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7 Design Elements of a 21st Century School

7 Design Elements of a 21st Century School

Generation Alpha and Generation Z are heading back to school for the start of school. They are more intelligent than previous generations and are seen by many as global change agents and problem solvers. Generation Alpha is predicted to be the first generation to see in the 22nd Century.

How can we design schools that meet their needs, both at a local and international school leadership level? Here are seven elements for you to consider:

1. Altered Bodies and Minds

A 21st Century School caters for greater student diversity, talent and need. Inclusive policies, curriculum and spaces are necessary to ensure all students are challenged and empowered. Student-led innovation and change initiatives exist focusing on Sustainability, Equity, Health (including Mental Health), Direction of Learning, Personalized Learning and Service Learning. Remember that these changes can start in your school and state and lead into international education. Think big!


2. Amplified Organization

A 21st Century school embraces technologies of learning, cooperation, communication and creativity efficiently and effectively with school, regional and global communities. Prototype programs like Maker, Blended and Service Learning exist and are designed to support and challenge technological innovation. These programs are regularly reviewed, augmented and redesigned.


3. Platforms for Resilience

A 21st Century school co-constructs student-centered, skill driven, concept-based curriculum with students. Teachers working side by side with their students are seen as Mentors, Learning Journey Coaches and Thought Leaders. Skills of resilience and positive psychology are embedded at all levels of a Social and Emotional Curriculum. Community based partnerships are nurtured both locally and globally to support and empower students.


4. New Civic Discourse

A 21st Century school challenges traditional hierarchical models of learning and leadership. Creative distributive leadership and flexible positions of responsibility exist for students and teachers.  Network and partnership structures are developed to create entrepreneurial spirit and know-how. Social media is used as a communication and learning tool to expose students and teachers to new thinking, innovation and disruption.

Questioning and redefining the meaning and responsibility of ‘citizenship’ is embedded into the curriculum at all levels.


5. Maker Economy

A 21st Century School ensures design process experiences are integrated into the curriculum. Practical problem-solving, fabricating and project management opportunities exist for all students.


6. Pattern Recognition

A 21st Century School ensures every student has a comprehensive data picture. Visual tools ensure the data is visually accessible to all stakeholders in the learning process. Knowledge of students’ performance, preferences and interests is used to inform the next steps in their learning.


7. Learning Spaces 

A 21st Century School is designed to enhance the connection between teaching and learning, and the role that school facilities can play in supporting the innovative work of teachers. Learning spaces are aesthetically pleasing, creative, flexible, sustainable, cost- effective, include outdoor learning environments and are all technology infused. Movable furniture and walls allow easy change, and accommodations for large and small group work, peer-to-peer learning and individual exploration.


Why not use the 7 Design Elements as a checklist to rate your school. It might provide you with some purposeful future directions. If you would like to learn more about Leadership for the 21st Century  come along to the next workshop at NIST International School Bangkok on 16 & 17 March 2019. CLICK HERE for more information on my workshops. Also check out my 9 Strategies to Create 21st Century Schools for some further inspiration.



NOTE: Much of the content for The 7 Design Elements of a 21st Century School article was created collaboratively by workshop participants at the ‘Leadership for the 21st Century’  Workshop in Bangkok based on an analysis of The 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning by Knowledgeworks.

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