The 4 Cs (Education) > The Keys for 21st-Century Schools

21st-century education is constantly evolving, bringing innovative and successful teaching methods to light.

The 4C’s are now more than ever becoming more recognized and integrated into the classroom spotlighting our student’s potential.

Would you like to discover the importance of having the 4C’s in your toolbox and how to train these tools effectively?


If we want to actively participate in our community, both at a personal and professional level, we need to be able to:

  • Carry out constructive reasoning through Critical Thinking;
  • Find solutions through Creativity;
  • Express ourselves through Communication;
  • Improve the opportunities to reach common goals through Collaboration.

Even more so, if we are in charge of an educational community, in these 4Cs we can find great chances to facilitate children, youngsters, and adults in their learning processes.

The concept of the 4Cs is not new to education, but it is innovative. Teachers have always used elements of the Four Cs, and chances are, you also use them every day. What can change is your awareness of how, when, and why they can be used.

The ingredients of the Four C’s are free, easy to use, and do not necessarily require any special talents, tools, or equipment. However, what they do require is a mindset that teachers can cultivate, first by applying this principle to ourselves, and then by creating opportunities for our students.

Let’s break it down.

Critical thinking

The ability to reason through critical thinking is that extra edge that characterizes the human mind and which leads to making the most important progress, individually and globally. Through critical analysis, we take into consideration all the aspects of a situation in order to make choices and decisions, sometimes crucial ones. But we can’t take it for granted: critical thinking is a skill that has to be trained too!

In fact, according to the “least-effort” principle (Guillaume Ferrero 1894; George Kingsley Zipf 1949), the human mind tends to draw conclusions based on the little information it possesses on certain subjects, people, and situations, in order to reduce energy consumption. By acting through a categorization system of simplifying, it does not burden our memory.

However, as a scientific community of teachers, educators, psychologists, and social workers we are aware that our mind is capable of doing much more than we think: we can analyze in depth, with coherence and completeness, but the complexity is hidden behind the challenges of our daily lives.

Train the brain

If we were in a gym we would use a treadmill to keep fit, likewise, to keep our mind elastic and reactive, we use critical thinking as a tool that facilitates and improves our reasoning skills.

We can achieve critical thinking through a logical, rational, and objective analysis of a certain argument in which observation will help us to focus on details and take everything into consideration, whilst still being aware that we can all bring some of our subjectivity into the interpretation. We will use logistic simple exercises such as comparing differences and similarities. Through evaluation, we will make choices based on the results of the analysis, and not just follow one specific rule or pattern.

Finally, our improvement possibilities are endless when applying a trial and error method; learning from previous analysis and evaluation, modifying results, creating solutions and frequently revisiting to find the best approach to critical thinking. It is important to understand that the very first step is one which allows change, being able to accept human fallibility and valuing the power of transformation.


What is the first thing that comes to our mind when we hear the word “creativity”?

Is it a beautiful painting? A stunning photo catching a play of lights and shadows? An incredible spur-of-the-moment idea in the right place, at the right time? Or perhaps the whole saga of Harry Potter books?

Well, creativity includes all of that. Bruno Munari, an ecliptic artist from Italy very fascinated by the connection between education and art, conducted profound research on creative skills which play an important role in the human mind, recognizing creativity as the key tool to deal with life’s challenges.

“The creative individual is in continuous evolution and his creative possibilities arise from the continuous updating and expansion of knowledge in every field. The society of the future is already among us, we can see it in children. From how children grow up and are formed we can think of a more or less free and creative society.” – Bruno Munari

Creativity simultaneously functions with divergent thinking, it is the ability to continuously break the patterns of experience: if your students feel the wish to share their doubts and questions, give them space for expression. Curiosity, open-mindedness, and the desire to investigate are all preferential paths to conquer new learning and let the creative mind flourish!

Through the creative process, we can have fun, experience joy, and immerse ourselves in it, and at the same time, we can facilitate cognitive development.

Using creativity in the classroom means introducing great possibilities for youth and children by combining different materials, telling stories and asking them to create new ones, improvising solutions with problem-solving, and welcoming originality and diversity in the disfavor of competition and conformity. But most importantly: flexibility!


So if we “think outside the box” in regards to critical thinking, we can pull out some great ideas from under our sleeves by being creative and, communication is going to help us in expressing and understanding this. Depending on the children, teenagers, or adults we are working with, we have to think of different communication styles, as well as formulate different channels to express ourselves and facilitate our student’s self-expression.

We can find several ways to enhance communication in the classroom or in other educational contexts, offering a variety of activities that can meet all the different needs that are usually present among groups. Art, literature, dance, writing, painting, singing, and acting.

Which is your favorite?
Which improvements are possible, in terms of learning and understanding, and what are the most appropriate means to achieve them?

There is no doubt that communication is fundamental in our day-to-day life; for example, arrows and street signs help to communicate directions to a driver when they are driving to their daily workplace, a baker needs to know through communication what kind of bread you want. As you can see communication is an important aspect of our daily lives.

