15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher

Recent technological advances have affected many areas of our lives: the way we communicate, collaborate, learn, and, of course, teach. Along with that, those advances necessitated an expansion of our vocabulary, producing definitions such as digital natives, digital immigrants, and, the topic of this post — «21st-century teacher.»

As I am writing this post, I am trying to recall if I ever had heard phrases such as «20th-century teacher» or «19th-century teacher.» Quick Google search reassures me that there is no such word combination. Changing the «20th» to «21st» brings different results: a 21st-century school, 21st-century education, 21st-century teacher, 21st-century skills — all there! I then searched for Twitter hashtags and Amazon books, and the results were just the same; nothing for the «20th-century teacher» while a lot for the «21st»: #teacher21, #21stcenturyskills, #21stCTeaching and no books with titles #containing «20th century» while quite a few on the 21st-century teaching and learning.

Obviously, teaching in the 21-century is an altogether different phenomenon; never before could learning be happening the way it is now — everywhere, all the time, on any possible topic, supporting any possible learning style or preference. But what does being a 21st-century teacher really mean?

Below are 15 characteristics of a 21st-century teacher:

1. Learner-Centered Classroom and Personalized Instructions

As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to «spoon-feed» the knowledge or teach «one-size fits all» content. As students have different personalities, goals, and needs, offering personalized instructions is not just possible but also desirable. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they own their learning, increase intrinsic motivation, and put in more effort — an ideal recipe for better learning outcomes!

2. Students as Producers

Today’s students have the latest and greatest tools, yet, the usage in many cases barely goes beyond communicating with family and friends via chat, text, or calls. Even though students are now viewed as digital natives, many are far from producing any digital content. While they do own expensive devices with capabilities to produce blogs, infographics, books, how-to videos, and tutorials, just to name a few, in many classes, they are still asked to turn those devices off and work with handouts and worksheets. Sadly, often times these papers are simply thrown away once graded. Many students don’t even want to do them, let alone keep or return them later. When given a chance, students can produce beautiful and creative blogs, movies, or digital stories that they feel proud of and share with others.

3. Learn New Technologies

In order to be able to offer students choices, having one’s own hands-on experience and expertise will be useful. Since technology keeps developing, learning a tool once and for all is not a option. The good news is that new technologies are new for the novice and and experienced teachers alike, so everyone can jump in at any time! I used a short-term subscription to www.lynda.com, which has many resources for learning new technologies.

4. Go Global

Today’s tools make it possible to learn about other countries and people first hand. Of course, textbooks are still sufficient, yet, there is nothing like learning languages, cultures, and communication skills from actually talking to people from other parts of the world.

It’s a shame that with all the tools available, we still learn about other cultures, people, and events from the media. Teaching students how to use the tools in their hands to «visit» any corner of this planet will hopefully make us more knowledgable and sympathetic.

5. Be Smart and Use Smart Phones

Once again — when students are encouraged to view their devices as valuable tools that support knowledge (rather than destructions), they start using them as such. I remember my first years of teaching when I would not allow cell phones in class and I’d try to explain every new vocabulary word or answer any question myself — something I would not even think of doing today!

I have learned that different students have different needs when it comes to help with new vocabulary or questions; therefore, there is no need to waste time and explain something that perhaps only one or two students would benefit from. Instead, teaching students to be independent and know how to find answers they need makes the class a different environment!

I have seen positive changes ever since I started viewing students’ devices as useful aid. In fact, sometimes I even respond by saying «I don’t know — use Google and tell us all!» What a difference in their reactions and outcomes!

6. Blog

I have written on the importance of both student and teacher blogging. Even my beginners of English could see the value of writing for real audience and establishing their digital presence. To blog or not to blog should not be a question any more!

7. Go Digital

Another important attribute is to go paperless — organizing teaching resources and activities on one’s own website and integrating technology bring students learning experience to a different level. Sharing links and offering digital discussions as opposed to a constant paper flow allows students to access and share class resources in a more organized fashion.

