Discover the 6 Qualities of the 21st Century Teacher

The teacher of the 21st century must keep up with advances in technology, read wide, and marry learning content to skills.

Updated Jul 23, 2022
21st century teacher

The teacher of the 21st century defers from the 20th century teacher because of what learners expect from him. They want him to marry classroom content to 21st-century skills, and integrate digital tools in the learning environment.

The new learners coexist with technology devices at home, and strongly believe these should be part of their education, just as they are in their lives.

And they are not alone. Governments around the world and stakeholders in the education sector strongly believe technology should be used in the 21st-century classroom.

The new teacher, therefore, must keep up with advances in technology, stay updated about new information, and make the learning process active.

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

Besides AI and ML, teachers must also prepare to use virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies in the classroom. Using platforms such as the Metaverse, learners and teachers will benefit from a whole new immersive learning experience in 3D.

The metaverse is a digital reality that combines aspects of social media, online gaming, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and cryptocurrencies to allow users to interact virtually. 

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Teaching and learning in virtual spaces is a sure way to make education more interesting, because it will bring content closer to the learning environment. Inside these spaces, learners will benefit from vast information and extensive collaborative opportunities.

By using avatars, they will teleport to all corners of the world and connect with new learning experiences.

The virtual learning environment is also a lifesaver when education is hit hard by a pandemic, just like it happened in 2020. Covid-19 surely stopped education in its tracks, and this should not happen again in the 21st century!

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

Well, with so much to learn about the evolving workplaces, there are no clear-cut universal skill sets 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 the way for active learning and innovative ways to provide learners with an education that makes sense today.

Where learning was a passive activity in the past, it must become active today because employers want to hire hands-on individuals with competitive working skills.

So, what is there to learn today?

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

The 21st century skills have been grouped into 3 categories namely;

  • Learning and innovation skills
  • Literacy skills
  • Life and career skills

All in all, they include the following and much more:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills
  • Curiosity and imagination skills
  • Agility and adaptability skills
  • Initiative and entrepreneuriship skills
  • Effective oral and written communication skills
  • Access to and analysis of information skills
  • Collaboration and leadership skills

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 ultimate teacher of the 21st-century ?

21st century teacher
Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

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 for effective learning in the 21st-century classroom.

Still, a few important factors explained below should suffice most of the time.

Many of these are centered around personalized learning, where education is centered around learner uniqueness, interests, needs, strengths, and skills. 

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

The 21st-century teacher is expected 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. The old ‘top-down’ model of teaching is being cast aside, given the power of the internet, where information is available in plenty and always on.

Part of the reason for the shift stems from the desire to take full advantage of learner abilities to make him more aware of himself.

Learners can do a lot more on their own without constant supervision by the educator.

Still, the teacher is challenged to work with learners to understand their needs, strengths, weaknesses, and 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.

UNESDOC

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 realities.

Flexibility in the classroom necessitates realizing that learners are different, and that information and educational settings are always changing.

The modern teacher must be aware that learners too can acquire and challenge incorrect information from the teacher. It is upon the teacher 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, to find out what is right and wrong information.

2. The 21st century educator is a lifelong learner

To appreciate the benefits of a lifelong learner, it is necessary to recognize why it is no longer sufficient to just know things, but also to be intrigued about what the future holds.

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 reading wide and on the hunt for new information.

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

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

The educator, therefore, is a persistent learner, and avid reader 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 in science, finance, manufacturing, the labor market, communication, and domestic entertainment. It will ultimately take over all areas 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 life better for all of us.

For the Teacher, it calls for the readiness to try out new technology devices, and to discover the right balance between old learning models and emerging learning realities.

As it stands, promoting technology in the classroom is done through blended learning and other teaching methodologies.

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.

This is how Christensen Institute defines Blended Learning:

Another way to integrate technology involves the implementation of the Smart Learning Environment (SLE) to ensure that 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 seek relevant components for improved learning experiences.  

Better use of multimedia content in the classroom will also facilitate interest, engagement, creativity, and ultimately better use 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
  • Integrate augmented reality(AR) and virtual realty(VR) in the classroom
  • Bridge learning communities and environment

A deeper look into the workings of technology will motivate the tech-savvy teacher to design even better syllabuses 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 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 among 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 facilitates faster acquisition of information for improved 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

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 create new ideas, tools, and dimensions relevant to real life.

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

This prepares them for a broader marketplace when they leave school. They will 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, challenges such as rising urbanization, overpopulation, changing climate, and unpredictability of life, require that the upcoming adults learn to think out of the box!

To do this, they need the right educators in and outside the classroom.

In any case, the job market is evolving exponentially with open spaces and 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 for established and startup firms, who are constantly looking for new ideas to create better and new products for emerging markets.

Likewise, the realities of urbanization and globalization demand that creative learners 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 are 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 must endure these and more if they are to grow into responsible adults.

For this and other challenges, the teacher of the 21st century is meant to be someone they can lean on, to model the 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

3 responses to “Discover the 6 Qualities of the 21st Century Teacher”

  1. Wakeely Avatar

    Beautiful facts, technically revisit and up-to-date. It’s added a value. Thanks

    1. Alfred Amuno Avatar

      Glad to know Wakeely … thanks

  2. Ndengeza Masangu Avatar

    Is there training that should be conducted on teachers who were trained through the 20th century teaching methodology who are currently teaching teaching the 21st century learner?

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