Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher

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What does a 21st-century teacher look like to you? You may have heard this popular buzzword thrown around your school or on the news, but do you know what a modern-day educator really looks like? Beyond the obvious of being up-to-date on the latest in technology, they can have the characteristics of a facilitator, a contributor, or even an integrator. Here are six more key characteristics of a 21st-century educator.

They're Adaptive

They are able to adapt to whatever comes there way. Being a teacher in today's world means that you have to adapt to the ever-changing tools and changes that are being implemented in the schools. Smartboards are replacing chalkboards and tablets are replacing textbooks and a 21st-century teacher needs to be okay with that.

Lifelong Learners

These educators don't just expect their students to be a lifelong learner, but they are as well. They stay up-to-date with current educational trends and technology and know how to tweak their old lesson plans from years before to make them more current.

Are Tech Savvy

Technology is changing at a rapid pace and that means that a 21st-century teacher is right along for the ride. The latest technology, whether it's for lessons or grading , will allow the teacher and student to be able to learn better and faster. An effective teacher knows that learning about the latest gadget can truly transform their students' education, so they are not just current on the new trends, but really know how to master them.

Know How to Collaborate

An effective 21st-century educator must be able to collaborate and work well within a team. Over the past decade, this important skill has grown quite rapidly in schools. Learning is deemed to be more effective when you can share your ideas and knowledge with others. Sharing your expertise and experience, and communicating and learning from others is an important part of the learning and teaching process.

Are Forward Thinking

An effective 21st-century educator thinks about their students' future and is aware of the career opportunities that may arise from them. They are always planning to ensure that no child gets left behind so they focus on preparing today's children for what's to come in the future.

Are Advocates for the Profession

They are an advocate not only for their students but their profession. Today's teachers are being watched with a close eye because of all of the changes in curriculum and the Common Core . Instead of sitting back, a 21st-century teacher takes a stand for their themselves and their profession. They pay close attention to what is going on in education and they address these issues head-on.

They also advocate for their students. Today's classrooms are filled with children who need someone to look out for them, give them advice, encouragement, and a listening ear. Effective teachers share their knowledge and expertise and act as a role model for their students.

21st-century teaching means teaching as you have always taught but with today's tools and technology. It means utilizing everything that is important in today's world so that students will be able to live and prosper in today's economy, as well as having the ability to guide students and to prepare them for the future.

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15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher

A teacher reflects on our changing society and how change informs what teaching is like today.

Teacher Giving Student a High Five

Recent technological advances have affected many areas of our lives, including the way we communicate, collaborate, learn, and, of course, teach. Those advances necessitate an expansion of our vocabulary, producing definitions such as digital natives , digital immigrants , and the topic of this post— 21st-century teacher .

As I write this, I’m trying to recall if I ever had heard phrases such as 20th-century teacher  or 19th-century teacher . Quick Google searches reassure me that there are no such word combinations. Changing 20th  to 21st  brings different results: a 21st-century school, 21st-century education, 21st-century teacher, 21st-century skills. I  searched for Twitter hashtags and Amazon books, and the results were just the same—nothing for  20th-century teacher  and a lot for  21st : #teacher21, #21stcenturyskills, #21stCTeaching, and quite a few books on 21st-century teaching and learning.

Obviously, teaching in the 21st century is an altogether different phenomenon; never before could learning be happening the way it is now—everywhere, all the time, on any possible topic, supporting any possible learning style or preference. But what does being a 21st-century teacher really mean?

1. Learner-centered classroom and personalized instruction: As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to spoon-feed them knowledge or teach one-size-fits-all content. Students have different personalities, goals, and needs, and offering personalized instruction is not just possible but desirable. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they own their learning, increase intrinsic motivation, and put in more effort—an ideal recipe for better learning outcomes.

2. Students as producers:  Today’s students have the latest and greatest tools, yet the usage in many cases barely goes beyond communicating with family and friends via chat, text, or calls. Even though students are now viewed as digital natives, many are far from producing any digital content. They own expensive devices with capabilities to produce blogs, infographics, books, how-to videos, and tutorials, just to name a few, but in many classes they are still asked to turn those devices off and work with handouts and worksheets.

Sadly, often these papers are simply thrown away once graded. Many students don’t even want to do them, let alone keep or return to them later. When given a chance, students can produce beautiful and creative blogs, movies, or digital stories that they feel proud of and share with others.

3. Learn new technologies:  In order to be able to offer students choices, having one’s own hands-on experience and expertise will be useful. Since technology keeps developing, learning a tool once and for all is not an option. The good news is that new technologies are new for the novice and and experienced teachers alike, so everyone can jump in at any time. I’ve used a short-term subscription to Lynda.com , which has many resources for learning new technologies.

4. Go global:  Today’s tools make it possible to learn about other countries and people firsthand. Of course, textbooks are still sufficient, yet there’s nothing like learning languages, cultures, and communication skills by actually talking to people from other parts of the world.