8. Collaborate

Technology allows collaboration between teachers & students. Creating digital resources, presentations, and projects together with other educators and students will make classroom activities resemble the real world. Collaboration should go beyond sharing documents via e-mail or creating PowerPoint presentations. Many great ideas never go beyond a conversation or paper copy, which is a great loss! Collaboration globally can change our entire experience!

9. Use Twitter Chat

Participating in Twitter chat is the cheapest and most efficient way to organize one’s own PD, share research and ideas, and stay current with issues and updates in the field. We can grow professionally and expand our knowledge as there is a great conversation happening every day, and going to conferences is no longer the only way to meet others and build professional learning networks.

10. Connect

Connect with like-minded individuals. Again, today’s tools allow us to connect anyone, anywhere, anytime. Have a question for an expert or colleague? Simply connect via social media: follow, join, ask, or tell!

11. Project-Based Learning

As today’s students have an access to authentic resources on the web, experts anywhere in the world, and peers learning the same subject somewhere else, teaching with textbooks is very «20th-century» (when the previously listed option were not available). Today’s students should develop their own driving questions, conduct their research, contact experts, and create final projects to share all using devices already in their hands. All they need from their teacher is guidance!

12. Build Your Positive Digital Footprint

It might sound obvious, but it is for today’s teachers to model how to appropriately use social media, how to produce and publish valuable content, and how to create sharable resources. Even though it’s true that teachers are people, and they want to use social media and post their pictures and thoughts, we cannot ask our students not to do inappropriate things online if we ourselves do it. Maintaining professional behavior both in class and online will help build positive digital footprint and model appropriate actions for students.

13. Code

While this one might sound complicated, coding is nothing but today’s literacy. As a pencil or pen were «the tools» of the 20th-century, making it impossible to picture a teacher not capable to operate with it, today’s teacher must be able to operate with today’s pen and pencil, i.e., computers. Coding is very interesting to learn — the feeling of writing a page with HTML is amazing! Even though I have ways to go, just like in every other field, a step at a time can take go a long way. Again, lynda.com is a great resource to start with!

14. Innovate

I invite you to expand your teaching toolbox and try new ways you have not tried before, such as teaching with social media or replacing textbooks with web resources. Not for the sake of tools but for the sake of students!

Ever since I started using TED talks and my own activities based on those videos, my students have been giving a very different feedback. They love it! They love using Facebook for class discussions and announcements. They appreciate novelty — not the new tools, but the new, more productive and interesting ways of using them.

15. Keep Learning

As new ways and new technology keep emerging, learning and adapting is essential. The good news is: it’s fun, and even 20 min a day will take you a long way!

As always, please share your vision in the comment area! Happy 21st-century teaching!


The 10 Skills Modern Teachers Must Have

modern teachers skills

The above image is 8.5×11″ so you can print it out. PDF is available here.

There’s been a lot of talk about 21st century learners, 21st century teachers, and connected classrooms. There’s a daily influx of new technology into your inbox and your classroom feels woefully behind the times even if you’re flipping your 1:1 iPad classroom that’s already online and part of a MOOC. What are modern teachers to do with all this jargon and techno-babble being thrown at them all day long?

Simple. Take a step back. Breathe. And pick out just a small number of things you want to try in your classroom. Whether you’re itching to try a BYOD classroom or simply integrating a HyFlex model, it’s easy to take one digital step at a time, right? No need to try and revolutionize your classroom in one afternoon. That’s a recipe for failure.

In my experience, I’ve seen teachers attempt to integrate 30 iPads into their classroom by handing them out and then trying to figure out which apps are worth using. Integrating something as powerful as the iPad takes months of preparation, professional development, and buy-in by the students. If they just think ‘hey a way for me to play Angry Birds during class!’ then you have a steep hill to climb. So that’s why I’d encourage you, the modern teacher, to tackle each modern method one at a time.

In order to do this, you’ll need skills modern teachers must have. Hence the title of this post. So if you’re ready to take your classroom or digital skills to the next level, read on. In fact, these skills are worth knowing for just about every teacher at any age. So feel free to use it as a sort of checklist for colleagues.

