This is a first draft and I am trying to learn through reflection. Would love your thoughts on the ideas below.
People have come to loathe the term “21st Century Education", or “21st Century Teacher". The argument is that “we are 16 years into the 21st century!", yet I would argue, we have 84 years to go! I could have not predicted the iPad, Chromebooks, Pokemon Go, or anything else like this. Yet, as I was thinking about that very idea, it is why I believe there are some very important traits that educators need right now. We are in the 21st century, we are educators, so what does that mean and look like in our world and for education?
It is not technology that is having the biggest influence on what we do; it is the speed of change being thrust upon us.11 We also have more access to information and ideas, so we can do better. If you know better, you have to do better.
Here are ten characteristics that I am exploring and starting to see as crucial for educators in the 21st century and beyond, as we continue to live in a world that is continuously changing, and moving at tremendously fast speeds.
50 years ago, relationships were the most important thing in education, and 50 years from now it will be more so. Do our students feel valued when they come to school? Do we seek to simply engage them in content, or do we seek to empower them to create? I have argued for years that we need school teachers, not just classroom teachers. Every child in the school is all of our responsibilities. In a world that is becoming more and more complex, students need to know that they can trust the educators to see them as individuals, and that they are valued. None of the other strategies or approaches will matter without this foundation.
The only constant that we can count on education is change. We know that this is true. You could have been an amazing educator 10 years ago, but if you have changed nothing since then, you could become irrelevant. As the world continuously moves forward, if you stand still, you are ultimately falling behind. This doesn’t mean that some things in education don’t stay true forever. We do not have to change everything, but we need to continuously evaluate our practices and the impact on students to grow and get better. New resources and initiatives will always be part of education, and we need to critically think about them, and ask questions to move forward, but we need to model the same openness to learning and change that we expect from our students.
“If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve." —Dylan Wiliam11
Do we want everyone to think the same by the time to walk out of our classrooms or schools? If we do, it is not really thinking; it is compliance. Our classrooms are becoming so much more diverse in so many aspects, and this is something we need to embrace. Every single individual has different experiences and strengths that they bring to the classroom, and we are all better if we look to tap into those strengths and build a community around them.
Information is coming our way faster than ever. If anything, we need to slow down and critically analyze it, not simply accept everything that we hear. Reflection becomes essential in this process. This is crucial that we embed time in our days and the days of our students to not only reflect, but make their own connections to learning.
How could you possibly move forward without looking back?
“We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience." John Dewey14
When you hire anyone for a job, you do not just hire them, you hire their entire network. Networks consist of both “online spaces" and face to face collaboration. Creating diverse networks in and out of education is crucial, understanding we can learn a great deal from the person across the hallway, as we can from the person on the other side of the world. To create the best experiences for students, you need access to the best ideas; this can come from anyone and anywhere. When you are networked, great ideas often find you, not the other way around.
As David Weinberger states, “The smartest person in the room is the room." If that is true, how big is your room? How do you access this “room" to be better for your students?
We do not only need to embrace meaningful change, but we need to create it. Innovation is about creating “new and better" things; it can be iteration (a remix of something) or invention (something totally new), but it has to be better. As the skills that students need in our evolving world become increasingly complex, we have to be in the mindset where innovation in the norm, not the exception. How do we look at what our students need and create opportunities for them to learn in deeper and meaningful ways? How do our students become these same innovators? They will need to become this in their world, and hopefully it is because of us, not in spite of us.
Remember…innovation is probably not in your curriculum, but neither are worksheets.12
The notion that “everyone is a leader" is something that has been challenged a great deal over the years, yet what does being a “leader" mean? It is not being a boss. There are some principals who are not leaders, and some teachers who are amazing leaders. What is crucial to think about is whether or not you have the ability to influence others to positively move forward in specific areas. In our schools we have leaders in curriculum, technology, community building, and so many other areas. We not only empower people to lead, but give them the opportunities to lead from where they are. If only a few people are “allowed" to lead, meaningful change will happen at a much slower pace.
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten." ― Rudyard Kipling
“Lecture" has become a bad word in many education circles, while Ted Talks have exploded. Many see this as irony, but what I see is that these aren’t lectures as much as they are stories.
If we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we make a connection to the mind. People have to feel something. Simply sharing information is not a way to create this connection, but we have to think about how we create this connection. Telling stories helps people create their own connections and meaning, and in a world that is information rich, we are vying for the attention of our students. These stories we tell are the ones that stick with our students longer than simply sharing ideas. We need to look at not simply sharing ideas, but helping share information in different ways that are memorable and compelling. Your story and stories matter, and will resonate long after our time with our students.
You might not feel you have anything meaningful to share, but we all have a story to tell.
“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon." ― Brandon Sanderson
The learning environment matters. How does the space make people feel? Do they have options to learn in a variety of ways to suit their needs? I talk a lot about the Starbucks; many people do not go there for the coffee, but spend time there for the feel of the space. The notion of the “designer" is not only in how we create our spaces, but the experiences that are created for learning as well. I often ask, “would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?" The point of this is to think about learning from the viewpoint of those you serve, not simply your own. We have to understand what possibilities exist in our world today, and be extremely thoughtful in how we design learning experiences to maximize space, resources, and access for all learners.
Are your learning experiences designed to meet the needs the of the unique learners in your context? How do you ensure that you are building on the strengths and passions of all learners? How does the space and environment you create factor into the learning experiences? These are all important considerations for how we designing learning experiences today.
I have been thinking about the idea of “educator as artist" a lot more recently, and love this quote from John Steinbeck;
“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit."
When you see what you do as an art, and you realize that the minds you help shape are a beautiful canvas, teaching is more than a job, it’s an art. Small details matter more. Access to tools become crucial. Great educators are artists, plain and simple. We need to embrace this thinking and empower teachers to hone their craft and allow them the resources and space to do what’s best for the learners in their classrooms.
My hope is that I have shared characteristics that are timeless and will be still relevant and crucial 84 years now in the year 2100, and beyond. We know that information will continue to be thrown at us in rates that we can’t comprehend. We also understand that change is something that will continuously happen, and that we will have to not only deal with, but understand and create ourselves. As educators, we need to constantly think about the world that we live in, and how important it is to capture and develop the hearts and minds of the learners we serve. The characteristics that I have listed above should be timeless, and are crucial to ensuring schools are not only relevant, but leaders in our global communities.