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Education Opinion

Are You a 21st Century Teacher?

By Patrick Ledesma — February 16, 2011 3 min read

I’m at the Association of Teacher Educators 91st Annual National Meeting in Orlando, Florida as part of my ongoing Classroom Ambassador Fellowship with the US Department of Education. I’m attending a session entitled “Redefining Teacher Education for Digital-Age Learners: A Call to Action” where Paul Resta, Director of the Learning Technology Center at the University of Texas at Austin, is discussing a report that summarizes the recommendations of an invitational summit exploring how teacher education can better serve students in the digital age.

What does it mean to be a 21st Century Teacher? These are the characteristics of a 21st Century Teacher:


    Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity so that all students achieve in the global society.

    Enable students to maximize the potential of their formal and informal learning experiences.

    Facilitate learning in multiple modalities.
    Work as effective members of learning teams.

    Use the full range of digital-age tools to improve student engagement and achievement.

    Work with their students to co-create new learning opportunities.

    Use data to support student learning and program improvements.

    Be lifelong learners.

    Be global educators.

    Work with policy leaders as change agents.

The full report gives additional information on each of these characteristics and provides recommendations for policies at the state and national level for this transformation in teacher education to begin.

As I listen to the characteristics of a 21st century teacher, I’m reminded of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Five Core Propositions from their policy statement “What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do”, written in 1989, the 20th Century, so very long ago......


    Teachers are committed to students and their learning.

    Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.

    Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.

    Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.

    Teachers are members of learning communities.

Have the characteristics of an effective teacher changed from the 20th to the 21st centuries?

I think good teaching is good teaching. I also like how the 21st century teacher characteristics outline how technology has provided more opportunities in education, and how insightful teachers maximize these opportunities for teaching and professional learning.

For example, if we are “committed to students and their learning,” we incorporate the “formal and informal” learning opportunities our students have beyond school. We know how our students learn informally outside school either through their “real world” and online experiences. We know the books they read for personal interest, whether it be on hardcover, paperback, Kindle, Nook, or iPad. We know the sports and musical instruments they play. We know what they like to do on the computer, whether it is games, social networking, or watching instructional online videos on how to use technology on YouTube. We know their experiences with their families.

As effective teachers did in the 20th century, effective teachers in the 21st century will incorporate what they know about students in their formal instruction. The technology in the 21st century will allow the effective teachers to bridge these learning experiences more naturally and seamlessly.

As more digital tools become available and technologies that facilitate learning in multiple modalities through synchronous or asynchronous online environments become more prevalent and accessible, just as effective teachers in the 20th century maximized available resources for their classroom, 21st century teachers will continue seeking additional tools and avenues to improve student learning.

Effective teachers in the 20th century were lifelong learners, teacher leaders, and members of professional communities. Technology in the 21st century maximizes additional opportunities through online teacher networks such as the Teacher Leaders Network, Classroom 2.0, and any number of teacher groups and forums on the Internet.

And, while teacher engagement in policy in the 20th century continues in the 21st century, technology though the Internet and social networks bring a level of policy engagement on a much higher scale than previously possible.

So is effective teaching in the 21st century really any different from effective teaching in the 20th century?

The tools may be different, but the commitment, learning, enthusiasm, and student focus are the same.

Perhaps effective teaching is timeless and yet, evolves with the tools of the times...

The opinions expressed in Leading From the Classroom are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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