It’s a shame that with all the tools available, we still learn about other cultures, people, and events from the media. Teaching students how to use the tools in their hands to visit—at least virtually—any corner of this planet will hopefully make us more knowledgable and sympathetic.

5. Be smart and use smartphones:  Once again—when students are encouraged to view their devices as valuable tools that support knowledge (rather than as distractions), they start using them as such. I remember my first years of teaching when I would not allow cell phones in class and I’d try to explain every new vocabulary word or answer every question myself—something I wouldn’t even think of doing today.

I’ve learned that different students have different needs when it comes to help with new vocabulary or questions, so there’s no need to waste time and explain something that perhaps only one or two students will benefit from. Instead, teaching students to be independent and know how to find the answers they need makes the class a different environment.

I’ve seen positive changes ever since I started viewing students’ devices as useful aids. In fact, sometimes I even respond by saying, “I don’t know—use Google and tell us all.” What a difference in their reactions and outcomes!

6. Blog:  I have written on the importance of both student and teacher blogging. Even my beginners of English could see the value of writing for real audience and establishing their digital presence. To blog or not to blog should not be a question any more.

7. Go digital:  Another important attribute is to go paperless—organizing teaching resources and activities on one’s own website and integrating technology can bring students’ learning experience to a different level. Sharing links and offering digital discussions as opposed to a constant paper flow allows students to access and share class resources in a more organized fashion.

8. Collaborate:  Technology allows collaboration between teachers and students. Creating digital resources, presentations, and projects together with other educators and students will make classroom activities resemble the real world. Collaboration should go beyond sharing documents via email or creating PowerPoint presentations. Many great ideas never go beyond a conversation or paper copy, which is a great loss. Collaboration globally can change our entire experience.

9. Use Twitter chats: Participating in Twitter chats is the cheapest and most efficient way to organize one’s PD, share research and ideas, and stay current with issues and updates in the field. We can grow professionally and expand our knowledge as there are great conversations happening every day, and going to conferences is no longer the only way to meet others and build professional learning networks.

10. Connect:  Connect with like-minded individuals. Again, today’s tools allow us to connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Have a question for an expert or colleague? Simply connect via social media: follow, join, ask, or tell.

11. Project-based learning:  As today’s students have access to authentic resources on the web, experts anywhere in the world, and peers learning the same subject somewhere else, teaching with textbooks is very 20th-century. Today’s students should develop their own driving questions, conduct their research, contact experts, and create final projects to share, all using devices already in their hands. All they need from their teacher is guidance.

12. Build your positive digital footprint:  It might sound obvious, but it is for today’s teachers to model how to appropriately use social media, how to produce and publish valuable content, and how to create sharable resources. Even though it’s true that teachers are people, and they want to use social media and post their pictures and thoughts, we cannot ask our students not to do inappropriate things online if we ourselves do them. Maintaining professional behavior both in class and online will help build positive digital footprint and model appropriate actions for students.

13. Code:  While this one might sound complicated, coding is nothing but today’s literacy. As pencils and pens were the tools of the 20th century, today’s teacher must be able to operate with today’s pen and pencil—computers. Coding is very interesting to learn—the feeling of writing a page with HTML is amazing. Even though I have a ways to go, just like in every other field, a step at a time can go a long way. Again, Lynda.com is a great resource to start with.

14. Innovate:  I invite you to expand your teaching toolbox and try new ways you have not tried before, such as teaching with social media or replacing textbooks with web resources. Not for the sake of tools but for the sake of students.

Ever since I started using TED talks and my own activities based on those videos, my students have been giving very different feedback. They love it! They love using Facebook for class discussions and announcements. They appreciate novelty—not the new tools, but the new, more productive and more interesting ways of using them.

15. Keep learning:  As new tools and new technology keep emerging, learning and adapting is essential. The good news is: It’s fun, and even 20 minutes a day will take you a long way.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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31 Fun and Unique Ways to Recognize Your Students

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characteristics of 21st century teacher essay

As we enter a new millennium, the field of education is undergoing a transformation that is fast-paced and constantly evolving.

The following are 14 characteristics of a 21st-century teacher.

1. They are communicators.

21st-century teachers must be excellent communicators to engage their students and create a positive learning environment. They must convey information and ideas effectively, as well as build relationships with their students.

2. They are experts in their field.

They are able to articulate complex ideas in clear and concise ways and can provide students with the skills they need to excel in their field.

3. They are innovative thinkers.

They are constantly thinking about new ways to engage and inspire their students, and are always exploring new ways to integrate technology into their teaching.

4. They are patient educators.

They must be able to provide them with the tools they need to succeed, and must be willing to work with them one-on-one to help them achieve their goals.

5. They are communicators of diversity.

21st-century teachers must be able to understand and appreciate the diversity of their students, and engage them in discussions and activities that are relevant to their backgrounds.

6. They are advocates for their students.

They are committed to their students’ success, and are always working to help them achieve their goals.

