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21st-Century Skills Students Need to Display Before Graduating

Hiring Managers and Educators Share Core Skills They Want to See in a Student’s Digital Portfolio
Griffin Jaeger
May 17, 2021

Throughout the first two seasons of our podcast, Competencies without a Classroom, we promoted each of our guests to Superintendent of a school district...for 15 minutes.

We presented them with a hypothetical scenario, which goes as follows.

Imagine you are the Superintendent of a school district. You are tasked with choosing one 21st-century skill or competency that every single one of your graduating students needs to display evidence of in their digital portfolio. What is that skill?

We received a wide variety of answers and compiled some trends worth sharing.

In season one of Competencies without a Classroom, we spoke with industry professionals, business leaders, and hiring managers.

Here are the 21st-century skills your graduates should showcase in their digital portfolios, according to the pros.

1. “Self Skills” as 21st-Century Skills

A consistent trend that stood out this season was an emphasis on “self skills.” More specifically, the skill set of self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-assessment, allowing students to manage their thoughts, feelings, and actions. These soft skills also play a key role in other areas, such as the ability to understand one's biases, different points of view, and how one may fit into a team. In short, self skills are very much intertwined with social skills.

Hiring managers are looking for applicants who can showcase their ability to advocate for themselves and express their worth and abilities. It is less about what you know and more about what you can show. Being confident and having an understanding of where a student thrives as well as where they are looking to improve is a valuable 21st-century skill, and one that is rooted in metacognition and higher-order thinking skills.

Students can present this in a digital portfolio through various formats of self-reflection and self-assessment.

They will find great benefit in looking within and asking themselves “Where am I now? Where would I like to be? How do I plan to get there?”

Curious about using digital portfolios with students? Read What is a portfolio for the classroom? to get started with a framework for digital portfolios.

2. “Figuring it Out” Through 21st-Century Skills

Three 21st-century skills that were frequently highlighted throughout season one were curiosity, problem-solving, and perseverance. In simple terms, the willingness and ability to figure it out. Check out our STEM Lesson Plan on Cultivating Persistence

It would be naive to say that students will never encounter problems within their professional lives. The ability to problem-solve, persevere, and think on their feet, while flexing their creative minds will take them incredibly far. These are key skills that can be showcased in a multitude of ways in a student’s digital portfolio. It’s as simple as showing one’s work. Have students take a problem that they’ve been given, whether it be in math, social studies, or any subject area, and explain how they would tackle the problem at hand. Students can share their processes and explain their reasoning.

Another frequently mentioned 21st-century skill was curiosity. Hiring managers are looking to hire students who are always curious to learn more and are committed to being lifelong learners.

What is it that your students want to know and learn, and how would they go about seeking opportunities to do so?

3. 21st-Century Industry Skills - Copy, Technology (Coding) and Sales

Professional industries are constantly and rapidly changing. Three key skills that hiring managers believe will set students up for success are copywriting, coding and sales.

The ability to explain an idea clearly and concisely.

The ability to interpret code and work in a fast-paced tech environment.

The ability to sell - whether it be a product or one’s abilities.

Taking the time to practice and develop these skills as students, and then display them in their digital portfolios, will set students apart from their peers after high school.

In season two of our podcast, we spoke with educators and education consultants, asking them what skills they'd like to see displayed in their own student’s digital portfolios. Here’s what they had to say.

4. Critical Thinking as a 21st-Century Skill “Envelope”

“It envelopes everything we do.”

Students who can think critically and look at the world from multiple perspectives are leaders. They make open-minded, informed decisions by considering various outlooks and ideas. This includes a multitude of 21st-century skills: empathy, curiosity, effective problem-solving, creativity, etc. The list is endless.

In a digital portfolio, students can showcase critical thinking by making connections between classroom learning in different subjects and what is going on in the world around them. Ask students questions like:

  • How would you solve this problem?
  • Do you agree or disagree and why?
  • What is another way we could approach this topic/issue?

Questions like these will promote critical thinking skills. Students will be encouraged to think critically through research, analysis, and their ability to make meaningful connections, highlighting their curiosity and passion along the way.

Want to learn more about promoting critical thinking in the classroom? Read 3 Ways to Target 21st-Century Skill Development in the Classroom.

5. 21st-Century Social Skills - Communication and Collaboration

Group work follows us everywhere, it’s practically unavoidable.

If students can develop the foundation of being a team player (collaboration skills), thriving as leaders and as team members, they are sure to find success.

Leadership skills are important, but people want to work with individuals who celebrate the successes of their team members and help them when they are in need.

Read: Why No One Wants to Work with the Brilliant Jerk

Effective communication is an equally important 21st-century skill. It can be presented and worked on both independently and in group settings through effective communication with others, communicating personal strengths and weaknesses, and articulating when students are struggling or in need of something. These are all forms of communication that will benefit students, and the people they are working with.

Whether they like it or not, students will always find themselves working with others to achieve a common goal. By showcasing these collaboration and communication skills within a digital portfolio, students can take a deeper look at how 21st-century social skills create valuable community and success. Thus, working to improve and better themselves as both communicators and collaborators.

Want to bring portfolios into your classroom? Get started with SpacesEDU today!

The Big Picture

By including these key 21st-century skills in a digital portfolio, students gain valuable insights about their growth and successes while they develop as learners over time. This is key to their future success, boosting their self-esteem and providing them with a personalized way of showcasing their abilities, allowing them to stand out like the stars they are.

Now it's your turn.

Imagine you are the superintendent of a school district, tasked with deciding one 21st-century skill that students will need to display in their digital portfolios. What is that one skill?


SpacesEDU Lesson Plans for 21st Skills!

Here are just some of the many SpacesEDU Lessons plans that can help educators help students foster those 21st century skills - and display them in their portfolios!


Tweet us @Spaces_edu and share your thoughts!

Griffin Jaeger

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