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 Connected Principals on 3.22.2013.

About boadams1

Learner. Husband. Dad. Chief Learning and Innovation Officer at The Mount Vernon School in Atlanta, GA. Have worked in transformation design, educational innovation, and school leadership for 20+ years.
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10 Responses to Could there actually be one “C” to rule them all?!

  1. Pingback: Could there actually be one “C” to rule them all?! | it's about learning

  2. Sonya terBorg says:

    This is great. I like the simplicity. I particularly like the idea that CONTROL is the bedrock upon which all other C words are built. This has given me a lot to think about – thank you!


  3. boadams1 says:

    Thanks, Sonya. I just read on your blog about the student-led conferences. That’s a method that I believe in strongly. And I am intrigued by the water information on your blog. I would love to know more about the passion projects and the relationship with the school in Japan.


  4. sonyaterborg says:

    The Charity Water project came about from the students during our unit that focused on persuasion. We are looking at creating authentic action and learning that part of taking action can come in the form of raising awareness. It was a really good learning experience for me and for the kids. I am hoping that as they move forward they will remember that – that raising awareness is a form of taking action. I used to teach in Japan at Yokohama International School before coming to Boise. I loved their Passion Project that they started the year I left. Around the same time that I watched it unfold, I was moved from fourth to fifth grade and knew it was something I wanted to pursue. It is sometimes easier to collaborate with people who you know personally and can be pretty frank with – which is why I really enjoy working with Kristen. I am currently writing another post on control and referencing your post here. It really has struck a chord – thank you!


  5. Pingback: The Big C | sonya terborg

  6. tasha cowdy says:

    Thanks for sharing a some great examples that I haven’t seen before. Have you come across High Tech High? I think their vision sounds interesting. Another favorite is this short clip from a young fairy scientist Thanks for your post. You have given me lots to think about : )


    • boadams1 says:

      Tasha, thanks for the feedback and additions. I do know HTH very well, and I did not include them in this list because of trying to add maybe-less-well-known examples. Riverside School in India is another fabulous example. If you have not seen Kiran Bir Sethi’s TED talk, it’s a must!


  7. Pingback: Could there actually be one "C" to rule them all?! | Connected Principals

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