Being a 21st Century Teacher


Lots of people are tossing around terms in education and attaching the words “21st Century” to appear cutting edge or on the front end of trending ideas. As a teacher in the 21st century I find it amazing to see some of the things that are so called “21st Century” and yet are no different than 20th or even the 19th century ideas. With that in mind, I have reflected recently on my opinion of what it takes to be a teacher in the 21st Century and what exactly such a teacher would look like.

Obviously, a 21st century teacher should be tall, handsome and have a sweet spot for super heroes. Beyond that, I think there are some key characteristics that good 21st century teachers need.

Be a connected educator - The idea of being a connected educator is not necessarily new but is certainly transforming with the dawn of various technology tools in the area of social media. Teachers now have the ability to connect to other teachers, administrators, parents, students and other education minded people around the world with the click of a button. There are many tools out there that allow teachers to connect. Regardless of what you use, a good 21st century teacher must be connected. There is no right way to do this. For me, I use Twitter and my Blog to connect and learn from and with educators around the globe.

Be a master of technology – Now, I am not saying that a good 21st century teacher needs to have an interactive whiteboard hanging on their wall, tablets in every kid’s hand and mobile devices in every corner of the room. In fact, I think it might be more the opposite or at least a balance. In recent years educators have gone overboard with spending money and pumping technology into every corner of their schools they could possibly afford. The problem is they offered little training and much of it was used as a simple badge of honor to say they had tech in the building. Interactive whiteboards are being used as chalk boards once were, computers are being used to make flashcards and tablets are being used to do word searches. A good 21st century teacher knows the difference between what is shiny and new and what truly has the potential to transform learning for their students. A new hammer is great but a good carpenter doesn’t try to screw in a bolt with one. In the same way, a 21st century teacher knows what tools are needed and when and how to use them.

Be a reflective practitioner – This is probably one of the most important areas as we as a profession in many cases have not changed in 100 years. The tools in our classrooms have changes but the pedagogy and practice has not. A 21st century teacher is able to look at their own practice and adapt and change based on the needs of the learners. Too many teachers are teaching in the year 2012 as they did when they started their careers 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. What we know about student learning and motivation has changed, so too must the art of teaching. Stagnation is the death of any teacher.

Be an advocate – The final thing I feel is important for a good teacher in this century is to be an advocate for themselves as well as the profession. If we as teachers think someone else is going to say nice things about our profession and share positive notes on the 9 o’clock news, we are wrong. As teachers we can sit and complain about it…or we can do something about it and find ways to tell our own stories. It is a critical time in the history of education and how the profession in currently perceived in the public eye. We are under attack in many places and rather than playing the part of a wounded animal, we need to stand up for ourselves and advocate for the great work we do every single day.

None of these ideas are radical or ground breaking by any stretch. Yet, too many teachers are content wrapping up old practice with new gimmicks and wonder why we don’t get any better at what we do. If we want to gain respect as a profession then we must truly embrace a 21st century model of constant growth and improvement. If we don’t get any better we only have ourselves to blame.

9 comments:

George Couros said...

As you said in your post, there are so many skills that we need to continue to have.

I think the most important ones still transfer over and should not just be assumed. Teachers need to be learners. Maybe they do not learn and access information the people the way they used to when I went to school, but learners nonetheless. It is so important.

More importantly, they need to be relationship builders. If we are just delivers of content, teachers will become irrelevant in our world. The human component is more important now than ever. This is the most important skill for our schools. It needs to be continuously emphasized.

Thanks for your list.

George Couros said...

As you said in your post, there are so many skills that we need to continue to have.

I think the most important ones still transfer over and should not just be assumed. Teachers need to be learners. Maybe they do not learn and access information the people the way they used to when I went to school, but learners nonetheless. It is so important.

More importantly, they need to be relationship builders. If we are just delivers of content, teachers will become irrelevant in our world. The human component is more important now than ever. This is the most important skill for our schools. It needs to be continuously emphasized.

Thanks for your list.

Anonymous said...

Josh,

Great list for educators, regardless of century. My hope is that teachers actually become the first learners in their classrooms. Modeling what they want from their own students will go much farther than professing to know all of the information. Of course, that goes for principals as well. That's a lesson I'm learning more and more every day.