7. They are role models for their students.

They are examples to them of what is possible and they are the models that students should aspire to.

8. They are patient and disciplined educators.

They must set boundaries and maintain discipline in the classroom and understand and implement effective instructional strategies.

9. They are always learning.

They are constantly expanding their knowledge and skills and are always looking for new ways to improve their teaching.

10. They are effective communicators.

They are able to effectively convey information and ideas, as well as build relationships with their students.

11. They are effective problem solvers.

They find solutions to problems that arise in the classroom and quickly address any issues that may arise.

12. They are effective educators.

They engage their students in meaningful and engaging activities to help them achieve their goals.

13. They are effective leaders.

They are able to lead their students in positive and productive ways and help them develop the skills they need to be successful in their field.

14. They are lifelong learners.

They are always looking for new ways to learn and to improve their skills.

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13 21st-Century Teachers and Learners – Meeting the Needs of All Learners

‘If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” –Ignacio Estrada

Essential Questions

  • What is the central goal of 21st-century learning?
  • How are the skills of the 21st-century teacher different than those in times past?
  • Why is it important for teachers to consider universal design when designing curriculum or lessons for all students?
  • How can a teacher’s relationship with a student have a positive impact on self-concept and the future?

Introduction

There is now greater diversity than in times past, and a “one-size-fits-all” classroom is no longer appropriate. In the past, the emphasis was on the “3R’s” (reading, writing, arithmetic) as well as social studies, science and language. The model was teacher-centered with an emphasis on teaching strategies that focused on repetition, memorization, and lecturing; and tests were given at the end of the learning cycle to assess student learning. Today, curriculum developers realize the importance of developing educational goals and teaching methods that prepare students for college and future careers (Alismail & McGuire, 2015).

The Educational Landscape in the 21st Century

The term 21st-century skills encompasses a broad set of knowledge and skills that are not easy to define because the use of the term is often inconsistent, but they are generally considered to be those outlined in Figure 13.1.

characteristics of 21st century teacher essay

21st-Century-Skills-Graphic

The 21st-century skills were developed because it is often thought that students in this century need a wide variety of skills in addition to the academic standards that have been adopted in many states. The 21st-century skills ideally work in tandem with academic or content standards and can be taught in or out of school. They also lend themselves well to an integrated curriculum, project-based learning, and authentic learning experiences. For more details about the skills, access the link above.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Partnership for 21st Century Skills integrated the framework prepared by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. This plan advocated for the integration of core academic knowledge, critical thinking, and social skills in teaching and learning to support students in mastering the multi-dimensional abilities required in the 21st century. These skills include the “ New 3Rs ” (Relationships, Routines, and Resilience) of core academic content mastery (Cantor, 2021) and the 4Cs of Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity (Stauffer, 2021). By integrating cognitive learning and skills into the curriculum, students can gain a deeper understanding of the subject as well as ways to solve complex problems in the real world.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills prepared educational standards for the next generation to present an appropriate strategy to apply them. The 21st-century standards:

  • focus on 21st-century skills, content knowledge, and expertise
  • build understanding across and among core subject areas as well as 21st-century interdisciplinary themes
  • emphasize deep understanding rather than shallow knowledge.
  • engage students with real-world data, tools, and experts they will encounter in college, on the job, and in life
  • allow for multiple measures of mastery (Alismail & McGuire, 2015)

By adopting a 21st-century curriculum, there can be a blend of knowledge, thinking, innovation skills, media, literacy, information, and communication technology coupled with real-life experiences and authentic learning that are integrated into the academic subjects (Lombardi, 2007). The central goal for curriculum in the 21st century is a focus on the construction of knowledge that encourages students to create information that has value for them and helps them gain new skills. Developing curriculum that is based in the real world also encourages student participation and supports them in understanding the knowledge rooted in the core subjects. Additionally, this will provide students with the opportunity to develop civic, financial, environmental, and health literacies as well as global awareness.

Curriculum that emphasizes the construction of knowledge and is rooted in the core subjects is the starting point. The question becomes: how do we reach all the learners with diverse needs?

The 21st-Century Teacher

To meet the needs of learners, teachers should possess additional skills, including those of technology. Palmer (2015) describes 15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher that include: a learner-centered classroom, students as learners, users, and producers of digital content, and project-based learning. A more complete description of these skills can be found in the article: 15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher .

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) re-conceptualizes curriculum design by placing student diversity at the forefront and designing flexible and accommodating curriculums to meet the needs of diverse students (Strangeman, et. al, 2020). This is a relatively new approach to curriculum that is grounded in the belief that each learner is unique and brings different strengths and areas of weaknesses to the classroom (Rose and Meyer, 2002). In classrooms today, students come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, socioeconomic, and disability groups. Many traditional curriculums are designed to meet the needs of a “typical” or “average” student. This can be a significant disadvantage for students not in these categories and can lead to barriers that make access and progress more difficult.

