One of the biggest questions that have faced our division over the last three years as we began a movement toward a modern educational institution, was the question of what 21st Century Learning looks like. We see videos and lists of traits that these 21st Century Learners possess and feel the push to provide meaningful, relevant learning to a generation eager to be challenged. However, it isn’t enough to hear the descriptions of these students set to music, to read articles describing how they are different. Many educators are now focused on what the 21st Century Teacher looks like, and how they will provide effective, relevant learning for students who truly are ‘of a different era.’ In considering this question with my peers, I have discussed several traits that may not appear on many of the formal documents about teaching in the 21st century, but are ones that play an essential role with teachers as they grapple with changing students and practice.
Here are my 5 traits of the 21st Century Teacher
- Driven to Learn – Educators absolutely must be driven to learn in order to teach effectively in the 21st Century. It is no longer acceptable to teach only from a textbook, to rely on the same worksheets an methods year after year without at least questioning them and researching why they are the best resource available. There is simply too much new information, too many new strategies, and new learning available to us to ignore the implications it may have for students in our classes.
- A Media Creation Expert – Whether posted online or simply used in the classroom, our materials must be highly engaging and effective. Powerpoint and Word are becoming antiquated as newer and more powerful presentation and editing suites become available to teachers. It is our responsibility to compete (where necessary) with the quality of video games and media construction in order to hook students into great learning. As media conscious teachers, we can win student attention by working with them, not against them, for their learning.
- A Digital Navigator – Not many teachers would consider themselves digital natives, but we must understand enough about digital content and how it is used to effectively operate in our student’s world. This means having social media accounts and understanding how they are used, even if you don’t use them specifically for learning. We must be familiar enough with the new digital landscape that we can help students navigate their journey online, even if we don’t (or can’t) join them.
- An Empathetic Mentor – Gone are the days when teachers dole out assignments and send students on their merry way. A modern educator realizes the plethora of factors impacting students in our current world, and strives to tailor learning where possible toward individualized needs and interests. This student-centered focus also creates learning opportunities for the teacher to learn with students, developing their teaching and collaborative skills.
- A Technology Harmonizer – As teachers of our time, we must realize the implications of pervasive technologies such as smart phones and highly mobile tablets/computers. In addition, we must find ways to ‘make it work’ with technology, which may include enlisting students to help or (as in trait 1) learn more about the technologies we are using. One of the keys here is that we work at making the technology work (in the best way we can) so the lesson becomes about the learning instead of the management of machines.
Ultimately it is our attitudes toward 21st Century Learning that will either lead us to assume these traits or not. I know teachers who cringe at the mention of the term 21st Century Learning, but really the push is less toward ‘technology’ and more toward effective learning experiences for students. I know I want my children attending schools where teachers attend to the world and contexts of the children they teach. Otherwise, even if the teachers are using technology, they will not be creating the most valuable learning experiences possible for students who live in and interact with this 21st Century world.