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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 emerging global cultures, catch up with new information, and stay in touch with advancements in technology.

For example, 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 the trends and create fitting models to use in a tech-driven classroom.

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 a person willing to implement teaching and learning models suited for Generation Alpha and curious other children who yearn to be meaningful in the new global settings.

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 the economy, there is no clear-cut skill sets that can serve every emerging challenge.

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:

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

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

So, what makes the 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. These are based on learner interests, needs, strengths, skills, and culture, and emerging realities.

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

The challenges the new teacher faces 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, cab now acquire and challenge incorrect information from a teacher who fails to keep up to speed with the new information landscape.

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

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 follow, understand and learn the emerging knowledge curve surrounding technology.

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 learner.

The educator, therefore, is a persistentlearner, an avid reader, and a greedy one at that, of emerging knowledge base and smart trends.

He should also be knowledgeable in:

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

3. The new educator is tech savvy

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

It is used extensively in science, finance, manufacturing, the labor market, social-economic environment, communication, and domestic installations.

At the heart of the listed environments, technology is designed to explore and store data, and improve productivity, even as new innovations take emerging 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 shape 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, inside the classroom, in the library or prepped learning facilities, information today is no longer a monopoly.

Only a few years ago, all a teacher had to do was walk into the classroom with a textbook and get the job done. He reproduced his notes for students to copy. Understandably, the students consumed whatever was given superficially as gospel truth. This approach produced many great men and of course, not so great men.

But times have changed since information is no longer a reserve of any one person. Learners today acquire information from multiple sources and collaborations.

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 literate about global matters
  • encourage learner-centered education – cooperative learning
  • is inclusive of every learner
  • 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 of what is coming next
  • encourage career learning and guidance of the learners
  • 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 and religious affiliations

5. The new teacher is creative & innovative

It is incumbent upon the teacher of the 21st Century to instill creative and innovative intelligence in young learners, based on their skillsets, 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 smart markets.

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

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

Today, more than ever, children and learners find themselves at crossroads in the journey towards adulthood.

The extremely competitive and divergent cultures present challenges on parenting, 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 emerging teacher of the new century is

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