UDL is based on the same principles as universal design in architecture which began as a movement to design structures with all users in mind and includes features like ramps and elevators to make access easier (Connell, et al., 1997). Not only does the design allow access for students with disabilities, but an unexpected side effect of this process is that it provided accessibility for all individuals, therefore, usability benefitted more people. The next step was to apply UDL to curriculum by considering the needs of all students, beginning at the planning stage. By maximizing access to information, it provided additional access to learning (Rose & Meyer, 2002).

Application of UDL during the Curriculum Design Process

Neuroscience has also contributed to the guidance of UDL in curriculum design. Research in neuroscience includes three broad neural networks in the brain that oversee three avenues of learning: UDL classifies these three avenues as recognition, strategic, and affective networks (Cytowic, 1996; Luria, 1973; Rose & Meyer, 2002). UDL stresses that these three abilities differ from student to student. As a way to meet this challenge there are three UDL principles that guide a flexible curriculum design process:

  • to support recognition learning, provide multiple, flexible methods of presentation,
  • to support strategic learning, provide multiple, flexible methods of expression and apprenticeship, and
  • to support effective learning, provide multiple, flexible options for engagement (Rose & Meyer, 2002).

The three principles can be included in the design of goals, the inclusion of strategies and resources,  flexible presentations and assessments. Using an assessment as an example, curriculum designers can include a range of media, formats, and response options so that the student’s knowledge and skills are assessed and not their ability to cope with the format and presentation. This is true for both formative and summative assessments.

Multimedia tools and peer reviews provide feedback to students that can improve their work and increase team collaboration. Technology also has the advantage of allowing students to gain information and knowledge as well as the development of different literacies even if they are working by themselves. This can encourage students to pursue individual passions for learning about specific topics that support creative thinking and innovation skills.

21st-Century Students as Consumers of Information

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, 21st-century schools must prepare students to be wise consumers of information, and confident producers of knowledge. The 21st-century student populations are more heterogeneous than in the past, which means schools need to become more responsive to diverse cultures, languages, experiences, economics, and interests—and do this in ways that provide equity of access to dynamic learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.

Current research suggests that the best vision of a 21st-century classroom is centered on the learners, knowledge, assessment, instruction, and the classroom community (National Research Council, 2000). Technology, when used effectively, can support teachers and students in a variety of ways, including curriculum planning, differentiated learning opportunities, assessment development and  meeting the needs of a diverse student population.

There is agreement among educators and the public that we must establish certain “core skills” that should be included in this framework (Binkley, et al, 2012). The challenge is that there is no single framework for what is included in the list of skills. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework (Dede, 2010) has two categories of skill groups. The first is “perennial” skills, or those retained from the 20th century, but are still valuable in the 21st century. These skills include communication, creativity, and critical thinking. The second category is “contextual skills,” or those unique to the 21st century that includes the ability to manage large quantities of digital information and data that are important for decision-making.

The Metiri Group and the North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL) developed the 21st Century Skills Framework (Burkhardt, et al.  2003 ), with the following four, key categories of skills (refer to the P21 Framework Definitions for a full description of these skills):

  • digital age literacies,
  • inventive thinking,
  • effective communication, and
  • high productivity.

It seems that the needs of the 21st-century classroom are different than they were in the past. One key difference is that teachers are facilitators of learning, and it is their responsibility to have a curriculum that supports students in developing skills for an academic program and eventually the workplace. Another key difference is the emphasis on a project-based curriculum that encourages higher-order thinking skills, effective communication, and technology skills. One common thread has become the need for successful collaboration as a part of student learning. To accomplish these things, it is important to move beyond the skills of the 20th century and master those of the 21st century. The 21st Century Skill: Rethinking How Students Learn discusses some strategies for doing just that.

“Teaching Up” and the 21st-Century Teacher

Another plan that is designed to maximize learning for all students in mixed-ability classrooms is “Teaching Up” which has been developed by Tomlinson and Javious (2012). In developing differentiated or responsive instruction, teachers begin by planning with a specific group of students in mind. They may also choose to plan from the academic standards using grade-level expectations and differentiate “up” or “down” from that point.

Other teachers may want to begin by developing learning experiences that focus on the essentials for students who have more difficulty with particular content to help clarify the essentials and to differentiate from that beginning position. “Teaching up” requires that the teachers begin by developing tasks that are a challenge for high performing learners, and then to differentiate or scaffold learning in ways that support a broad range of students in working with “advanced” levels of knowledge, understandings, and skills. “Teaching up” is rooted in six key principles as shown in Figure 13.2 (Tomlinson, 2015).

"Teaching Up" Principles

Teaching Up Principles

Developing Inclusive Practices in Literacy

Anita Nigam, author of the proceeding article, was born in India and taught elementary students there and in the U.S. She is currently a faculty member at a University in Illinois where she specializes in literacy and English language learning (ELL).

