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!


How Teaching Is Changing

GPM NASA Social at GoddardHow Teaching Is Changing: 15 New Realities Every Educator Faces

by Terry Heick

It’s tempting to say that no matter how much technology pushes on education, every teacher will always need to know iconic teacher practices like assessment, curriculum design, classroom management, and cognitive coaching.

This may end up being true–how education changes in the next 20 years is a choice rather than the inevitable tidal wave of social and technological change it’s easy to sit back and wait for. Think of the very limited change in education since 2000 compared to the automotive industry, computer industry, retail consumer industry, etc. Huge leaps forward are not a foregone conclusion.

But it’s probably going to be a bit different than that. There are certain areas where significant change is more probably than others. It doesn’t seem likely that eLearning–as we now understand and use the term–will replace schools and teachers. Online courses are inferior to in-person teaching in too many important ways to completely supplant teachers and schools. (Blended learning is more likely to be the “norm” in the next decade.)

We’ve written before about the kinds of “things” modern teachers must be able to do. Below are 15 tasks that are less skill-based. and a bit more conceptual, collectively representing how teaching is changing.

(Hint: It’s no longer about classroom management, testing, and content delivery.)

How Teaching Is Changing: 15 New Realities Every Educator Faces

1. Personalization

The Old: Administer assessment, evaluate performance, report performance, then–maybe–make crude adjustments the best you can

The New: Identifying, prioritizing, and evaluating data for each student individually–in real time

The Difference: Precision

Or rather, determine the kind of data is most important for each student, figure out a way to consistently obtain that kind of data, and then either analyze it personally, or monitor the algorithms that are doing it for you.

This is not unlike an automotive mechanic moving carburetors to fuel-injection systems (that are no themselves becoming outdated) in the 1980s and 1990s. The former was crude, requiring frequent corrections and “tune-ups”  done by hand; the latter was far more precise, and required new skills on the part of the mechanic. Rather than making mechanical adjustments, mechanics became system managers. That is, they spent more time adjusting the systems–sensors, ECUs, etc–that themselves were making the adjustments.

2. Data forms

The Old: Numbers, letters, and maybe a bar graph or pie chart

The New: Making data that’s beautiful. (Or at least visual.)

The Difference: Meaning & accessibility


More and more, teachers have to design data sources and visualizations—usable data applied meaningfully. The days of taking a test and waiting for results have been gone for years. Soon it will be time to put behind us the process of even instant data results unless that data is packaged in a way that promotes seamless revision of curriculum, assessment, and instruction.

Or pushed further, which content a student encounters, when; which community they connect with, when; which level of “cognitive intensity” they reach, when. Take the following data visualization for example.

Big Data: water wordscape

“In this example, Deb Roy’s team captures every time his son ever heard the word water along with the the context he saw it in. They then used this data to penetrate through the video, find every activity trace that co-occurred with an instance of water and map it on a blueprint of the apartment. That’s how they came up with wordscapes: the landscape that data leaves in its wake.”

Incredible, no? Tomorrow’s teachers will then need to make important decisions about the kinds of metrics taken (see above), and the way it is visualized so that important patterns, trends, and possibilities are highlighted.

3. Classroom management

The Old: Minimize negative interactions (fighting, bullying, etc.) and promoting compliance with rules and “expectations”

The New: Analyze and coordinate student social interactions

The Difference: Scale


This could mean physical communities or digital. Teachers need to mobilize students, whether within classrooms, schools, and on campuses, or within local communities in a place-based learning or project-based learning scenario. Teaching digital citizenship, connectivity, and possibility will be more important than teaching content.

This is a reality faced today, not tomorrow.

4. Teaching

The Old: Delivering content shaped for universal consumption

The New: Modeling affection and curiosity

The Difference: Truly valuing how students think


Today’s teacher has to demonstrate for students not how to solve problems, but why those problems should be solved. It will be less about creating a PBL unit where students clean up a local creek or park, but rather teaching the students how to identify and work through those needs themselves. This is the human element of affection–honoring the things and spaces around you as a way of living.

The same goes for curiosity–thinking-aloud through a self-reflection. Challenging student assumptions through digital commenting or face-to-face interactions–and connecting them with communities that can do the same.

5. Content

The Old: Initially it was teaching “a class,” and then it became a list of standards

The New: Reconcile hundreds of academic standards–standards that include technology, citizenship, literacy, etc. This goes way beyond “content areas.”

The Difference: Integration


Which means not just knowing the standard, planning for its mastery, and then “teaching” it, but reconciling discrepancies “horizontally” within and across content areas, and then “vertically” across grade levels as well. And further, it’s no longer just about your class or content area, but also standards from a dozen other organizations that all chime in with well-intentioned but ultimately unsustainable to-do lists.

6. Lesson planning

The Old: Manage grouping, finishing classwork, and creating a “system” for homework

The New: Personalizing workflows based on constantly changing circumstance (data, need to know, student interest, changes in community, etc.) using flipped classrooms, digital distribution, and even self-directed learning

The Difference: Authenticity


Given local context and circumstance–technology, bandwidth, social opportunities and challenges, etc–what kind of workflow is most efficient for this student?

Does it make sense to embed every student in every local community? Does it make more sense here, and less sense there?

