Discover the 6 Qualities of the 21st Century Teacher

The teacher of the 21st century is expected to be creative, flexible and adaptive to the emerging teaching/learning environments.

The teacher of the 21st century is tasked to stay up to date with new information, keep up to speed with advancements in technology, and make the learning process ‘active’.

He should also monitor the emerging trends in the workplace to facilitate learner acquisition of relevant knowledge, practical skills & responsive thinking.

This involves the use of technology and interdisciplinary approaches in teaching/learning environments. Only then, will he produce graduates that suit the modern-day workplace.

And now that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are making breakthroughs in the workplace, the new teacher must rewire his ‘digital thinking’ to suit the 4th Industrial Revolution and Education 4.0 vocabularies.

According to a March 2019 UNESCO working paper,

AI has started producing new teaching and learning solutions that are now undergoing testing in different contexts. AI requires advanced infrastructures and an ecosystem of thriving innovators

The end goal for the new educator is to stay ahead of the information curve and provide learners with relevant skill-sets and experiences.

In all honesty, he must be all set for the 21st-century classroom!

What are the skills to teach the 21st-century learners?

Well, a big question yet one laden with lots of challenges and possibilities. With so much happening in the domains of productivity and lifestyle, there are no clear-cut universal skillsets that stand out.

This probably explains why the antiquated ‘data dumping‘ teaching model is still used in classrooms today. But a lot is changing – and pretty fast for sure.

Conservatism in the classroom must pave way for active learning and innovative education in the new century. Where learning was a passive activity in the past, it has become more active today owing to the desire by employers to hire hands-on individuals.

Further still, the proliferation of technology in the workplace, (which in itself demands active participation) calls for more robust and active employees.

So, what is there to learn today?

In a UNESCODOC file, Tony Wagner (2010) and his team at Harvard University identified a set of 7 competencies and skills that learners need for life, work, and citizenship.

They include:

The above may not be the ultimate ‘A ‘ list of desirable skills but remains a measurable guideline for those wishing to become relevant learners and teachers in the new century.

So, what characteristics add up to the 21st-century teacher?

Just like the list above, there are no comprehensive and universal guidelines as to the ultimate characteristics of the 21st-century educator. Just as well, there are no clear-cut teaching methodologies that go with implementing the 21st-century classroom.

Nonetheless, a number of critical characteristics explained below should suffice for the 21st-century educator. Most of these are centered around personalized learning, where the emphasis is centered on learner uniqueness, in addition to interests, needs, strengths, and skills. 

1. The teacher of the 21st century is flexible & adaptive

The 21st-century teacher is meant to be flexible & adaptive enough to the emerging teaching/learning environments.

Teaching has moved away from the 20th-century classroom, into the learner-centered environment, for a more personalized model of learning.

Part of the reason for the shift is attributed to the desire to take full advantage of learner abilities and make him more aware of himself.

In addition, the proliferation of technology devices means learners can do a lot more on their own without the direct supervision of the educator.

Still, the teacher is challenged to work closely with learners to understand their needs, strengths, weaknesses, and remain aware of the influence of technology in their lives.

Learners today utilize mobile gadgets and applications as their primary sources of information, knowledge, and social discourse. However, despite these advances in educational technologies and the way learners have adapted to their changing environments, many classrooms today still employ teaching methods of the past: lecture formats, unauthentic assessments, and rote learning.


Of course, the acknowledgment comes with its boons and banes. The 21st century is loaded with innovations and dependencies that keep changing, and the teacher must change with these changes.

Flexibility in the classroom also involves acknowledging that learners are diverse and information and teaching environments keep evolving.

The modern teacher must be aware that learners too can now acquire and challenge incorrect information from the teacher. The onus is upon the teacher, therefore, to accept the changes and adapt accordingly.  

Also true is the explosion of FAKE data and information, where the teacher has the uphill task to sort through this in order to find out what is right and wrong information.

2. The 21st century educator is a lifelong learner

Whereas your typical teacher focuses on facilitating knowledge and skill acquisition – and most of the time BASED on what he too acquired from previous teachers, the new educator focuses on learning wide and promoting interdisciplinary approaches to learning.

He must stay on top of the knowledge curve with new information and innovations in order to produce learners who are explorers of knowledge.

To do this correctly, he must read wide and just as well, be an ardent follower of global trends in education and other disciplines.

The educator, therefore, is a persistent learner, an avid reader, and a greedy one at that, of emerging knowledge-base and technology trends.

He should also remain informed about the following global realities:

  • cultural relativism
  • religious relativism
  • racial diversity
  • civil literacy
  • etc.

The drive to remain current and informed becomes a motivating factor, which should trickle down to the learners.

3. The new educator is tech savvy

Technology is the fulcrum upon which productivity and socio-economic activities rotate in the 21st century.

It is used extensively in science, finance, manufacturing, the labor market, communication, and domestic entertainment. It will ultimately take over all facets of life as the years go by.

New technology means new ways to affect productivity, communicate, and teach. Technology is designed to explore and store data, improve productivity, and make our lives better.

For the Teacher, it calls for the right balance between old learning models and emerging learning realities.

As it stands, one way of promoting technology in the classroom is through blended learning.

This is how Christensen Institute defines Blended Learning:

formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.