Thanks for the great post.

MrKVOlson said...

Josh,

Great list and ideas. I agree with George that we must continue to build relationships with our students. Additionally, we need to work on giving our students knowledge and skills that can't easily be found on Google or Youtube.

Liberty Smith said...

[Cross-post from SmartBlog]

Hi Josh! Great piece! & Please excuse length--passion will get you every time!

I did have my Wonder Woman bracelets crossed that you'd go further in discussing connection. You talk about learning from and with other educators as connection but as the cape and your public writing and thinking show, connection for you is also about being of service and having a community to turn to when you forgot your own super-cape at home.

21st-century educators are local community leaders and need to connect to others in local government, in non-profits and business, and in the community at large. This both feeds our need for connection and enriches practice by providing a deeper understanding of students' context.

When that connection is also based on providing our students with opportunities to develop reciprocal relationships of service with the community along with us, in particular through service-learning, you hit the sweet spot.

Through high-quality service-learning, students are more engaged; after all, they have the same needs to connect, serve, reflect, and learn to advocate for themselves that we do. And where you find more engaged students solving meaningful problems in their communities, community leaders learn to see schools and students as community assets and become vocal advocates for education with us.

Liberty Smith Ph.D.
Education and Technology Consultant
(and past coordinator of the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse for the under-advocated and now defunded Learn and Serve America)

Anonymous said...

Josh,

Great post. It provided some good material for me to reflect on as a teacher. You identified several issues/problems that I have felt in my own school. One of the issues is often that there is so little (or no time) for us as teachers to spend reflecting, connecting or trying to engage the children. Unfortunately, my school has spent entirely to much time on ‘canned programs’ that don’t engage students or help the teacher grow as an instructional leader. Perhaps spending time reading your post would be helpful to the teaches and staff in my building. I really connected with many of things you identified in your post. From my standpoint it is really up to the teacher to adapt to teaching in the 21st cenutry., not to use 21st century technology to teach like the 1960s. Until all teachers actually begin adapting their teaching, the profession will continue to get/have a bad reputation.

Matt

Anonymous said...

Great list (and good blog by the way). I agree that many things are labeled 21st Century. I also feel that lots of things are labeled as 'critical thinking' when we really need to define these terms better and be careful that we do not overuse them.

Anonymous said...

Great list (and good blog by the way). I agree that many things are labeled 21st Century. I also feel that lots of things are labeled as 'critical thinking' when we really need to define these terms better and be careful that we do not overuse them.

Melinda said...

I am currently a paraprofessional, and I am in a Master’s degree program for special education. Everything I have learned supports your opinion of what a 21st century teacher should look like. We are being taught to be critical transformative educators, social justice advocates and multicultural educators. We have been inspired to collaborate with our classmates and share our innovative ideas for teaching as well as connect with other teachers through various types of technology. I support your view of using technology to transform learning. Students spend so much of their time using technology, that we as teachers need to integrate this into their learning to help engage them and tie their interests into learning. We are currently reading the book “What Great Teachers Do Differently” by Todd Whitaker. A particular chapter in this book stands out when I read your blog. He states how great teachers have high expectations of their students but even higher expectations for themselves. It is our job to work hard to engage our students and keep their attention. Reflecting up your teaching is part of having high expectations for yourself. When something does not work or is not keeping the students’ attention, it is time to go back to the drawing board and reflect upon how we can improve ourselves to help our students. The classroom I currently work in engages in reflective practices on a daily basis. When something does not work, change is made, sometimes even the next day, to improve on what did not work. Although these changes may be small and subtle, many small changes can make a big different in how effectively the classroom is run and how engaged the students become. Finally, with regard to being an advocate, I think it is important to be an advocate for our students as well as for ourselves. There are so many wonderful teachers doing wonderful things out there, and we should let the world know this. That being said, we also need to be advocates for our students. As I read in one of your blogs titled “The Victim” regarding bullying, some students are quiet and may not advocate for themselves. It is vital that we go out of our way to connect with students so that they can feel comfortable to reach out and advocate for themselves.