Given local literacy habits and access, is it better to spend more time gathering sources, evaluating sources, or sharing sources? What kind of adjustments should we make based on what we know about the world the students are growing up in?

Does in-person mentoring make sense, or given topics of study–agriculture, robotics, literature, music, etc.–do digital spaces make more sense?

For this student, right here, right now, what exactly do they need?

7. Your students

The Old: Receiving a class roster

The New: Knowing a student’s history, place, and potential

The Difference: Becoming a more human process


Which brings us to #6 (which really is kind of the point of it all)–taking all of the mechanical and gadget-borne stuff above, and making it “whole” for the person standing in front of you. This is not new, but the complexity of making this possible on a daily basis is.

Other New Realities The Modern Teacher Faces

8. Designing learning experiences that carry over seamlessly between home and school. So, making “school” disappear and even giving the illusion that you’re working yourself out of a job.

9. Troubleshooting technology, including cloud-based issues, log-in info, etc.

10. Verifying student privacy/visibility across scores of monitored and unmonitored social interactions per week; Validate legal issues, copyright information, etc.

11. Refining driving questions and other matters of inquiry on an individual student basis

12. Insisting on quality–of performance, writing, effort, etc.–when the planning, technology, and self-reflection fail

13. Evaluating the effectiveness of learning technology (hardware, software, and implementation of each)

14. Filtering apps based on operating system, cost, complexity, performance, audience, and purpose

15. Clarifying and celebrating learning, understanding, mistakes, progress, creativity, innovation, purpose, and other abstractions of teaching and learning on a moment by moment basis


Why Teaching Is Still The Best Job In The World

alexandersaprykin-why-teaching-is-the-best-job-in-the-world7 Reasons Why Teaching Is Still The Best Job In The World

by Paul Moss 

Sometimes, good teachers quit. Teaching is an increasingly demanding job with divergent influences, dynamic sources of innovation, and aging dogma that makes it all a struggle. It can be emotionally draining, and at times, impossible.

But in lieu of that–and in an age where start-ups are glorified, entertainment is endlessly emphasized, and tech is kind, teaching continues to be the best job in the world. Or at least I think so anyway. Here are 7 reasons why.

7 Reasons Why Teaching Is The Best Job In The World

1. The potential to transform lives – ask any teacher who has helped a student in any number of ways, from academic to welfare and emotional learning, and they will tell you that life is not only good, but amazing.

2. It gives you the chance to be continuously creative – of course there are increasing levels of accountability in teaching, but teachers are allowed to be creative in every lesson. Even in observations, in fact most of all in observations, lessons are encouraged to be creative and interesting to engage the students. Teachers have so many opportunities to try new ideas, and indulge in iterative process to ensure the optimum learning environment is created.

3. It offers you a chance to continuously get better – teachers are not only encouraged to seek continuous professional development, but can ask for observation on a regular basis, to provide opportunities to grow and learn from masters or more experienced practitioners. In so few professions is there such support, and considering that as a minimum, contracts are for a year, teachers have so much time to demonstrate improvement. A growth mindset is part of the foundation of teaching.

4. It is a grounding, humbling profession – the amount of work teachers do compared to remuneration is shockingly disproportionate, in 2 senses: firstly, in terms of how many paid vs non paid hours of work they receive, and secondly, in relation to other similarly creative and important (and not so important) vocations in our society. But that is not why teachers teach. So few teachers go into the vocation for the salary – it’s a calling before anything else.

5. There is always satisfaction somewhere – teaching is a calling, and no one enters it without his or her inner voice telling him or her that. Of course there are always some imposters, but the massive majority have their hearts in the right place. How cool is that for the students?

Having said that, teaching can be and is incredibly demanding, and often we can lose sight of that calling, bogged down in aspects of the profession that don’t seem to be connected to it. But on closer inspection, most of the extra demands are actually central to the job itself: explaining to parents where you are coming from; being observed; collaborating with others; marking.

Take this last aspect, crucial to understanding whether students are learning what you believe you are teaching. Yes, it is very time consuming, but perhaps one of the most important and fundamental weapons in a teacher’s arsenal; any good school will understand this and the other cited demands, and create an environment where they become part of directed time.

It is when these aspects are not acknowledged in directed time that the conditions for burnout are rife.

6. It’s a chance to truly to lead the world in the 21st century – introducing students to new technologies and ways of presenting, curating, and collaborating with others with what they know is truly exciting and truly invigorating. Modern teachers are actually pioneering pedagogy, and can and will be able to hold their heads up high in the future when we look back and see how learning in this day and age took a radical but enormously beneficial turn for the better.

Engaging students in greater collaboration, and instilling initiative in curation and the promotion of information leads to truly independent learning, and setting up such learning environments is an opportunity that all teachers now have before them. There are few more gratifying feelings that being needed.

7. The children. 


Of course, so much of the technological addition to teaching has all been achieved mostly through our own initiative, having to source and implement the enterprising learning strategies. But this only provides another string to our bow, and in the context of how important 21st century skills are, another example of why teaching is such an amazing thing to do. Sometimes teaching is exhausting, but friends, always come back to the core of what we are doing.

We are change makers, and that is something to be proud of. Long live teaching, still the best job in the world!

Adapted image attribution flickr user alexandersaprykin; 6 Reasons Why Teaching Is The Best Job In The World