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The Evolving Educator & Teacher of the 21st Century 


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The educator and teacher of the 21st Century is a classroom collaborator, entrusted with the enviable task of facilitating learner acquisition of knowledge and skills. He is also tasked to stay informed about the advancements in technology and science in order to spice up the teaching-learning activities with relevant digital tools. He must also appreciate the emerging global and diverse cultural reality in order to implement relevant learning models to suit the new lifestyles and work changes.

The State of the Classroom Today

The reality about education today is the absurd disconnect between what is taught in the ‘classroom’ and what is practical in the real world! Most of the time, classroom education falls short of equipping learners with the right skill-sets to face real-life challenges, because it is rarely accompanied by related practical skills they need once they step out of the college gates.

Learners are taught to memorize ‘facts’ and thereafter reproduce the same for purposes of excelling in exams. The extensive passivity and inactivity they go through during the learning years turn them into passive and inactive adults!

The absurdity is usually blamed on many factors, with the following topping the list:

  • financial constraints
  • luck of comprehensive research
  • teacher stress and burn-out
  • emerging cultural divergence
  • curriculum constraints

The learning environment in the 21st Century has also become interesting now that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have been added into the mix. Both computer hardware and software forms are evolving at amazing speeds and designed to co-exist, independent of human ‘input’ and ‘interference’.

It is incumbent upon the teacher, therefore, to delve deep into the world of AI and all tech-related sciences in order to prepare Generation Alpha and Z learners to coexist with the future smart computers and lifestyle.

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 Skills to Teach in the 21st Century

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:

  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • collaboration and leadership
  • agility and adaptability
  • initiative and entrepreneurism
  • effective oral and written communication
  • accessing and analyzing information
  • curiosity and imagination
teacher in the 21st century
A teacher and learners making use of outdoor experience to enhance the teaching-learning process. Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

So, what makes a teacher of the 21st Century?

There is no comprehensive guideline as to the ultimate educator in the 21st Century, and neither are there clear-cut teaching methodologies that go with it. That is probably why the antiquated teaching methodology which is popular for ‘data dumping’ is still popular in many parts of the world.

But a lot is changing – and pretty fast for sure. Following the birth of Generation Z at the turn of the Century and Generation Alpha inside the new Century, the modern teacher has to make digital adjustments in order to sound RELEVANT!

The children who make up these new generation cohorts only understand the workings of technology, science, and new global culture. And that is how they should be handled lest they lose interest in learning. After all, the needs of the learner rank highest in the teaching-learning hierarchy.

Does it sound too much to ask? Yes and no.

There is no need to panic. After all, humanity has learned to evolve for Centuries and somehow finds a way to blend in! Still, a few guidelines are being experimented around the world and should suffice for the curious teacher.

1. Adaptive & Flexible Teacher of the 21st Century

having options in the 21st century
Flexibility is a precious asset in the modern era. Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

Yes. It starts by acknowledging the realities of the 21st Century. It involves the teacher prepping up his mindset and embracing new knowledge and skills, with readiness to readjust and sacrifice a few things here and there. Of course, the acknowledgment may come with its boons or banes. The 21st Century comes reloaded with tech innovations and dependency, which keep changing constantly. Every aspiring teacher must adapt to and change with the new innovations.

Teaching has evolved by moving away from the classroom into the world and has become learner-cantered. The teacher needs to readjust and flow with the new wave which has been made possible by the proliferation of computers. This has enabled learners, educators, schools, and other folks to collaborate and rescue the learning experience from the classroom only.

An increasing number of learners are also capable of challenging incorrect information from the educator who fails to keep up with the information explosion.  

Also true is the explosion of FAKE data and information with an uphill task to sort between what is right and wrong. Ultimately, the teacher must reassess his knowledge of what is out there, and understand the learner of the 21st Century in order to fine-tune the digital learning experience.

The adaptive and flexible educator will most definitely create an adaptive learner, ready for the new Century.

2. The Lifelong Learner

tearner turned learner
The teacher of the 21st Century should be a life-long learner. Unsplash photo by Janis Oppliger

Whereas the teacher’s work is primarily to facilitate knowledge and skill acquisition – and most of the time BASED on what he too acquired from previous educators, the evolving trends in technology require he stays at the top of the knowledge curve with new information. The educator must be an ardent follower of global trends in education, assess their relevance, and implement them in collaboration with the learners.

A drive to stay current by the educator easily becomes a motivating factor and is subsequently replicated in the learners.

The educator, therefore, is a persistent learner and a greedy one at that, of emerging knowledge trends.