1) Build Your PLN

NetworkingWhether you call it a ‘personal learning network’ or a ‘professional learning network’ is not important. What is important is that you know exactly how to connect with teachers, admins, and students from around the world. This network can answer questions you have about absolutely anything. Before setting off on any digital adventure, make sure your fellow teachers in your district know what you’re up to and then be sure to connect with similar teachers around the world. So update your Twitter stream, start using Google+, and get to know Learnist.

2) Establish Real Relationships

Whether it’s online or offline, the ability to establish real relationships is critical to any modern teacher. So what do I mean by ‘real’ relationship? Simply put: know more about someone than their screen name (if online) or first name (if offline). Spend some time (digital or in-person) with the people you want to get to know a lot better. Go out for a coffee, have a Skype chat, shoot them an email with some questions. If this person is someone that you think you can learn from, spend some extra time actually becoming a trusted friend of theirs. You’ll be glad you did.

3) Understand Where Technology Fits In Education

online 390 x 250As mentioned above, we are simply deluged with new tech toys for education on a daily basis. No exaggeration: the Edudemic email account sees on average 750 emails a week from people wanting coverage or to alert us to some new tech. That’s more than 100 emails a day! Teachers get similar emails from companies, colleagues, and administrators on a daily basis as well. So figure out where technology actually fits in education. That means you need to establish a mental filter that lets you look past the bells and whistles of a new piece of tech and figure out exactly what it does to help you.

If you can’t figure out how a digital tool helps you in under 15 seconds, you don’t need it. Simple as that.

4) Know How To Find Useful Resources

There are plenty of education technology resources out there. Edudemic is just one of them. We don’t bring you every single bit of edtech news to know about. So I’d recommend becoming familiar with RSS readers and social news aggregation tools. For example, you should have a Google Reader account that you carefully curate over time. You should also be trying out Zite, Rockmelt, and perhaps even Digg. While not always education-based, these mobile news readers are indispensable for any modern teacher on the go.

5) Manage Your Online Reputation

online-gossipSometimes called ‘digital literacy’ and sometimes an ‘online reputation,’ modern teachers need to know how to manage how they appear online. I’m not talking about not posting scandalous photos on Facebook. I’m talking about making sure your LinkedIn profile is accurate. Making sure you’re on the right social networks (probably don’t need to use Snapchat or Vine to connect with fellow teachers) and not leaving too many digital footprints in different places. For example, if you’re an early adopter of web tools and apps, be sure to close down your accounts if you stop using the service. Remember Google Buzz? Color? MySpace? It’s probably worth the effort to either close down your accounts or at the very least remove your connections to these networks. For example, you can click on your ‘connections’ tab in Facebook to see where you’ve used Facebook to log into other networks. It’s worth trimming back these connections on a regular basis.

6) Know How To Correctly Blog

There’s no completely correct way to blog. You can blog by uploading snapshots of your classroom onto Tumblr or you can blog by sharing your lesson plans and thoughts on aWordPress site. Heck, you can just upload memorable quotes from your day to a Blogger account.

But there is a wrong way to blog (and modern teachers should know what that is). It’s basically sharing too much information online. I’m not talking about over-sharing thoughts on the lessons you’re working on, flipping your classroom, etc. I’m talking about sharing too much information about people who don’t know what you’re doing. In other words, you should upload information about people only when you have their permission and that they know their info is going up. You should simply never share the personal information of students or just about anyone else. Stuff like that. Modern teachers usually know this but it’s worth a quick reminder. Be careful what you blog as it’s nearly impossible to completely delete. Once you hit publish, it might as well be etched in stone. (fun sidebar: ‘etched’ has the same letters as ‘edtech’)

7) Slow Down

slow signDon’t read just the headlines. Don’t speed through a lesson just because it’s nearly the end of the day. Slow down and catch your breath. If you find yourself finishing one lesson but not having enough time to adequately explain the next, slow down. Spend some time figuring out the best ways to augment your current lesson to make it even better. Ask questions, see if technology could play a role, just have fun and don’t feel rushed. This skill is not to be able to ‘drag out’ a lesson but instead to let it breathe enough to the point where students have spent enough time on it to make a lasting impression. Big difference and knowing what that difference looks like is key.

