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10 Tips to Become a 21st Century Teacher by Mary Wade April 8, 2014

  • Home / 10 Tips to Become a 21st Century Teacher by Mary Wade April 8, 2014

10 Tips to Become a 21st Century Teacher by Mary Wade April 8, 2014

Be sure to also stop by our interactive infographic, “21st Century Cheat Sheet” for a great visual!

What does it mean to become a 21st century educator?  Effective technology integration certainly plays its role, but it’s also about accessibility and individual perspective shifts.  Find inspiration in our 10 tips…


Start Small

When we refer to becoming a 21st century teacher, we certainly recognize that technology plays an enormous role in how quality education has evolved.  However, we feel it also reaches into simple attitudes that are shifting.  It’s likely a reciprocal effect: the more technology use and global networking has grown, the more recognition has spread for best practices; the more the recognition for best practices has spread, the more technology has been examined to assist in this innovation.  Still, as adept as many teachers are in adopting 21st century attitudes and strategies, we know many others feel overwhelmed by it all, from first year teachers to veterans nearing retirement.  We feel that starting small, one attitude or strategy at a time, is the best method!

#1: Reject “Content is King!”

A quote from the above video that bears repeating:

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . using technologies that haven’t been invented . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” ~Karl Fisch

If we allow our teaching to exist mostly as delivering information that students memorize, our job descriptions could be quickly outsourced to Google!  Worse still, our students’ limited skills would also be highly replaceable by search engines and video databases like LearnZillion.  21st Century teachers and learners alike must realize that education is no longer about what we’ve memorized, but about how we learn to evaluate and utilize information!

#2: Recognize that Change is Essential!

Ken Robinson has been a tremendously influential voice when it comes to the need to change our thinking in education.  Some of the primary changes he suggests include the way we think about “human capacity,” collaboration, and the “habits of institutions.”  On a similar track, author and educator Shelly Blake-Plock outlined 21 Things that Will be Obsolete by 2020 (reflection post), including current systems of standardized testing for college admissions and organizing classes by age and grade.

A prominent example of current change is the Common Core (see our CCSS article).  Some parents are frustrated that it does NOT involve a back-to-basics, “finding the answer” approach.  (See one example of a parent who allegedly exclaimed on his child’s homework page that the “real world” would favor faster, simpler vertical subtraction over evaluating misconceptions using a visual number line.  We would point out that a calculator is even faster and simpler, if speed is really the highest priority in “the real world”).  In their fear of education looking different than it did when they were kids, these individuals seem to miss that the emphasis is now on critical thinking, a crucial shift when you think back to our tip #1 in particular.  There is a difference between education and learning, and fortunately, the 21st century is moving more toward the latter.  

#3: Develop a PLN

Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)
Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)

A PLN (Personal Learning Network) allows you to maximize your professional development as you use social media and other platforms to learn and collaborate with teachers around the world.  If Shelly Blake-Plock is correct about the way school Professional Development is moving toward teachers taking the lead, PLN’s will prove increasingly important for every educator to have in place.  Our article on PLN’s is a great resource for beginners!

#4: Encourage students to develop PLN’s

Caroline Bucky
Caroline Bucky

The above word cloud took shape when creator Caroline Bucky asked members her own PLN what their individual PLN’s meant to them.  If students were enabled to create such meaningful networks, imagine the ramifications that would have on their ability to contribute to a global society (another major aspect of the 21st century)!

#5: View Time Spent Exploring as an Investment

Hakan Forss LEGO recreations of hand drawn originals with unknown authors
Hakan Forss LEGO recreations of hand drawn originals with unknown authors

The above picture pretty much speaks for itself on this one.  Just remember that every effort you make will not only invest in your own future as a relevant 21st century educator, but in your students’ quality of learning as well.  (See one blogger’s insightful perspective on this investment in relation to building her PLN).

#6: Allow Students to Own Learning

For many decades, ideas from student-centered pedagogy theorists like Jean Piaget have taught the importance of this attitude.  In fact, a wonderful Piaget quote on the topic of student ownership reads:

“The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” ~Jean Piaget

He said this in 1964. Think of the greater importance for students to “verify, and not accept, everything they are offered” now that the digital world provides them with a constant stream of information!  This kind of ownership for learning does not happen when our expectations are limited to students “repeating what other generations have done”–in other words, limited to the content and understanding we bring to the table.  Evidence that we can improve in this regard exists in examples such as the above screenshot we took today.

#7: Be Vulnerable with Students

A frequent 21st century dialogue in education involves asking, “How do we help our students become fully engaged in learning?”  We feel that a large part of the answer to this question begins with our own levels of engagement and vulnerability as learners with our students.  Brené Brown researches and writes on this very topic.  She created a leadership manifesto that outlines patterns from her research on how we truly connect and engage.  A powerful quote from it:

“When learning and working are dehumanized–when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform–we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas, and our passion.  What we ask is that you engage with us, show up beside us, and learn from us.” ~Brené Brown

In short, to prevent disengagement, we absolutely must stop pretending that we know all the answers or that we do not make mistakes.

#8: Examine Your Why

Gavin Llewellyn
Gavin Llewellyn

In our post on Flipped Learning, we reference Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle of beginning with the Why.  To succeed in the 21st century, becoming a life-long, self-motivated learner is not a nicety–it is a necessity.  Cultivating our own Why as teachers and then keeping that at the forefront of our endeavors is an influential attitude simply because we are modeling it for our students.  It helps them absorb the “point” of learning and to begin cultivating their own Why’s.

#9: Pursue Your Needs!

DonorsChooseHave a low classroom budget?  Is 1:1 technology nonexistent in your school?  Are you in need of high quality mentor texts in your class library?  Thanks to developments here in the 21st century, no longer are your frustrations limited to faculty lounge griping.  Tools like DonorsChoose.org allow teacher empowerment as you shop for items you need and write a simple, mini-grant (or project), asking generous donors for help.  Not only can you enlist your PLN to spread the word of your project through social media, but you can also look for help from programs in your area like Chevron’s Fuel Your School, which works to fund as many DonorsChoose teacher projects as possible during the month of October (be sure to wait to submit your project until October 1st to qualify)!  Additionally, you can work with your administration to implement innovative school programs such as BYOD (see our article on 10 tips for Bring Your Own Device programs) if you’re looking for more technology accessibility in your classroom.

#10: Use Technology to Make Best Use of Time

Anna Vital
Anna Vital

This infographic by Anna Vital gives several examples of creative ways to save time, including using keyboard shortcuts!  We would also suggest other simple strategies, such as keeping your  email inbox cleaned up, turning off phone notifications for everything except the things you truly want to interrupt your life (some phones even allow you to turn off notifications or calls at certain times or locations), and utilizing apps to keep your priorities organized.  Establishing such strategies that work for you can simplify your planning and  classroom time, allowing you to focus on what matters most for you personally and professionally.

Related Reading:

5 Teacher Resources for 21st Century Learning

Building PLN’s: Tips from One Beginner to Another

Photo Credits:

Denise Krebs (featured image)

Håkan  Forss

Caroline Bucky

Anna Vital

Gavin Llewellyn

Sources:

Cherry, K. “Jean Piaget Quotes”.

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