictures that capture their imaginations. Like all of us, they are drawn to works that communicate in the language of feeling, which is the way that elusive thing called art so effectively reaches us. And the communicative power of art, as it is utilized in its varied means of creative expression (from architecture to painting to literature to drama), has been a compelling outlet for every culture and civilization since man’s beginnings.

        An increased emphasis on the role of children’s literature is a challenge to librarians and teachers as well as to their partners in publishing. Your role in our collaboration is to share the books with care, enthusiasm, creativity, and love so they have the maximum opportunity to reach their audience as effectively as possible. Although authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, designers, and printers all work together to produce a book, it’s not until the book is actually read and looked at that it really comes to life. Until that moment, it’s a darkened theater—a tableau frozen on a stage in a vacant auditorium. But when the teacher, librarian, parent, or friend opens the cover and shares the book with a child, the theater is illuminated, and, as the pages turn, the curtain rises and falls on successive acts and scenes. Through that reading and sharing the words come to life, and the illustrations move and flow with action, feeling, and vitality.

        Of course, each book must stand on its own merits and earn applause and approval from whoever experiences it. But if you bring a child and a book together with a sensitive understanding of that particular book—if you recommend and share and read the book aloud as if you were a part of its creative life—then that book has a much greater chance of being special to that child. And you will be remembered as being part of that book, and part of that gift, as surely as if your name were engraved on the jacket and the title page: a colleague, a co-conspirator, a creative partner.

        I have loved picture books since my childhood, and I recall with deep gratitude the relatives who were sensitive enough to give me books as gifts and to share both the books and themselves in magical read-aloud sessions. I had a passion for drawing as a child, and I used to make up my own tales and illustrate them for my two younger sisters, Patti and Martha, in a ritual we called “telling stories on paper.” On a rainy Saturday afternoon, or just before bed, I would sit between them with a stack of paper on my lap and a pencil in my hand, and I’d spin some kind of a bizarre yarn while scribbling illustrations to accompany the narrative, passing them first to one of the girls and then to the other. I found the process of “telling stories on paper” enormously compelling, and during those early days, before the blessings of editorial intercession were available to me, I would rattle onward with interminable enthusiasm until my dutifully attentive sisters were each buried under piles of pictures or comatose with boredom.

        My childhood fascination with illustrated storytelling persisted into young adulthood and shortly after graduating from college I began sending manuscripts with accompanying sketches to major publishing houses. When I was offered a contract to illustrate George Mendoza’s stories “The Hunter,” “The Snake,” and “The Hairy Toe” in a forty-eight-page book entitled GWOT! Horribly Funny Hairticklers, I was ecstatic.

        I had a wonderful time putting the book together, and I sent copies off to various friends, particularly those who had encouraged me to make the leap into publishing. Among these was a couple who lived in New York with their precocious but rather shy four-year-old-daughter named Helen. They were concerned that exposure to stories like “The Hunter,” “The Snake,” and “The Hairy Toe” that were assembled in a book entitles GWOT! might prove to be a traumatizing experience for her. But because I had illustrated the book and inscribed it to their Helen, they dutifully read it to her at bedtime. Several nights later, my wife and I were invited to their apartment for dinner, and in response to my knock the door swung open and there stood Helen in a ruffled party dress. For a moment she remained poised with a sweet hostess smile on her face. Suddenly, it transformed itself into a jubilant mischievous leer, and she screeched “GWOT! I Love You!” It was obvious that the book had not traumatized her in the least, and indeed her parents, to their ultimate despair had to reread the stories night after dreary night for many, many months.

         Helen and her family moved to the West Coast, but I continued to send her my books as they were published. A few years ago, the second oldest of my stepdaughters was married and Helen, now a young woman and an established television actress, flew east with her parents to attend the wedding. I had not seen her in quite a few years, and, as the deception in our backyard was nearing its end, Helen and I strolled along the edge of the woods together, and she brought me up-to-date on all that had been happening in her life. And of my books, which are still on her bedside shelf. She told me that whenever she opens them, the words and the pictures are a magic carpet to her childhood. She feels that she is once again a little girl snuggled against her parents as they read the stories aloud, and she happily loses herself in the illustrations that were once spread across their laps.

        In reflecting on Helen’s involvement with her books, I realize I had known something intuitively when beginning my career that I am convinced, thirty years later, is indeed true. Too often, I think, we define children as a bland herd, and we do not adequately recognize the complicated variety of personalities that they, as a group, represent.

