A teacher’s role in the 21st century has critically changed from that of being a pedagogue to that of being a facilitator.
Teaching in this century is an altogether new phenomenon, more so because the way we learn has been revolutionized. Today, learning happens everywhere, on the go, and can be customized according to one’s style and preferences. Thus, teachers need reimagine the very concept of learning. In the words of Alvin Toffler, ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’ For this they need to cultivate a specific skill set.
The first skill that teachers need to be armed with is adaptability or the ability to mold their teaching according to the learning needs of the students. This can be done by incorporating strategies to sustain the students’ interest, thinking of fresher ways to disseminate content, and also schooling themselves on emerging technologies. ‘A teacher needs to be able to formulate, construct, arrange, modify and make sense of information so that it understood as knowledge,’ explains Teacher education expert Associate Professor Joanna Barbousas. ‘A teacher who is able to adapt astute decision making to practical things, situations and events is someone who is able to provide opportunities to see things in different ways,’ she adds.
Next, the teacher needs to create a learner-centered classroom. This is in alignment to the needs of a 21st century learner. Gone are the days of rote learning and taking down notes from the blackboard. Students of today should be viewed as ‘producers’ rather than mere passive listeners, they should be made to own their learning. Consequently, the instruction of the classroom must be altered in a manner that it encompasses students’ contributions and choices. Each student has different learning requirements, abilities, and goals and the classroom should be a space of reflection for all of these for every student. A dynamic classroom is where teachers are willing to listen to diverse opinions, support knowledge claims with evidence, engage in critical and creative thinking, and participate in open and meaningful dialogue.
Woven closely to this is the need for collaborative learning. This does not simply refer to projects involving pair work but also entails teacher-student collaboration. By creating digital resources, presentations, and assignments together educators can build a new sense of confidence in the students and also help classroom activities resemble real-life needs of students. The classroom is arguably a microcosm of humanity and collaborative work can also help bridge the gap between peers by instilling in them the important values of team spirit, empathy, and effective communication. Shared knowledge should be coupled with shared authority. Which means that teachers should value and build upon the culture, language, strategies, knowledge, and personal experiences that students bring to the learning space. ‘As a result of students working collaboratively, the group can generate more knowledge, making collaboration a key ingredient to student success in today’s global society,’ according to a The National Education Association’s guide on the 4C’s, Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society.
Teachers must understand that the current cohort of students belongs to the Generation Z and Generation Alpha. These two generations have grown up with unprecedented amounts of technology at their fingertips. They are digital natives and are comfortable using apps and coding as teachers are flipping pages. Consequently, going digital and understanding the perspective of the students who are ‘digital natives’ is another essential skill that educators must inculcate. Technology must be used strategically to benefit students and to promote independent and autonomous learning and in the process establish the assets of technology rather than always highlighting its negative impacts.
Another important aspect in this regard is building a positive digital footprint. Educators of today must be in a position to model how to appropriately use social media. Social media, which has upturned everyone’s lives in the past few years, has an alarmingly high impact on impressionable minds. Kathy Cook, the director of educational technology for the University of Phoenix College of Education thinks, ‘Students are using these technologies in their personal lives, so it makes sense to leverage them for teaching and learning.’ Moreover, maintaining a befitting profile on social media can be a good way to impart the same to your students.
Also, the focal point in a 21st century classroom should be on project-based learning. The idea of teaching only using textbooks belongs to the previous century. The students of today must be encouraged to conduct their research, formulate their questions, contact experts, and create final projects using the devices already in their hands. Thus, educators need to expand their teaching toolbox, try fresh methods, and design newer tasks to teach the existing content. In a time when mental health and wellbeing is one of the biggest challenges facing students of today, a 21st century teacher can give students the skills they need both for now and for the future.
Finally, teachers must be lifelong learners themselves. Teachers must understand that simply having a degree in teaching is not enough anymore. The 21st century classroom has its own set of demands and to fulfil these the teacher needs to be aware of the ever-changing trends in the education industry, know the buzzwords, and address different issues head-on. Expanding your professional network by connecting with eminent personalities from your field and having conversations with like-minded individuals is as essential as practicing teaching itself.
So, the educators of today need to be curious, flexible, and forward thinking in order to give students what they will need fifty years down the line. The role of a teacher in the 21st century increasingly emphasizes mediated learning. It needs to be all about empowering students with transferable skills for employability, growing digital citizenships, critical thinking, and creativity as well as sustainable learning that will hold up to a rapidly changing world and not just be limited to prescribed content that has been chosen for its past relevance. By adopting this approach, teachers will be able to see the change in their classrooms, schools, and in the community at large.