8) Make Social Media Work For You

Figuring out the best social network to use is tough. There is a lot of trial and error. But here’s the thing: you need to simply figure out the best way to make social media work for you. By that I mean you need to curate the list of people you follow on Twitter, manage your friends on Facebook, and follow the most appropriate boards on Learnist and Pinterest. If you don’t periodically trim down and monitor who you’re connecting with on social networks, you’ll face a tough decision of choosing to give it all up or simply use it less. Easier to just regularly manage your contacts and make sure they’re providing useful information and resources.

9) Don’t Be Afraid Of Failing

Twitter Fail WhaleLike I said in #3, you need to know when technology is right for you. 99% of the time, you don’t need the newest gadget or web tool. But let’s say there’s a great resource that you want to try. This is the time when you need to not be afraid to fail. You need to not be afraid that your students, colleagues, or administrators are going to find fault with what you’re doing. Just believe in yourself and know that you simply can’t go wrong with just trying it out. So don’t be afraid. Jump into trying out new technology with both feet and don’t look back. But if that new technology doesn’t work as you want or at all … don’t be afraid of cutting your losses and moving on.

So to sum it up: half of trial and error is error. You might as well try!

10) Know When To Disconnect

Finally, this may be the most important part of being a modern or connected teacher. You have to know when to disconnect. You need to know when to say that your Twitter stream is feeling a bit too overwhelming and that you need to spend more time managing other aspects of your life. Whether you move onto lesson planning or just kicking back and watching a movie, variety is the spice of life. It’s also critical to not becoming a modern teacher that is completely burned out by this time next year.


How to use SOLE in your school

Just what is a self-organised learning environment, and how can it help teachers? School In The Cloud’s Sally Rix explains how the idea changed her career tremendously.

Up until a year ago I was a History teacher, a job I adored. I know this is preaching to the converted, but working with teenagers is just the most interesting, funny and challenging way to spend your time,and I absolutely loved it. However (and I doubt this is particularly surprising to anyone reading), I had grown increasingly frustrated with our system of education.

Cue some life-changing CPD (seriously!), as my school invited professor of Educational Technology Sugata Mitra to come and talk to us about self-organised learning. As I sat there listening, I found myself vigorously nodding away as he shared his observations about the current education system (to the amusement of those colleagues sitting around me). I know that many people reading will have heard of Sugata and typically, to have heard of him is to have a strong opinion about him, but I’m not here to try and convince you about the more contentious parts of what he says. Rather, I want to share with you the alternative learning process that he offers, a process which gives students the opportunity to become enthused by learning and fired by curiosity. The process is SOLE (Self-Organised Learning Environment) and it’s possible in any subject, in any classroom, with almost any age group.

A SOLE works like this:

It’s a fairly straightforward process, but here are some suggestions for getting the most out it:

