21st Century Teachers

We have heard alot about the 21st Century Learner. We know that they are:

  • Collaborative
  • Adaptive
  • Information, media and technology savvy
  • Communicators
  • immediate and instant
  • require instant gratification

But what about the 21st Century Teacher, what are the charactoristics we would expect to see in a 21st Century Educator. We know they are student centric, wholistic, they are teaching about how to learn as much as teaching about the subject area.

21st Century teacher

The Adaptor

The 21st Century teacher is an adaptor. Harnessed as we are to an assessment focused education model the 21st Century Educator must be able to adapt the curriculum and the requirements to teach to the curriculum in imaginative ways.

They must also be able to adapt software and hardware designed for a business model into tools utilisable by a variety of age groups and abilities.

They must also be able to adapt to a dynamic teaching experience. When it all goes wrong in the middle of a class, when the technologies fail, the show must go on.

As an educator, we must understand and apply different learning styles. we must be able to adapt our taeching style to be inclusive of different modes of learning.

The Visionary

Imagination, a key component of adaptability, is a crucial component of the educator of today and tommorow. They must see the potential in the emerging tools and web technologies, grasp these and manipulate them to serve their needs. If we look at the technologies we currently see emerging, how many are developed for education?

The visionary teacher can look at others ideas and envisage how they would use these in their class.

The visionary also looks across the disciplines and through the curricula. They can make links that reinforce and value learning in other areas, and leverage other fields to reinforce their own teaching and the learning of their students.

The Collaborator

Ning, Blogger, Wikispaces, Bebo, MSN, MySpace, Second life – as an educator we must be able to leverage these collaborative tools to enhance and captivate our learners. We too, must be collaborators; sharing, contributing, adapting and inventing.

The Risk taker

How can you as an educator know all these things? How can you teach them how to use them… There are so many, so much to learn. You must take risks and some times surrender yourself to the students knowledge. Have a vision of what you want and what the technology can achieve, identify the goals and facilitate the learning. Use the strengths of the digital natives to understand and navigate new products, have the students teach each other. The learning pyramid shows that the highest retention of knowledge comes from teaching others. Trust your students.

The Learner

We expect our students to be life long learners. How many schools have the phrase “life long learners” in there mission statements and objectives. We too must continue to absorb experiences and knowledge. We must endeavour to stay current. I wonder how many people are still using their lesson and unit plans from 5 years ago.

In my subject area, Information technology and certainly in many of the sciences, especially the life sciences; knowledge, understanding and technology are fluid and dynamic, they are evolving and changing. To be a teacher here you must change and learn as the horizons and landscape changes.

The 21st Century teacher or educator must learn and adapt.

The Communicator

“Anywhere, anytime” learning is a catchphrase we hear often. Usually its paired with “life learner”. To have anywhere anytime learning, the teacher to must be anywhere and anytime. It does not have to be the same teacher, but the 21st Century teacher is a communicator. They are fluent in tools and technologies that enable communication and collaboration. They go beyond learning just how to do it, they also know how to facilitate it, stimulate and control it, moderate and manage it.

The Model

We must model the behaviours that we expect from our students. Today and tommorow more so, there is an expectation that teachers will teach values.

We, are often the most consistent part of our student life. Teachers will see the students more often, for longer and more reliably than their parents. This is not a criticism of the parents rather a reflection.

What have I missed? What else is our 21st Century teacher?

24 thoughts on “21st Century Teachers

  1. This is an excellent summary of the 21st Century Teacher. It is certainly a huge role — more so than it’s ever been. The mix of flexibility, intuitiveness, imagination and subject knowledge is complex but so necessary for our new generation of learners. They are far more difficult to engage and are super-connected. Education is so exciting at the moment with the technological changes. It would be interesting to know how our new teachers are being prepared for this ever-changing and challenging role.

