In the video below, eighth grade PE teacher Debbie Wollman — who has a strong background in dance — talks about the dance component she built into her PE program. She engaged in extensive professional development to learn how to teach a high quality unit — one that also addresses the 21st Century workplace skill of collaboration.

In Debbie’s unit, students were charged with collectively choreographing a dance piece that would be performed for their peers. Students learned the basics of movement, composition and dance vocabulary, and then were asked to create a piece that had multiple requirements for success, including a defined beginning, middle and end. Through the process of creating and learning a dance, they were also finding ways to work together, which is a “21st Century Skill”.

The students came from a wide range of backgrounds in terms of their dance education — some were engaged in out-of-school dance classes, and many had received in-school creative dance since Kindergarten. Many styles and idioms where present, and they needed to come together to create a coherent piece. Although there were team leaders, their job was not to direct and choreograph the piece; it was to facilitate a collaborative process. The students had to learn effective ways of sharing ideas, building on the ideas of others, communicating, and making sure everyone in the team was an active participant. As the students discuss in the video, collaboration is a skill students are called on to do in projects across the curriculum — and a skill that will be essential for them as they enter the 21st century workforce, where team-based environments are the norm.

This is an example of the way schools can design powerful arts learning for students within existing programs — arts learning that has impact beyond the classroom itself. Students were so highly engaged and inspired in the project of creating and performing their dance that they rehearsed during lunch and after school and started a dance club on campus. Having powerful outlets for positive social expression in the school culture keeps students engaged in school and gives them a pathway to success. Developing collaborative skills isn’t just preparation for future employment — it changes the culture of the school environment. School isn’t just a training ground — it becomes a collaborative community, powered by effective leaders and team members.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified collaboration as one of the 21st century skills for all students.

Are Marin County students prepared to thrive in the 21st Century?

For more information, see: Partnership For 21st Century Skills