Classrooms now more than ever need to reflect the diverse cultures present as they provide a range of perspectives and experiences that can help shape the minds of all the students in mainstream classes. Previously, if there were students needing special attention, they were provided assistance outside the classroom; however, the focus now is to have the teacher meet the needs of all learners within the classroom, leading to the birth of inclusive classrooms. Therefore, the onus of developing culturally responsive classrooms falls on the shoulders of all classroom teachers. However, many teachers grew up without much exposure to cultural diversity and do not see the potential of all students nor the many issues and challenges that some students face (Sleeter, 2008). Teachers of color tend to recognize the literate potential of students of color and have high expectations for them but are not always aware of how to use students’ cultural knowledge to inform their teaching practices (Villegas & Davis, 2008).

Kindergarten student holding her drawing of a turkey.

The summary of this qualitative research study is aimed at promoting awareness and implementation of developing culturally responsive literacy practices among preservice teachers who were part of the Elementary Education Program in a private university in the Midwest region of the United States. All 16 preservice teachers had a broad definition of diversity, i.e., the inclusion of students from special population which included ELLs and learners from diverse populations.

Throughout the semester the preservice teachers worked in an elementary school which was their clinical placement and also at an after-school program that offered tutoring services for students from grades one through five of the elementary school. Preliminary results and findings from the study show four major themes that emerged from the analysis of the data:

  • creating differentiated assignments for students to do after they finish their work to meet the needs the different abilities that students have,
  • pairing mainstream students with students from diverse backgrounds to talk about a family or a public event and encourage nurturing relationships and a welcoming environment,
  • using the trading card strategy for vocabulary where students are given the choice to write the definition in their native language,
  • reading “ First You, Then Together ” where the teacher would have students read a page or two to themselves before reading it together while having the students follow along with their fingers or reading aloud with the teacher while going over the same page, and
  • using technology such as Chromebook to enable dictation so students are able to demonstrate their knowledge and writing abilities without having to jump through extra hurdles to complete the writing tasks required of them within the lesson.

These findings, though modest, are an attempt to create awareness of social equity literacy practices among preservice teachers teaching at a local elementary school with a diverse population.

A Place at the Table: Create a Community of Learners

Photograph of Yvonne Siu-Runyan

In the following article, A Place at the Table: Create a Community of Learners , Yvonne Siu-Runyan, a former classroom teacher, university professor, and past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, has summed up what is needed to help all learners gain literacy skills.

In order to learn, all students need to take risks. In order to take risks, all students need a safe place to learn and to be seen. That is, your students need to know that in your classroom, they each have a seat at the table and have voices and stories to share.

  • Books and stories provide common experiences for students.
  • Books and stories nurture an understanding of self and others.
  • Books and stories shape our understanding of the world around us and ourselves.
  • Listen to your students’ conversations in various settings . This simple action will provide you with useful information to guide your instruction and conversations with your students.
  • Your best and most important ally are the parents/guardians.
  • Never doubt the power of having a good relationship with parents/guardians.
  • Thus, your first contact with parents/guardians should be a positive, not a negative one.
  • Do call the parents/guardians of your students and make sure you have positive things to say? Most parents/guardians expect the worst.
  • Before you end your conversation, be sure to tell the parent/guardian to share the positive information with the child.
  • The next day watch — this child will stand taller, do more, and take more learning risks because this child will know that you care, and learning involves caring and LOVE.
  • Students like it when their teachers read and write with them and share their reading and writing.
  • By sharing your literacy experiences with students, they get an inside-out look at the power of reading and writing and you become a member of the literacy club in your classroom.
  • Show the students your “inside out” process and make it visible.
  • Students learn when their teachers model and show their inside out process.
  • What do I do that helps you as a reader, writer, and thinker?
  • What do I do that does not help you as a reader, writer, and thinker?
  • When I asked these two questions of my students, I learned that my students liked it when I read and wrote alongside them for it made visible the processes involved in reading, writing, and thinking.
  • Have a classroom library and showcase books. If we want our students to read, then it makes good sense that books must be accessible.

Books fall open; we fall in! I love this saying, “Ah … the power of the printed page.” Do create a classroom learning environment where students are surrounded by books. For if there are a wide variety of books in your classroom, your students will find books that speak to them. There is a plethora of stunning books written for young people like never before. Be sure to have books in which our young can see themselves and to which our students can relate. In this way, our young will be better equipped to reach back in order to reach out, and then reach out in order to reach forward with courage and love in our quest to make this place we call Earth a better place for all for: Education should liberate, not indoctrinate.

I end with this old Chinese Proverb: “Yin Zhen Zhi Ke,” or “Drinking poison to quench thirst.” This Chinese saying warns us that measures taken in the short term to solve a problem may be more damaging than the problem.

Be wary of narrow standards and standardized tests. Learning is much more.

Homeschooling

For those parents and students who want to differentiate based on individual needs, homeschooling is becoming one of the “go-to” alternatives.