  2. Hi Erin
    I agree with your question what is being done to prepare the teachers of tommorow? They have a huge job, as do the current teachers trying to adapt.
    But what are the colleges of eduction doing to prepare teachers for teaching and learning in a new mode?
    Certainly the student teachers (pre-service teachers ) I have seen are not particularly adept at the integration of these emerging technologies into the classroom. Most can recognise a smartboard 9 times out of 10, but use this tool….
    thanks for your reply and for your very vaild question


  3. Excellent post! I think the 21st century teacher and the 21st century student need to share the same qualities – they are both the 21st century learner, right? I wrote a post about this a while back and included both students and teachers in the same understandings about 21st century literacy.

    I also wonder about being content creators. Maybe that’s included in one of your categories above, though. I love Steve Hargadon’s idea of pro-sumers – producers and consumers of information in order to truly process and internalize what we’re learning. What do you think?

  4. I agree they have to learn with the students. They must learn and adapt, and take risks and let the students take the lead role.

    I suspect that one key difference is that they (the 21st century teacher/educator) must also have a clear vision of the goals, objectives and end points he or she must reach.

    I can not see the assessment regimes most education systems have reaching out from their 18th century origin and making it to the 21st century in a hurry, so teachers will still be constricted by the exam/assessment pressures no matter what pedagogoical appraoch they undertake.

    Thanks for the replies – much appreciated

    If you like Steve, you will probably enjoy wikinomics and the world is flat if you haven’t already


  5. This is such a great insight. I train teachers about the digital native all of the time. I would love to use this, and give you credit of course, as I talk with teachers about their changing roles. Thanks for the post.

  6. I like what you’ve started here… I realize you’re coming at it from an ICT integration perspective, but you’ve given me something to think about, even in the general sense.

    Also, I’d like to get my hands on a reference (if you happen to have one) for the 6-item list you give for the 21st century learner. I’d like to read more on this.

  7. Hi Nicole,

    I don’t have any references as I have written this one myself. I am coming for an integration perspective as this is one of my areas of interest and responcibility.
    There is much written about the 21st century learner but very little written about the 21st century teacher who is meant to facilitate and enable all of this learning.
    I have seen with my own students that theya re very capable of learning and operating the tools, but they often lack the insight (not suprisingly) to apply these tools and technologies to learning.

    I agree with Sheryl and Kims comments about 21st century teachers are 21st century learners first. But teaching is more than just being a learner, learning is essential, its crucial, but teaching is so much more. We must have a wide perspective, have huge tolerance and be able to adapt, manipulate, evaluate and create. Its very Bloom’s…

  8. So, just to keep the conversation going, would you say that a 21st Century learner doesn’t need to:

    have a wide perspective, have huge tolerance and be able to adapt, manipulate, evaluate and create?

    I would say that they do – and I would say that I expect learners to be reaching all levels of Bloom’s taxonomy as well.

    I wonder if thinking of our teachers as learners too will enable us to better meet their needs (as tech facilitators/coordinators)? I wonder if teachers thinking of themselves as learners is a very 21st century perspective? I wonder if we all think of ourselves as learners would enable us to have a wide perspective, have huge tolerance and be able to adapt, manipulate, evaluate and create?

  9. I think that the teaching profession still has a shortage of 21st Century Teachers as you describe them… so such a teacher must also be a leader! We Model for teachers as well as students!

    They must also be Reflective although I would put that characteristic within The Adaptor and The Learner rather than creating a new category. Self assessment is key. Questioning of practice is essential.

    Essentially, I’m not really adding anything new, just expanding on the thoughtful ideas you have come up with… great post!

  10. Hi Kim and David
    Thanks for the comments they are really useful and help to shape this. I have taken the post and placed it on my wiki as well so that I can easily modify and refine it, as these discussions continue.


    The wide perspective is a comment shared by a colleague of Mine – Rod Fee – who suggested phrased it as the inter-disciplinarian or the integrator. A wide perspective is very necessary. I felt this would be an addition to the visionary – the ability to look at multiple subject areas and links them – cross curricula approach.

    Adapt, evaluate and create – the higher ends of Bloom’s taxonomy are inherent in teaching and as both you and Sheryl pointed out are part of the 21st century learner, which 21st century educators should be.

    I do like and think there is value in reflection it could be part of the model. We encourage our students to be reflective, do we “walk the talk”.
    Leadership is I think another whole criteria, that I have neglected. The leader is crucial, whether its a champion or the quiet facilitator supporting and coaching, leadership is vital.