He should also be knowledgable and aware of the following:

  • civil literacy
  • resourceful
  • ready for challenges
  • ambitious
  • innovative

3. Tech Savvy Educator

the educator and laptop
The educator today needs to be tech-savvy. Photo by Sarah Shaffer on Unsplash

Technology is the fulcrum upon which most aspects of productivity and socio-economic existence are based. It is used extensively in science, finance, manufacturing, the labor market, social-economic setups, communication, and domestic installations. Even doctors today are meant to possess valuable tech skills in order to take charge of advanced medical laboratories and related facilities.

At the center of the listed environments, technology is designed to explore information and improve productivity. Nothing gets by without it. In addition, it continues to evolve every passing day Consequently, everything else, including education, continue to evolve. New technology means new ways to affect productivity or even communicate.

The teacher has to evolve with the advancements regardless of the subjects taught. This way, he will experiment with new hardware and software and sort out relevant components for an improved learning experience.  

Only then will the teacher forge out the right balance between old learning models and emerging technologies, and come up with a working formula for the digital learners.

Below are areas where the tech-savvy teacher could spend some time:

  • Analyze and explore technology smartly and extensively
  • Use tech on a regular basis
  • Practice advanced digital assessment
  • Integrate apps, multimedia, and e-learning tools
  • Promote the use of online virtual tools and related opportunities for learners
  • Get to understand Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning better

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

4. Team Leader & Collaborator

Leareners collaborate
The educator should facilitate the spirit of collaboration in learners. Image by Christina Morilla Via Pexels

Unlike the traditional modal of learning where knowledge was entrusted with the teacher, inside the classroom, in the library or limited learning facilities, information today is no longer a monopoly of anyone.

Just a few years ago, all a teacher had to do was walk into the classroom with a textbook or some written notes which worked just fine for years. He reproduced the information for students to copy. Understandably, the student consumed everything superficially as gospel truth. This approach produced many great men and of course, not so great men.

But things have changed. Information is no longer a reserve of the teacher and is not limited to the classroom. Learners too can source for this from multiple sources and collaborations. This can be done through the internet, offline repositories, fellow learners, and computerized facilities such as public libraries. Information is readily available through a click, swipe or tap on mobile computer screens, or via 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 meet the world. He should become a guide, an organizer, facilitator and ultimately a leader.

To become a good leader and collaborator, the educator should:

  • Be literate about global matters
  • Encourage learner-centered education – cooperative learning
  • Be inclusive of every learner
  • Promote excellent communication skills
  • Preach accountability and responsibility
  • Create new learning avenues
  • Enable critical thinking and problem solving
  • Be 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 Creative & Innovative Educator

get smart in the 21st Century
Creativity in the 21st Century

It is incumbent upon the aspiring teacher of the 21st Century to instill creative and innovative intelligence in young learners. They need to grow up with imaginative spirit in order to adapt to the emerging global challenges.

Creative teaching is helpful in promoting the development of original thought and action in a learner. It challenges him to look for NEW solutions to tasks, or think out of the box about ideas that were no-existent before. A creative learner ultimately comes up with new tricks to carry out assignments, in and out of the school environment.

Out of the many, the teacher can encourage some of these:

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

Technology institutions and other businesses are constantly looking for new ideas to create better products and new tech gadgets. Likewise, the emerging global lifestyle due to urbanization and cultural diversity requires that creative thinkers come up with new ideas that are helpful in solving challenges that come up with these realities.

The antiquated education system prepared learners for static job markets they would meet once they graduated. And the strategy worked for many years. The dawn of technology and globalization, however, dented the status quo. The job market has evolved remarkably and has become dynamic with open spaces and evolved work skills. This calls for a dynamic and imaginative workforce and citizens.

6. Role Model & Mentor

become an example
The teacher just like a parent needs to be a role model. Photo by Jose Moreno on Unsplash

Today, more than ever, young children and learners find themselves at crosswords while weaving their way into adulthood. They grow up in an extremely competitive and complex world and are bound to make mistakes along the way. This is made worse by the divergent cultures, which come with equally divergent views on education, parenting, behavior, morality, and practically everything else!

Matters are made worse by the global increase in violence, substance abuse, immorality, and of course cyber violence. The young people are made to endure unbearable challenges if they are to grow into responsible adults.

For this and many other factors, the teacher of the 21st Century needs to be a good role model to help guide and correct the young learners from straying. He should facilitate the teaching of good morals, in what can be regarded as a private curriculum.

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 an aspiring teacher of the 21st Century:

  • personalized instructor
  • enthusiastic about teaching-learning experience
  • dynamic
  • the storyteller of the 21st Century

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