Could there actually be one "C" to rule them all?!

Some describe four “Cs” of essential skills for this 21st century – traits such as: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity.

Some list five or six “Cs.” Five: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Character. Six: the list above plus cultural competency.

Other people and organizations talk about seven “Cs.” Here is one version of seven “Cs”:

  1. Communication
  2. Connection
  3. Collaboration/Cooperation
  4. Creation/Contribution
  5. Community
  6. Continual Learning
  7. Culture

All of those C-words are great. Definitely essential.

And I believe there is an underlying “C” that provides the necessary foundation for student learners to develop all of the above C traits.


Control in the sense of ownership, investment and engagement, degree of agency and autonomy. Control to exercise choice. Control to pursue curiosity.

For student learners to develop deep degrees of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, cross-cultural competency, computational capacity, etc., don’t we need to facilitate them having more control over their learning?

Less sitting and getting. More choosing and doing.

Don’t we know at least that much about motivation, relevancy, cognitive commitment, heartfelt conviction, grit, and perseverence?

If adults migrated their traditional varieties of control (content, curricular, lesson plans, demonstration, delivery, etc.) to reflect

more coaching, then space and time and opportunity could be created for student learners to be more in control.

I am reminded of sports and arts. When student learners play a sport, they are more in control over what they do on the court,

on the field, in the water, or on the course. When musicians and visual artists engage in their activities, there is also

much doing – high degrees of control. Coaches and directors orchestrate and advise. But the athletes and players are much more in control than is the case with our stereotypical classrooms and curricula.

I am more and more convinced that a single “C” – CONTROL – may prove the bedrock for the development of all those other “Cs.” For in the giving of control, I believe we provide student learners with more opportunities to practice the skills organically and authentically than if we assign them work organized into the seven “Cs.” Through the autonomy of control – motivated by the control of choice – we naturally invest ourselves in those seven “Cs.” When we feel in control, we learn to take control, and we develop our capacities to maintain good control.

What does offering more control to student learners look like? Below I provide some examples – patches to a quilt of sorts. My examples are by no means exhaustive. But I think seeing examples helps.

I could continue this list indefinitely. There are virtually countless examples. What examples would you add?

But are there many schools – whole schools – where a core tenet of the school’s purpose, operations, and daily practices allow the students to be the primary controllers of their learning?

This morning, I asked my eight-year old son, “PJ, what are you looking forward to in school today?”

His first reply: “I don’t know dad. The teachers are in control and decide what we’re going to do and learn today. I won’t know until I get there.”


What if school taught students how to learn from a position of personal and interpersonal control? What if school remodeled and renovated based on this premise of student “locus of control?”


What if we

controlled kids less and let kids control more of their learning?

My hypothesis: those children would develop all of those “Cs” more quickly, deeply, and meaningfully.

= = =

Note: This post originally appeared on It’s About Learning on 3.21.2013. The comments there add other voices and discussion to the post. This post was cross-posted to Inquire Within on 3.22.2013.


  1. Lori Polachek said:

    Bo, thank for sharing this important post.

    Your call for a shift in control from top-down, teacher-centered, to student/ learner-centered is indeed critical.

    I would like to suggest another “C” that is powerfully important and not often considered- that is Conversation!.

    According to Judith Glaser, CEO of Creating WE Institute “Conversational Intelligence™ is the intelligence hardwired into every human being to enable us to navigate successfully with others. Through language and conversations we learn to build trust, to bond, to grow, and build partnerships with each other to create and transform our societies. There is no more powerful skill hardwired into every human being than the wisdom of conversations.” (

    Healthy conversational skill would seem to be another important overarching C, an essential condition, for success in all of the other 21st C’s

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    March 24, 2013
  2. […] Some describe four "Cs" of essential skills for this 21st century – traits such as: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity. Some list five or six "Cs." Five: Creativity, Co…  […]

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  3. Bill Wallace said:

    Tried it with 11th and 12th grade Physics Honors students. Most don’t like to be in control. Way out of their comfort zone. Labs need to be almost totally scripted or they balk at doing them. Don’t want to discover knowledge but rather be given it. Not willing to apply gained knowledge to new situations. Needed to drastically alter the course to fit students expectations. These expectations and the ability to learn by taking control and ownership must be set from the earliest grades and continues without waiver though to graduation

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    March 25, 2013
  4. […] information that might help us discover new ways to form our people in the faith. I came across this article  on essential skills for children and youth, based on the “C’s” of education. The […]

    June 10, 2013
  5. […] I wanted to create a clearer picture of specific behaviors of students. After reading this post by Bo Adams, I re-imagined the C’s he mentions in his writing and expressed them as behaviors. […]

    August 4, 2013

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