  1. Set the environment up carefully. It’s great if you have an area dedicated to SOLE, but that’s not always practical. To create an appropriate environment, make sure that the seating encourages collaboration. It doesn’t matter how – group the tables, let students rearrange the furniture – but make sure it’s easy for them to work together. Students also need access to the Internet, but limit the number of computers available – if they have access to one computer each they are likely to drift off to work alone; ideally you want about one computer for every four students.
  2. Pose a question you are genuinely curious about. It’s one of those strange quirks of teaching that you spend much of your time asking questions you already know the answer to. Not only do you know the answer but, however much time a student has spent on their homework, you’ll still be able to give a better answer than they can. It’s just one of those natural advantages you have when you’ve got a degree and you’re talking to an 11 year old. And yet we hope that students will get excited about learning something and be diligent about sharing it, even though they know that we knew the information already! In a SOLE, the question should be something that you don’t have an easy answer to, so that when students are sharing their findings, you’re learning something too. It’s so motivating for students when they realise they’re on a genuine process of discovery and you’re right there with them.
  3. Google your question (other search engines are available!) The success of a SOLE session relies on the quality of the question posed, so once you’ve thought of one, spend some time searching it yourself. Ideally it should be big and open, leaving students to explore a number of different avenues, so you don’t want to find that the top search result links to a website dedicated to answering your question! This will also enable you to look at the kind of information students are likely to find, so you can see if they will touch on the areas of the curriculum you were hoping for.
  4. Say ‘I don’t know!’ A lot. At the start of your session make sure that students know they are free to self-organise, then try to step back completely. It can, of course, be incredibly difficult to do this, especially if students are asking for help. Try saying ‘I don’t know’ whenever they ask a question to encourage them to rely on themselves and each other rather than on you. If you do decide to intervene at any point, phrase what you say as a question rather than an instruction.
  5. Remember that good SOLE learning is likely to look very different to the usual. Stepping back and letting students assume responsibility offers a really useful period of observation, but it can take time to work out what engagement looks like in a SOLE. Seemingly diligent behaviour can result in little more than a pretty presentation, while some apparently distracted students might offer very thoughtful answers or even critiques of answers given by their classmates. Things are not always what they seem so keep an open mind!
  6. Praising and challenging are not mutually exclusive. Make sure that students have the chance to fully share their findings in the debrief and encourage them to question each other. While this process should be characterised by praise and encouragement, students can (and should) be asked to justify their answers if they offer inaccurate or incomplete information. Ideally they will challenge each other, but while they are still developing the skills to do this it is beneficial that you model the process for them.
  7. Don’t expect to get it right first time! For many students, SOLE is a whole new way of learning and it can take time for them to develop the appropriate behaviours and attitudes. Be prepared to give them a little time to work these out and don’t be disheartened if you your first SOLE session doesn’t go quite as you hoped! Like all aspects of teaching it takes time to get it exactly how you want it. But it’s worth it.

I said that the CPD where I first learned about SOLE changed my life – I wasn’t joking. I spoke to Sugata afterwards and mentioned that I’d been half-inspired to do a PhD. He answered that there might be an opportunity coming up to do just that at Newcastle University, which is how I ended up here today. I love teaching, I can’t imagine doing anything else long-term, but I’ve had an incredible year starting my research into SOLE. One of the things that makes it so enjoyable is the contact I have with people, from all over the world and in numerous different contexts, who tell me that SOLE has helped not only to change the way they teach, but more importantly the way their students learn. If you’re even just a little bit curious, I really would recommend that you give it a go.


Digital skills students need for the future.

In a recent research article published by PEW Internet under the title » The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools «, 91% of teachers surveyed report that » judging the quality of information » as the top of the digital skills students need for the future. Similarly, another 91 report that «writing effectively» as being essential skill for students while 54 % of teachers think that working with audio, video or graphic content as being important but not essential.

Reading these stats together with other sections in this research  made me think that the teachers surveyed in this study  ( so as not to fall in the blander of generalization ) put digital citizenship on top of the continuum of digital skills ; in other words, knowing how to use web tools comes secondary to knowing the reasons for which to use them, or at least that is how I interpret it. Have a look at the graph below and try to read the entire report to learn more about this study.


23 Roles of the 21st Century Teacher

The roles of educators have been radically changed. From the sage on the stage to the facilitator and coordinator, teachers have been at the center of a paradigmatic shift that flickers between two instructional environments: student-centered and teacher centered.

It is obvious now that the way instruction is delivered in classrooms is completely different from how it was done in the past. Part of this change is instigated by the massive uptake of digital media and its sweeping encroachment into every facet of our life. The increasing digitization of life have brought about some new learning habits that are more independent and self centered. It has also opened the gates of knowledge and provided unrestricted access to it .
This democratization of knowledge and the  ubiquity of connectivity played its part in changing the roles of teachers. Stephen Downes put forward in the mind map below some of the salient roles educators and teachers now assume in the 21st century education. Check them out below and as always share with us what you think of them.