Kids of different ages studying at the living room

Home-based education led by families has been practiced by cultures around the world and down through history, and it has played an influential role in Western civilization (Gordon & Gordon). Homeschooling today is the parent-led practice of teaching their children rather than attending a public school (Ray, 2000 ).

During American Colonial times, children were taught at home using the Bible for reading. Writing, math, and vocational skills were usually taught by the father (Ray, 2017). The children of missionary families or families who traveled were taught using mail-order curricula that they could take to different parts of the world. Homeschooling at that time was often a joint effort between parents, tutors, older children, and families.  At times, parents or groups would sometimes pool their resources to employ a teacher for more support (Hill, 2000 ). At the end of the 19th century, homeschooling was widely practiced, and public or formal school attendance was voluntary (Tyack, 1974 ).

Mom holding her child on her lap while going through school material

More than two million children today are homeschooled (Ray, 2017). The number of children in homeschools is now larger than the New York City public school system and even larger than the Los Angeles and Chicago public school systems combined (Hill,  2000 ; Ray, 2017).  As a result, there is a rising need for support, collaboration, and professional expertise. Groups for home educators and networks are growing and becoming a new type of educational institution (Hill,  2000 ). They are usually identified as associations, co-ops, or charter schools (Collom,  2005 ; Hill,  200 0 ). Home school parents and supporters of this alternative form of education have developed new teaching models and curriculums to help parents become educators (Tilhou, 2020).

Common beliefs, motivations, and the choice to homeschool attract homeschool parents/educators who want mutual support and collaboration. These families do not want to be isolated, so they make use of services and resources from experts, and they form teams that gain others’ support, often through organized groups (Collom, 2005 ; Hill,  2000 ). The advantages of this collaborative effort can extend beyond families that collaborate with the support of public funds for materials and resources, facilities, and administrator’s time (Hill, 2000 ).

Collom ( 2005 ) found that the newest homeschoolers are highly motivated by academic reasons. The decision to home school can be categorized into four areas and include those who:

  • are critical of public schools,
  • attracted to home-based public charter,
  • have ideological reasons, and
  • focused on family and children’s needs.

Results also indicate that the home-based charter has been the most popular motivation, and criticism of public schools had a slightly lower score.

Homeschool Partnerships with Public Education and the Future

Thomas ( 2016 ) has stated that if home parents/educators see value in the resources in their community, public school parents may likely feel the same way. Additionally, if homeschooling parents make educational decisions based on the goal of providing high-quality learning experiences, teaching faith, setting student goals, and meeting family needs, public school parents may also have similar goals. Can public schools provide a variety of choices parents are wanting? Is it possible for public schools to provide more customized schedules that fit the changing interests and needs of public-school families? Thomas ( 2016 ) argues, after examining homeschool families’ instructional decisions and motivations, that public education ought to find more ways to listen to parents’ needs and understand the educational goals they have for their children.

By considering alternative educational models and parental motivations for forming and joining the homeschool movement, public education may gain valuable insights about meeting the needs of families in the 21st century (Tihou, 2020). There are currently school districts that engage in partnerships with homeschool educators. Partnerships allow homeschool students to access classes and programs while maintaining the respect that the child’s primary teacher is his or her parent (Dahlquist, et al. ( 2006 ). It may be advantageous for public schools to adopt inclusive policies that offer a range of partnership options with homeschool families as a way to improve communication and create more responsive public spaces where responsibilities for raising the next generation are shared (Thomas, 2016).

The prevalence of homeschool support groups and associations is growing across the United States. Members of these groups come from a variety of backgrounds, but all have a shared interest in providing quality education for their children. What has emerged from this like-mindedness is a movement of millions across the United States not only to educate one’s own child but to come together and form groups which lead to a greater impact on children’s learning and parents’ teaching. What is still unknown is the impact this movement may ultimately have.

Insight 13.0

Gone are the days when a teacher could lecture to a class for 30 minutes to an hour and keep their attention.

To be effective, teachers today must be knowledgeable about different content areas, as well as models and strategies for engaging all students in meaningful learning experiences. Parents make choices about their children’s education, and public schools are, in effect, competing with charter schools and homeschools for students.

Several excellent resources for meeting the challenges of 21st-century learning are available. For this ILA, view two or more of the preceding videos and post your biggest “takeaways” using in the ILA Response Group in Hypothesis.

Connecting to the 21st-Century Student  

Cultural Diversity:  Dr. Geneva Gay

Dr. Geneva Gay from the University of Washington, Seattle answers the question “Why is it important for faculty to employ culturally responsive teaching practices?”

The Power of a Teacher | Adam Saenz | TedEx Yale 

Teachers and students in the 21st century must have broader and more varied skills than their counterparts of the past. Incorporating Universal Design as a part of curriculum planning can ease access to learning for many students. Some parents have chosen homeschooling as a way to meet the educational needs of their children. Carol Tomlinson and others find that differentiating instruction through “teaching up” can meet the needs of a diverse classroom.

