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The teacher of the 21st Century is a new-age collaborator and one entrusted with facilitating the acquisition of RELEVANT knowledge and practical skills.

He is tasked to stay up to date with new information, keep up to speed with emerging productivity trends, and stay in touch with advancements in technology.

The end goal is to stay informed and therefore be in a position to provide learners with valuable skill-sets and experiences to make them well-rounded and skillful.

And now that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are finding their way into the classroom, the new teacher must keep up to speed with new digital trends and create the right teaching models for the new digital landscape.

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

To round it up, the teacher of the 21st century is an individual willing to implement teaching and learning models that are suited for Generation Alpha, Z, and other willing learners.

What are the skills to teach in the 21st century?

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 skill sets that stand out.

However, 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, in order to survive in the 21st Century.

They include:

The list arguably remains a measurable guideline for those wishing to become relevant learners and teachers in the new century.

So, what makes the ultimate 21st-century teacher?

creative work and teacher
(Image by bridgesward from Pixabay)

There are no comprehensive guidelines as to the ultimate educator of the 21st Century, and neither are there clear-cut teaching methodologies that go with implementing them.

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

A few guidelines and characteristics are under experiment around the world and should suffice for the curious educator.

Most of them revolve around personalized learning, where the emphasis is placed on learner uniqueness, based on learner interests, needs, strengths, skills, and emerging culture.

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

The new teacher must begin by acknowledging the emerging teaching/learning realities in the 21st Century.

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

The teacher is challenged to work closely with students, learn their strengths, weaknesses, needs, and skills, and become 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 remain trendy.

The modern teacher must be aware that learners too, can now acquire and challenge incorrect information from a teacher who fails to keep up to speed with the new information.  

Also true is the explosion of FAKE data and information, where the educator has the uphill task to sort between what is right and wrong information.

2. The 21st century educator is a lifelong learner

Whereas the teacher focuses on facilitating knowledge and skill acquisition – and most of the time BASED on what he too acquired from previous teachers and life experiences, the evolving trends in technology require he stays on top of the knowledge curve with new information.

He must read, practice and understand emerging trends in technology and how to apply them in real life.

Just as well, he must be an ardent follower of global trends in education, assess their relevance, and implement them in collaboration with the learners.

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

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.

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.

At the heart of the listed environments, technology is designed to explore and store data, and improve productivity, even as new innovations take shape.

New technology means new ways to affect productivity, communicate, and teach.

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

A case in point is 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 an improved learning experience.  

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

  • Track learner progress as an attribute of SLE
  • Analyze and explore technology smartly and extensively
  • Discover and recognize new learning environment
  • Integrate apps, multimedia, and e-learning tools
  • 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

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.

Only a few years ago, all a teacher had to do was walk into the classroom with a textbook and get the job done, by reproducing curated notes. Understandably, the students consumed whatever was given as gospel truth.

This approach produced many great men and of course, not-so-great men, but times have changed. Learners today acquire information from multiple sources and collaborations way beyond the imagination of teachers.

These notably include 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

  • 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

5. The new teacher is creative & innovative

It is incumbent upon the teacher of the 21st Century to instill creative and innovative ideas in young learners, based on their interest and motivation.

Creative teaching is helpful in promoting original thought and action and challenges the mind to look for NEW ideas and solutions to emerging challenges.

The antiquated education system prepared learners for static job markets they would meet once they graduated. Whereas the strategy worked for decades, the dawn of technology and globalization has dented the status quo in the second and third waves of digital transformation.

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 these:

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

Established and startup firms are constantly looking for new ideas to create better and new products for the emerging markets.

Likewise, the modern-day life challenges arising from urbanization and globalization are a cue for the creative ones to come up with smart ideas that will help to solve 21st-century challenges.

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

Today, more than ever, learners find themselves at crossroads in their journey towards adulthood. They have to wade their way through divergent cultures, morality, and of course education!

Matters are made worse by urbanization, street violence, substance abuse, and of course cyber criminality.

The youth have to endure unbearable challenges if they are to grow into responsible adults.

For this and many other factors, the teacher of the 21st Century is obliged to set a good example by becoming a good role model.

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

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

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