What we can keep in mind is that communication is the greater ally also for grasping complex concepts! When delving deeper into a concept but the topic itself is difficult to understand or too delicate to be faced directly we have the chance to overcome this challenge through new creative alternatives through novels, theatrical plays, paintings, and poems…these are all great tools for stimulating the potentials of the imagination!

Through imagination we can develop and strengthen our abilities of judgment, responsiveness, and sensibility, which will help us not only to catch learning steps, but also to improve our understanding of others, which is fundamental for living in collectiveness, and, in regards to our daily it is a fundamental aspect to ensure peaceful and constructive coexistence in the classroom.

So, to direct our communication we will have to think about the subject, the purpose, the sender, the receiver, and the context of the message we would like to make clear.

Which of these communication channels do you prefer?

  • Speaking to an audience with a certain tone of voice, body language, using gestures and facial expressions;
  • Talking and taking turns in an open conversation, actively listening and providing ideas;
  • Writing encoding messages into words, sentences, and paragraphs;
  • Singing, putting messages and words to music;
  • Using technologies for communicating through phone calls, emails, and instant messages.


If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton

This quote by Isaac Newton underlines the truth that sharing means getting more, not less, especially when our focus is improving learning in the educational communities we are part of.

Collaboration is recognized as the “act of working together”, meaning the word “work” in the broadest sense of the term, as an action in all kinds of versions.

What about working in groups?

We can create the conditions for collaboration through activities and moments shared in groups; we can decide to do it with a big group, as the whole classroom, or in smaller groups. Also, we could design some activities in pairs. The possibilities are endless and all of them include social interaction, a great promoter of learning!

If we think about our daily life, we will be more or less aware that each person can master some skills better than others and at different paces. For example, if we go on a holiday with some friends, maybe some of them could be more comfortable with driving a car, someone else might be happy cooking in the evenings, whilst others might be excellent at being the responsible organizer of the trip and their group excursions.

Each person has their own area of expertise but of course, roles are not permanent, and we can be versatile and master more abilities, or none of the ones listed above; but what happens is we can learn from each other and enrich our diversity and skills together.

Setting an educational collaborative context

Assuming that individual work is an important part of learning and education because it helps us to build up personal knowledge and to find our particular learning method. We would now like to focus on the benefits of group work.

When in a bigger group, we can sit in a circle and observe the potential of human cognitive development enabled by exchanging our ideas, solving problems, and imagining solutions. In the circle, each one has the chance to strengthen and improve their social skills while respecting each other, listening to different perspectives, and training patience by waiting for our turn to take the floor. All these skills put into practice lead to more tolerance, acceptance, and open-mindedness to different viewpoints and ideas.

In the smaller groups, we can:

  • Increase the possibility to understand the didactic material thanks to the different points of view within the group;
  • Amplify the sense of confidence and trust which comes from working together to achieve a common goal;
  • Set the basis for creating mutual respect and responsibility.

By engaging students in a more active way and letting them cooperate in the process of developing meaning together, they will have to listen to each other, rather than compete for the best answer. You bring what you can bring to the table but at the same time, there is an exchange of ideas amongst the group.

But what does the educator have to do if everybody is working in a group, autonomously, without requiring any help?

Well, we could think “I just have to observe them working making sure nobody is getting hurt”. But that is not the case!

As a good art director, you will spend proper time organizing the materials, making careful choices about the tasks that will be given to the groups, as well as the instruments they would need to achieve their missions. While explaining the ideas, before getting into groups, we will use a clear and positive communication style to attain our target.

During the activities, it will be helpful to maintain vigilant care and to give support and suggestions when needed. And, last but not least, prepare the environment: it really makes a difference. As many authors of contemporary Pedagogy underlined in their research, the concept of setting space following specific guidelines can significantly influence the learning process.

Leave the traditional disposition of tables and embrace more creative ways to explore teaching material in the classroom and within group work! Try, experiment, and maintain what works and what doesn’t.

Make it happen!

A straightforward way to check if you are using the 4Cs of Education in your work is by analyzing a typical day in the classroom.

Take a piece of paper and write down all the activities and topics covered with your students. Once that is done, try to identify step by step, the communication style you used, the collaboration opportunities you provided, the space you left for facilitating your students in developing creativity, the channels you preferred to inspire them, and the opportunities they had to reflect and to welcome different perspectives using Critical Thinking.

You are probably thinking that it is “Easier said than done!”. But don’t worry, this is intended as a useful tool for our daily job, but it is completely acceptable if you want to split this process up by maybe focussing one day on some of these soft skills, then one day rest, then another day on some other skills, etc. Because each situation is unique, the 4Cs aren’t supposed to be used mechanically but they have to be tailored to meet the needs of each individual.

Have you explored your course content using the Four Cs as your compass? What were your experiences? What worked, and what would you like to work on? Please include your comments, questions, and suggestions in the comments box below.

Also, if you would like to know more about the 4Cs, check out my self-paced online course “Introduction to the 4Cs“.

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