Another way to integrate technology involves the implementation of the Smart Learning Environment (SLE) to ensure learning remains relevant.

smart learning is founded on two different types of technology: smart devices and intelligent technologies. Smart devices refer to artefacts that exhibit some properties of ubiquitous computing, including (although not necessarily) artificial intelligence; for instance, the Internet of things, wearable technology in the form of an accessory such as glasses, a backpack, or even clothing’ (p. 3). Intelligent technologies refer to learning analytics, cloud computing and AI capabilities, and are vital in capturing valuable learning data that can effectively enhance the development of personalized and adaptive learning

Regardless, the teacher has to evolve with the advancements, experiment with new hardware and software, and sort out relevant components for improved learning experiences.  

Better use of multimedia content in the classroom will also facilitate interest, engagement, creativity, and ultimately better retention of information learned in the classroom.

Below are some focal points for the tech-savvy teacher:

  • Integrate multiple technologies in the classroom
  • Integrate apps, multimedia, and e-learning tools
  • Track learner progress as an attribute of SLE
  • Analyze and explore technology smartly and extensively
  • Discover and recognize new learning environment
  • Promote the use of online virtual and other smart tools
  • Get to understand Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning better
  • Bridge learning communities and environment

A deeper look into the workings of technology will motivate the tech-savvy teacher to design even better syllabi for future educators and learners.

4. The new educator is a team leader & collaborator

The teacher of the 21st century no longer teaches in isolation as has been the case for ages. He collaborates with learners and other staff both at school and around the world to cultivate a cohesive teaching-learning environment.

This must reflect the working environment in the real world.

The reality about work today is the ability amongst employers and employees to communicate effectively while executing their respective roles.

This is done easily through the inclusion of technology in the workplace where new information is shared and moved around quickly. This allows for faster acquisition of information and the betterment of productivity.

This emerging environment in the workplace must be harnessed in the education sector before it makes complete sense in the workplace. The teacher must be willing to share information equally and learn from students who are ‘now’ capable of sourcing for more relevant learning material online.

This perhaps explains how information has moved away from the textbook and teacher only, to the internet, and therefore at the fingertips of learners.

Unlike the traditional modal of learning where knowledge was a reserve of the teacher, information today is no longer a monopoly of any one person.

Through internet repositories, collaborations, and public libraries, information is available through a click, a swipe, a tap on mobile screens, and audio-visual interactions with voice assistants.

With new innovations and variant lines of thoughts, the teacher of the 21st century should get out of his shell and

  • be a team leader
  • become a collaborator
  • encourage learner-centered education – cooperative learning
  • is inclusive of all learners
  • promote smart communication skills
  • preach accountability and responsibility
  • encourage digital citizenship
  • create new learning avenues
  • enable critical thinking and problem solving
  • become visionary and inspirational
  • encourage career learning and guidance
  • promote hands-on knowledge and skills
  • integrate the family, community, and leaders to enhance learner experience
  • invite subject professionals or science experts
  • cultivate sensitivity/tolerance to different cultures, race, and religions

At the end of the day, the learners should master the same skills and become masters in all, or most of them.

5. The new teacher is creative & innovative

It is incumbent upon the teacher of the 21st century to instill a sense of creativity and innovation in young learners, based on their interests and motivational factors.

Creativity in teaching can help learners cultivate original thought and imagination as a gateway to 21st-century challenges. On the other hand, innovative learning prepares children to think up new ideas, tools, and dimensions relevant to real life.

Most of these days are also cemented through interdisciplinary and applied learning, where learners are encouraged to integrating ideas and thoughts from different areas of the curriculum.

This prepares them for a broader marketplace when they leave school. They become more than only salary earners but innovative and creative individuals set for a much bigger world of opportunities.

The antiquated education system prepared learners for static job markets where they did not have to think beyond the month-end salary. Whereas the strategy worked for decades, the dawn of technology has dented the status quo in the second and third waves of digital transformation.

Besides technology, other challenges such as rising urbanization, overpopulation, changing climate, and the overall unpredictability of life require that the upcoming adults learn to think out of the box! In order to do this, they need the right educators in and outside the classroom.

In any case, the job market is evolving remarkably with open spaces and evolved work skills.

Out of the many, the teacher can participate and encourage some or all of the following:

  • flipped learning
  • playful learning
  • critical thinking in solving problems
  • creative collaborations
  • imaginative games
  • innovative thinking
  • cooperative learning
  • design tests
  • relevant instructional scaffolding

These are helpful because established and startup firms are constantly looking for new ideas to create better and new products for the emerging markets.

Likewise, the realities of urbanization and globalization demand that creative ones come up with smart ideas appropriate in the 21st-century.

6. The 21st century teacher is a mentor & role model

Today, more than ever, learners find themselves at crossroads in their journey towards adulthood. They wade their way through untold challenges where they can easily buckle under pressure.

Placed along their journeys include evolving global cultures, emerging morals, and the vast world of the internet. These are complicated by urbanization, street violence, substance abuse, and wanton cyber criminality.

The youth have to endure these and more if they are to grow into responsible adults.

For this and many other challenges, the teacher of the 21st century is meant to be someone they can lean on. The new teacher is also obliged to walk the talk and model as a responsible citizen of the 21st century.

The teacher should be:

  • sensitive to learner real-life challenges
  • reflective of leaner emotional challenges
  • sensitive to learner challenges in children
  • teach ethical values
  • appropriately religious and aware of divergent views
  • a mentor on cyberbullying
  • aware and mentor on inappropriate content online
  • appropriately sociable
  • a champion of physical wellness in the tech era of a sedentary lifestyle

Additional characteristics of the aspiring teacher of the 21st century:

The teacher of the new century is

  • dynamic
  • a storyteller
  • a personalized instructor
  • enthusiastic about the teaching-learning experience


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