Creativity, Grit, and Initiative: How to Foster 21st Century Competencies

Creativity,Grit, and Initiative

As Elementary Principals we are at the center of the action for student learning. In our role as building learning leaders we have both the agility and generosity of spirit to connect and collaborate with students, teachers, staff, parents, community, district leaders, and policy makers. Today more than ever, we prize student academic achievement and have engineered our schools with data systems to increase student learning using multiple formative and summative assessment measures. Intuitively, teachers know that good teaching prepares learners with content knowledge and basic skills. However, are our students also developing needed competencies such as creativity, grit and initiative to thrive in the colleges and careers of a globally interconnected world?  Are the traditional literacies enough in the emerging innovation era? (Crockett, Jukes, & Churches, 2011).

Since 2009, the Minnetonka Summer Institute has joined with educators throughout Minnesota in exploring the application of 21st century fluencies from thought leaders including Dr. Tony Wagner, Ian Jukes, Dr. Yong Zhao, Dr. Douglas Reeves, and Dr. Marc Chun into everyday lessons and practices.  As a result, the Minnetonka District has shifted from a strategic planning model to an innovation planning approach using grassroots crowd sourcing to spark ideas and guided experimentation from principals, teachers and paraprofessionals.

A new Minnetonka Teaching and Learning Instructional Framework is currently taking shape that provides classroom teachers a concrete blueprint to the art and science of how to implement student learning experiences for meaning, engagement, and deeper learning (Schneider, 2016). With the fluency professional development foundations in place, we are now discovering that even modest lesson design adjustments can significantly elevate students’ opportunities to apply the following 21c attributes and abilities into everyday lessons:

  • Collaboration: Students working in pairs or groups to discuss an issue, solve a problem and/or create a product.
  • Authentic & Real World Learning: Students define and develop solutions to problems in their lives.
  • Communication: Students connect and share their ideas using the right medium(s).
  • Creativity: Students develop and revise ideas with originality.
  • Critical Thinking: Student analyze, synthesize, evaluate and organize information to generate new understanding.
  • Global Learning: Students understand the complexities of culture and global issues and the ability to see viewpoints beyond their own through experiences to positively impact the world around them.
  • Personalized Learning: Students choose the content, product and/or process for their learning.
  • Use of Technology for Learning: Students use tools to complete an activity moving from consumers to producers.

Using these strands demands encouragement for making mistakes, trial and error, and iteration rather than risk aversion to failure.  Principal leadership is key to guide and support teachers with the time, tools, and trust they need to empower kids with a passion for learning and to teach the critical skills students will need in the 21st century.

Resources to Explore:
The Global Achievement Gap and Most Likely to Succeed:
Literacy is Not Enough: 21c Fluencies for the Digital Age:
World Class Learners:
Deeper Learning conversations:
Motion Leadership:
Minnetonka Framework for Deeper Learning:


Blog Post by:

David Parker, Ed.S., Principal
Groveland Elementary School
Minnetonka Public Schools

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