    Great comments, thanks


  11. Having taught in a BEd program here, I had the chance to see a full range of arising science teachers from tech gurus to cyberphobes. It was a huge learning process for me because I had assumed that by default a science teacher in their final term would by now already be adaptable and certainly at least aware of the possibilities that technology could give them in their teaching. It seemed like a no brainer to me.

    Perhaps (I say perhaps because I am conflicted) – perhaps I learned from my students (who were now preservice teachers) that a great teacher in the 21st century may not necessarily have to leverage 21st century tools, but he or she still needs these other characteristics (i.e. adaptive, collaborative, visionary, etc.), albeit in a different way.

    So I agree that we need leaders – but leaders in all creative aspects of great teaching.

    One final thought. Where would you fit patience, resilience, and acceptance into your model? With all of the non-academic, social issues that teachers face, sometimes these come to the forefront. Is the 21st Century teacher everything to everyone? Do we (society) expect them to be?

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  14. This is a great post with so much to share with my colleagues. To speak directly to Nicole’s question. Is the 21st century teacher everything to everyone? I have personally felt that academics for a long time has assessed learning from a very narrow standpoint. As we all know there are many different styles of learner. Therefore we need to be broader in our assessments we really do need to be in a world where we are nurturing and teaching to everyone in everything. It would not make a great director of a fortune 500 company if all they could do was form perfectly correct essays, record and formulate great mathematical problems however, they couldn’t speak in front of a crowd or quickly make a decision and then see it is delegated and collaborated. Lets open the box and learn,teach and be taught through our students. By using the tools of technology and relying on our students it can’t be that hard can it?

  15. This post is a very helpful framework for thinking about a model for 21st century teachers.

    And I agree–I wonder what schools of education (in general) are doing to support new teachers in this sort of model. But I think it’s also important as new teachers enter our own buildings, that we provide enough scaffolding and modeling for them that they feel supported in this kind of role. We tend to resort to the “way we were taught” when hurried or unprepared, and new teachers have a lot on their plates, generally.

    Kim, loved your questions–
    “I wonder if thinking of our teachers as learners too will enable us to better meet their needs (as tech facilitators/coordinators)?” and this one –”I wonder if we all think of ourselves as learners would enable us to have a wide perspective, have huge tolerance and be able to adapt, manipulate, evaluate and create?”

    I think tolerance and flexibility are such important qualities for us to have. And I do think leadership on a campus has a great role in creating a safe, creative environment where teachers feel very supported in taking risks, and being flexible.

    I also have been exploring this idea of cocreating curriculum WITH our students instead of planning the curriculum and then covering it. I think an approach that is more of a partnership, like Robert Fried talks about in “The Passionate Learner” is intriguing in how it changes the structure of the classroom.

    Thanks again for outlining this model!

  16. Hi Carolyn,

    Tolerance and Flexibility are hugely important for the 21st Century Educator, in a world that is so rapidly changing and evolving, with knowledge growing exponentially – they are vital.

    It is interesting that we are identifying these as key for 21st Century learners, but they are no less valid or important for the 20th century teacher too. One only has to think of our own students, to realise how flexible we have to be to handle with care and consideration the teenage angst.

    I like the partnership with our students, that sits well with me, but as teachers as the director or conductor of the learning band we have to have the outcomes and goals in mind.

    Passionate learners – a day where you don’t learn something is a day wasted.

    Nice reply thanks for that


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  21. There are at least two spelling errors you need to fix.

    The comparison between the 21st century teacher and traditional teaching has been called into question in the book, FOCUS, by Mike Schmoker. Effective practices in education works, with or without technology. However, I believe educators need to use technology with effective practices to meet the needs of the future.

  22. I concur with Sheryl. Every honest educator knows that the advent of electronic education, and what used to be called the science of information retrieval, has expanded/exploded at ‘warp’ speed. If traditional digital immigrants like myself are going to remain valid and relevant as educators of digital natives, we must quickly re-enter the learning environment and adjust to the way they have accidentally trained themselves to learn. The task is modifying the methodology to be palatable and engaging to the digital native student.

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