Curriculum Essentials: A Journey Copyright © 2021 by Linda J. Button, Ed.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Characteristics of a 21st Century Teacher

Recent technological advances have affected many areas of our lives: the way we communicate, collaborate, learn, and, of course, teach. Along with that, those advances necessitated an expansion of our vocabulary, producing definitions such as digital natives, digital immigrants, and, the topic of this post — “21st Century Teacher.”

One of the things I have struggled with in my teaching career is how to be progressive, inclusive, and to offer authentic learning experiences that create well-adjusted, competitive leaders of the future. How is this achieved?

Through extensive research (lots of reading!), experimenting, and tons of hits and misses, and the help of Edutopia , I’d like to share my findings on the most notable characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher.

I’ve written about what 21st Century Teaching is, specifically the 4Cs of 21st Century Learning , and the relationship between Skills and Competencies .

1. Learner-Centered Classroom and Personalized Instructions

As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to “spoon-feed” the knowledge or teach “one-size fits all” content. As students have different personalities, goals, and needs, offering personalized instructions is not just possible but also desirable. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they own their learning, increase intrinsic motivation, and put in more effort — an ideal recipe for better learning outcomes!

2. Students as Producers

Today’s students have the latest and greatest tools, yet, the usage in many cases barely goes beyond communicating with family and friends via chat, text, or calls. Even though students are now viewed as digital natives, many are far from producing any digital content. While they do own expensive devices with capabilities to produce blogs, infographics, books, how-to videos, and tutorials, just to name a few, in many classes, they are still asked to turn those devices off and work with handouts and worksheets. Sadly, often times these papers are simply thrown away once graded. Many students don’t even want to do them, let alone keep or return them later. When given a chance, students can produce beautiful and creative blogs, movies, or digital stories that they feel proud of and share with others.

3. Learn New Technologies

In order to be able to offer students choices, having one’s own hands-on experience and expertise will be useful. Since technology keeps developing, learning a tool once and for all is not a option. The good news is that new technologies are new for the novice and and experienced teachers alike, so everyone can jump in at any time! I used a short-term subscription to  www.lynda.com , which has many resources for learning new technologies.

4. Go Global

Today’s tools make it possible to learn about other countries and people first hand. Of course, textbooks are still sufficient, yet, there is nothing like learning languages, cultures, and communication skills from actually talking to people from other parts of the world.

It’s a shame that with all the tools available, we still learn about other cultures, people, and events from the media. Teaching students how to use the tools in their hands to “visit” any corner of this planet will hopefully make us more knowledgable and sympathetic.

5. Be Smart and Use Smart Phones

Once again — when students are encouraged to view their devices as valuable tools that support knowledge (rather than distractions), they start using them as such. I remember my first years of teaching when I would not allow cell phones in class and I’d try to explain every new vocabulary word or answer any question myself — something I would not even think of doing today!

6. Go Digital

Another important attribute is to go paperless — organizing teaching resources and activities on one’s own website and integrating technology bring students learning experience to a different level. Sharing links and offering digital discussions as opposed to a constant paper flow allows students to access and share class resources in a more organized fashion.

7. Collaborate

Technology allows collaboration between teachers & students. Creating digital resources, presentations, and projects together with other educators and students will make classroom activities resemble the real world. Collaboration should go beyond sharing documents via e-mail or creating PowerPoint presentations. Many great ideas never go beyond a conversation or paper copy, which is a great loss! Collaboration globally can change our entire experience!

8. Use Twitter Chat

Participating in Twitter chat is the cheapest and most efficient way to organize one’s own PD, share research and ideas, and stay current with issues and updates in the field. We can grow professionally and expand our knowledge as there is a great conversation happening every day, and going to conferences is no longer the only way to meet others and build professional learning networks.

Connect with like-minded individuals. Again, today’s tools allow us to connect anyone, anywhere, anytime. Have a question for an expert or colleague? Simply connect via social media: follow, join, ask, or tell!

10. Project-Based Learning

As today’s students have an access to authentic resources on the web, experts anywhere in the world, and peers learning the same subject somewhere else, teaching with textbooks is very “20th-century” (when the previously listed option were not available). Today’s students should develop their own driving questions, conduct their research, contact experts, and create final projects to share all using devices already in their hands. All they need from their teacher is guidance!

11. Build Your Positive Digital Footprint

It might sound obvious, but it is for today’s teachers to model how to appropriately use social media, how to produce and publish valuable content, and how to create sharable resources. Even though it’s true that teachers are people, and they want to use social media and post their pictures and thoughts, we cannot ask our students not to do inappropriate things online if we ourselves do it. Maintaining professional behavior both in class and online will help build positive digital footprint and model appropriate actions for students.

While this one might sound complicated, coding is nothing but today’s literacy. As a pencil or pen were “the tools” of the 20th-century, making it impossible to picture a teacher not capable to operate with it, today’s teacher must be able to operate with today’s pen and pencil, i.e., computers. Coding is very interesting to learn — the feeling of writing a page with HTML is amazing! Even though I have ways to go, just like in every other field, a step at a time can take go a long way. Again, lynda.com is a great resource to start with!

