Cultivating flexibility in your 21st century classroom can help prepare students for academic and lifelong success.

Don’t mistake flexibility for being a pushover. As one of the most important 21st century skills, children who learn how to be flexible are more likely to grasp lessons with greater ease, communicate effectively, and manage time efficiently. When children who learn the importance of flexibility grow into adults who are naturally more flexible, they will be more attractive job candidates, team members, managers, and leaders.

Setting the Bar for Flexibility

Though dismissing students with inflexible personalities as bratty or self-centered might be easy, taking this stance is doing a great disservice to these children. As teachers, cultivating intelligence that benefits the whole child is a great responsibility and includes building these soft, or 21st century, skills.

flexibilityAs with any learning process, begin small by trying to help children learn how to think differently. According to PBS, there are two facets of cognitive flexibility, which are flexible thinking and set shifting. In her article “Flexible Thinking: How to Encourage Kids to Go With the Flow,” Katie Hurley, LCSW explains:

“Kids who are able to think about a problem in a new way engage in flexible thinking, while kids who get stuck in their ways tend to engage in rigid thinking. Set shifting refers to the child’s ability to let go of an old way of doing something to try a new way.”

To ensure that students are developing stronger cognitive skills, developing both of these areas is necessary.

Helping Students Find Their Flexibility

Developing this type of mindset isn’t difficult, as many tactics to increase flexibility can be easily incorporated into lessons. When developing lesson plans or reviewing the class calendar try to recognize opportunities to help students develop flexible thinking skills and set shifting.

A Practice in Seeing the Other Side

flexibilityBy simply understanding–not necessarily agreeing with–another student’s point of view, children are able to step outside of their own structured opinions. Through considering of a different perspective, students will become better team players.

Practice this skill by conducting a debate about current topics, a recently studied concept, or even a school policy. Structuring a debate with formal rules and respectful dialogue can help students understand the importance of hearing someone else’s opinion, even if it differs from their own. The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts have some helpful guidelines in the “Speaking & Listening” section.

Shake It Up

Try a new twist on station-based learning. Divide students into groups and bring together children who don’t typically choose to work together. Assign collaborative projects to these groups, encouraging students to be flexible regarding how they approach this type of assignment.

Break from the Norm

Though Hurley outlines home-based methods for parents to instill flexibility in children, many of these tactics can be used in the classroom. By occasionally altering the classroom schedule, teachers can help students become comfortable with set shifting. Try incorporating a flipped classroom to change direction of lessons and student perspectives.

To learn more about other 21st century skills, find out how to cultivate skills in critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration to improve the chances of student success within and beyond the classroom.

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