        There should be made available to kids, as well as to adults, a delicious smorgasbord selection of books that deal with many facets of human experience. We should provide books that present an opportunity to explore a great range of emotions, exposing children to stories and images that inspire laughter, tears, shivery-spooky feelings, flashes of glowing, loving warmth, and insight. They should be acquainted with books that contain the creative approaches of many different authors and illustrators so that each young reader can find the ones that speak to him or her with particular clarity and poignance.

        Helen’s recollection of the way in which her parents shared books with her is also revealing. I believe that the picture book’s finest hour occurs during a read-aloud session when the book is bridging two laps and uniting the reader and the audience. The reading adult’s voice unlocks the magic of the story, inviting the child to enter the lives of the characters and to explore the landscapes that are delineated in the illustrations. There is a special warm and personal quality to the participation in that shared experience that is not duplicated while seated in front of a television set in a darkened room, and it is important for all of us who love children and books to continually express the value of reading aloud.

Check out Steven Kellogg’s website

Don’t Miss These All-time Favorites by Steven Kellogg:

The Island of the Skog

Paul Bunyon

Best Friends

The Mysterious Tadpole

Pinkerton Behave!

Jack and the Beanstalk

Your Mindset Matters!

Develop Your Growth Mindset!

Mindset matters for administrators and teachers who work with children; mindset can have a profound impact on learning. A growth mindset allows us to see potential in everyone: ourselves, other adults, and children.  Fixed mindsets harm students. Fixed mindsets sort and select. Fixed mindsets have determined the future of students and the path of adults.  Such thinking has no place in education.

An important question to ask, do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? I believe the mindset you have influences your leadership, thinking, actions, decision making, and who you are as a person.  

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck points out the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.”

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities develop through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Let’s consider your leadership. Questions are a great way to reflect on your leadership.  Are you modeling and communicating a belief that learning is about time, opportunity, and effort which is a growth mindset?  Or, do you communicate through your actions or words that some people are simply more able than others, in a world of those who can and those who cannot? Is there a disconnect between what you say and your actions?

Your mindset matters!

Reflect on my top five growth mindset concepts as you consider your leadership and commitment to embracing a growth mindset.

  • Challenges can be opportunities:  Challenges are part of life, work, and school.  It is a personal choice to view challenges as problems or as opportunities to overcome or to improve.
  • Make the word “learning” part of your vocabulary:  People who believe in growth mindset are always learning.  Are you always learning? Do you demonstrate through words and actions a belief that every person in your organization is a learner?  How do you respond to people who say they can’t learn something new?
  • Redefine “brilliant”:  I have found it quite liberating to realize few people learn new concepts with magical ease.  Most people have to work hard; some may work less than others, but almost always there is hard work behind a perception of brilliance.  In general, schools have been designed to communicate we all learn in lockstep.  Such a belief leads to a sorting mentality, everyone does not learn the same or at the same speed, and that is OK.   Sorting beliefs are always tied to fixed mindset thinking; such thinking is not good for students and potentially harmful.
  • Change your view of criticism:  As a leader, receiving criticism is part of the job.  The normal response people expect when they criticize another is often anger and resentment instead of an opportunity to problem solve. How you react to criticism speaks to your leadership and mindset.  Here’s my challenge to you: move the personal away from criticism and see it as an opportunity to grow, problem solve, and often to collaborate.
  • Adopt and use the word “yet.” Dweck says “not yet” has become one of her favorite phrases. Not being able to solve a problem can mean you simply cannot do it or you have not solved it yet.  Fixed mindset: you either can or cannot find a solution. Growth mindset: you cannot solve the problem, yet, but with more time, support, and effort you will be able to.  

Mindset choice may appear simple; if fully embraced it can have a profound impact on you and those around you. Often, I will meet with a parent who tells me they could never do the math and that is why their child cannot do the math.  This pattern can run through generations, and it is harmful predicting what children can and cannot do. If teaching and communication of the educator reinforce a negative belief, it will harm a child.  On the other hand, if the child and parent experience a teacher who lives and communicates a growth mindset; an opportunity for change is created. The next time a person says, “ I can’t do the math,” you can have a different and unexpected response to them, a response using growth mindset thinking.

I encourage you to learn more about growth mindset, how you can grow as an educator, and have a positive influence on others!  If we as educators adopt and communicate growth mindset, we create an opportunity to change belief, and such a shift can change the future of a child.

Learn more from my book, The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook, Scholastic Ed.