The Five C’s of Educational Leadership

In previous posts, I’ve written about the 4 C’s of 21st century learning. I discussed their importance to student growth, innovation, and success. I talked about removing technology from the conversation in order to focus on the skills themselves. And like many before me, I suggested we move past the need to call them 21st century skills, and instead, refer to them as essential learning.

As I was completing a follow-up post on the addition of a fifth C, I began to consider how I might apply the essential skills of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and compassion to my role as an educational leader. Can these essential skills create a framework for leadership?

1. Collaboration

Leaders must be collaborative, willing to work with all members of the community. Giving a voice to all empowers each to take ownership of the problem and, more importantly, the solution. Encourage them to work in groups, share ideas, and find solutions together as a team. Introduce the need for roles within each group, roles based on the strengths of each member. Let the members define the roles. Create a environment that embraces the notion that collaboration is not just encouraged, but essential.

2. Communication

In leadership, Communication is a skill that is not often overlooked, as it is vital to sharing ideas and collaborating with others. There are many ways to communicate, and not all are verbal. Leaders that embrace the importance of communication explore ways to communicate, selecting methods that allow the greatest expression of their thoughts and feelings, and are appropriate for the intended audience. Often times, this means communicating the message in various ways, instead of depending on only one.

3. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

The correct answer… We encourage our students to strive for the correct answer on tests and quizzes, on homework, even in essays and lab reports. But in the world of leadership, there is rarely an easily identified “correct answer”. Leaders need to move away from the step by step approach to problem solving that is ingrained in current practices. Often times we are so fixated on getting the correct solution that we avoid offering opportunities for members of our community to work together to find the path to the solution for themselves.

As we saw in the discussion on collaboration, when given the opportunity to explore a question or problem on their own terms, members of the school community will take ownership over their solutions. Each will reflect the individual interests and passions of the group, while also synthesizing them into one solution.

4. Creativity and Innovation

Creativity is more than just artistic talent. It is a different way of thinking. Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value.” Think of it as “applied imagination.” All human beings are born creative. The trick is to continue to develop and nurture that creativity as a leader, instead of sterilizing it. We need to empower our teachers, students, and staff to develop their ability to express themselves in creative ways, explore the world without boundaries, and solve problems using divergent thinking.

5. Compassion

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of compassion for students:

We need to make a shift. Instead of just trying to meet the needs of every student, we must strive as educators to ignite and engage each child’s passion… when they feel safe and nurtured, they’re far more willing to try something new or challenging without the fear of failure.

I believe we, as leaders, need to do the same for all members of the school community. It is critical that staff feel that they are supported in their search for new and innovative ways to engage kids in meaningful learning experiences. Nothing will crush creativity more thoroughly than a constant fear of failure.


Final thoughts

Embracing the five C’s of leadership requires courage, trust in those you lead, and an acceptance of risk and failure as critical elements of the process of growth. The five parts depend on each other, each critical for the others to thrive.

So do I think the five C’s create a framework for leadership? They’ve certainly changed the way I think and act as a leader, and will continue to influence my leadership as I grow alongside the many others I work with every day.


Feature adapted from image courtesy of Flickr, Kalexanderson.


  1. Great article Rob! I would add two more Cs – Connecting children with their Communities. A great challenge where I live in Tasmania is disengaged young people (in the 15-19 age bracket). However I think that we shouldn’t be surprised that many young people struggle to find meaningful ways of engaging in society if their schooling has largely shut them off from their community for a decade. Finding ways to build children’s connections to their communities (and their culture and families) through schooling are the Cs I’m interested in exploring. Cheers, Sherridan

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