This is the second article in our Learning at SAS series. Please read earlier articles here.

Once we had developed our SAS vision statement—A world leader in education cultivating exceptional thinkers prepared for the future—we realized we needed to define the most important “tools” students must develop to be successful personally and professionally in life after SAS. In 2013, I hosted a 21st Century Learning Summit, during which SAS students, parents, and educators came together to identify the most important goals, or desired outcomes, for learning at SAS.

During the first of the two days, the group brainstormed the different elements of success that we ourselves used regularly in our jobs, activities, and endeavors. We surveyed the community to gain parent perspectives as well. We also referred to various research papers that examined both what 21st-century students are learning and what 21st-century economies and societies are demanding.

From this combination of SAS community perspectives and professional research, we settled on five desired student learning outcomes (DSLOs): communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and character. We then developed a definition for each that fit what SAS could and should be teaching each student in that area, from preschool through twelfth grade.

One clear memory of the summit involves the start of the second day. To gauge the relevance of each of our five new DSLOs, participants stood if they had actually used that skill in the previous week of work or learning. Amazingly, many adults stood for every DSLO, while none of our students stood for any of them! This was clear confirmation that SAS should move from an outdated learning model to one based on what the “real world” would require of our students.

Our first five DSLOs became the framework for ongoing faculty discussions as we asked ourselves whether and how each was already taught at SAS. We found a wide variety between divisions and subject areas in how they were covered. These faculty conversations convinced us to promote explicit and consistent focus on the DSLOs. They also revealed that we were missing two 21st-century skills that SAS teachers felt were also necessary: cultural competence and content knowledge. With the addition of these two important strands, we felt our DSLOs covered the skills students will most need to embrace life’s opportunities after SAS and defined what we meant by “exceptional thinkers prepared for the future.”

And, as a final note, YES, we did consciously choose to embrace alliteration in developing our DSLOs! All seven desired outcomes start with “c,” which was mostly a happy coincidence but also helps our community remember our most important goals for students. In upcoming articles I will focus on the specifics of each DSLO, starting with character.