Dissecting the 21st Century Teacher

I'll be honest. I didn't really plan on attending a lot of sessions at ISTE this year.

However, the one I attended today was one of the few on my schedule. It also happened to exceed all expectations.

The session, moderated by Ken Shelton and featuring a variety of educators, including Paula White, a member of my PLN for whom I have much respect, was a panel discussion focused around some thought provoking and deliberately worded questions developed by Ken himself.

What ensued was a meaningful and engaging conversation about what it means to be a teacher in the 21st Century, about the use of technology in the classroom and the struggles that teachers face.  Each question Ken posed was worded just right to allow for deep thinking about what it means to be a teacher in 2010. 

One of the things that I took away immediately was the idea that we are NOT 21st Century educators. Rather, we are contemporary educators.  I have always struggled with the label "21st Century learning" as a way to define what I do, when in fact, I am educating and preparing my students for the future, not the present.

One of the first discussions delved into this.  Are we contemporary teachers just because we integrate technology, or is it more than that? Furthermore, do we NEED to always integrate technology to be contemporary teachers?

One of Ken's brilliant questions was: "Do 21st Century teachers make a conscious and deliberate effort to integrate tech into their curriculum?" (I may be paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.)

I had to really think about the wording of the question. Conscious effort, yes, but deliberate? That was the word that got me. Should we be searching for ways to integrate technology into the curriculum just because it's expected or because we feel obligated or because the technology is there? Is it a necessary aspect of being a 21st Century teacher to be seeking out ways to use technology in our classroom?

Or, should the technology we use in the classroom be so seamlessly integrated that we use it only when it fits our learning goals and leave it aside when we can achieve a learning goal without it?  As Paula suggested, technology should transform a lesson without the lesson being centered around the technology itself--seamless integration.

On the other hand, should we be thinking deliberately about why we are using technology, how the tool will engage students and transform learning when we introduce new tools into the classroom?

As an audience member stated, "curriculum needs to drive technology." We need to keep learning goals in mind first before we think about the technology we are integrating into the classroom.

One of the last questions asked was:   

 "Are these the greatest challenges a 21st Century teacher faces?
  • Money 
  • Lack of resources 
  • Lack of Professional Development 
  • Student aptitude/attitude 
  • Lack of Administrative Support"
I don't believe that all of these qualify as the greatest challenges of a contemporary teacher. Some of them are facts of life (money and student aptitude/attitude), We can either claim these as road blocks, or we can label them as stumbling blocks from which we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep trudging. 
 One thing you can clearly see is missing from the list: time. This was mentioned by an audience member.  I am of the opinion that if it matters, you can make or find the time for innovation and risk taking.  Seek out your own resources, find your own learning network to support your professional development needs, write grants and work with what you have.

Maybe this is asking too much, but we have to stop making excuses.  

So what is a 21st Century teacher?

A contemporary teacher is one who maintains relevant content and delivery and allows students to explore content through whatever medium or pathway that is appropriate for the task, whether it is using technology or not. A 21st Century teacher is a contemporary teacher, integrating technology seamlessly with content, transforming lessons and building global citizenship amongst his/her students.  S/he is an advocate for his/her students, s/he connects with like-minded educators and never stops learning.

What does it mean to you?

photo courtesy of aaron schmidt on Flickr


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