13. Innovate

I invite you to expand your teaching toolbox and try new ways you have not tried before, such as teaching with social media or replacing textbooks with web resources. Not for the sake of tools but for the sake of students!

Ever since I started using TED talks and my own activities based on those videos, my students have been giving a very different feedback. They love it! They love using Facebook for class discussions and announcements. They appreciate novelty — not the new tools, but the new, more productive and interesting ways of using them.

14. Keep Learning

As new ways and new technology keep emerging, learning and adapting is essential. The good news is: it’s fun, and even 20 min a day will take you a long way!

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One thought on “ Characteristics of a 21st Century Teacher ”

Thank you for your information about 21st century skills and characteristics of educators. I am currently pursing my master’s degree in secondary education. Your information was sited in a recent paper I wrote call ” Leading the Way as Digital Educators”

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21st Century Teaching and Learning

Toddler holding up a globe

You are here

As a 20th century kid, I was awed by the mere mention of the twenty- first century. The optimist in me envisioned a 21st century that was sleek, modern, and bursting with gadgets that stretched the imagination. Although my dreams of flying cars and room-cleaning robots have not been realized just yet, the gadgets have not disappointed. The impact of abundant and ever-changing technology—particularly information and communication technology—frequently dominates conversations in and about modern society. The same holds true in the field of education, where technology integration and emphasis of the disciplines most closely associated with modern technologies (i.e., science, math, and engineering) are seen as vital. These are important considerations, but 21st century teaching and learning goes beyond technology integration and STEM content; it is also about fostering ways of thinking and promoting dispositions that support success in an age driven by rapidly changing and expanding technologies. Responsive 21st century teaching and caregiving requires educators to create environments and provide experiences that encourage exploration and inquiry, and nurture creativity and curiosity.

The July 2016 issue of Young Children celebrates and explores this 21st century approach to teaching and learning. The cluster articles provide a snapshot of the developmentally appropriate ways the needs of young children growing up today are being addressed.

Some of the most prominent components of 21st century education—problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, authentic learning, appropriate use of technologies, and cross-disciplinary teaching—are the focus in “Integrating the Curriculum to Engage and Challenge Children.” Geared toward practice in kindergarten through third grade, the article by Barbara A. Bradley discusses the ways in which educators of primary school children can incorporate these components in their teaching.

Information and communication technology is changing the way we get information and interact with each other. This is particularly true about social media. In “Are You (P)Interested in 21st Century Teaching and Learning?,” Rachael Huber and C.C. Bates provide an introduction to this popular social media platform and explore one of the new ways teachers are locating and sharing information.

Tracey Hunter-Doniger demonstrates the power of creativity and arts infusion in “ Snapdragons and Math: Using Creativity to Inspire, Motivate, and Engage .” Tracey describes the successful efforts of a kindergarten teacher and art educator who designed a cross-curricular collaboration aimed at promoting children’s engagement and enhancing learning.

One of the benefits of the ever-increasing availability of new technology is a shrinking world. In light of our global society, it is essential that crosscultural understanding be fostered in 21st century early childhood education settings. In “Classroom Contexts That Support Young Children’s Intercultural Understanding,” María V. Acevedo explores the efforts used to bridge gaps between a group of preschool teachers’ existing practices and the needs of the children in their classrooms.

In “ Beyond Bouncing the Ball: Toddlers and Teachers Investigate Physics ,” Eric Bucher and Marcos Hernández show us how topics that were once considered beyond the bounds of early childhood classrooms are now being introduced in developmentally appropriate ways. Bucher and Hernández position teachers as reflective co-investigators, a departure from the more traditional view of teachers as disseminators of information. The authors describe the educators in their article as teacher researchers and present a process that was implemented to promote reflective practice.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children has long embraced teacher research—teachers’ systematic inquiry of their practice—and its potential for advancing the profession and promoting high-quality early childhood education. Since 2004, NAEYC has published Voices of Practitioners , the only teacher research journal dedicated to early childhood education. To bring teacher research to a wider audience, a new Voices of Practitioners article will be published regularly in Young Children, beginning with this issue. We are excited to continue promoting teacher research and to make this valuable resource available in print.

Finally, we are pleased that this particular cluster coincides with the debut of Growing in STEM, a new column focusing on developmentally appropriate practice related to early childhood science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Reflecting a 21st century-minded pedagogy premised on inquiry and integration, the column promises to support early childhood educators at all levels as they seek to enhance STEM teaching and learning in their classrooms.

We hope you find something in this exciting issue that inspires the 21st century educator in you! – M. Deanna Ramey, Editor in Chief

Photograph: © iStock

M. Deanna Ramey was formerly editor-in-chief of Young Children .

Vol. 71, No. 3

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