9 New Skills You Need To be a 21st Century Educator

This post appeared on August 30th on  Thanks Kaitlyn Cole for passing it along for all our educators!

These kids today with their wired lives and unique learning styles! Back in the 20th century, by god, schools were lucky to have just one computer — in fact, the personal computer wasn’t even INVENTED during a significant chunk of the era. And nowadays, college kids are even earning their entire degrees on the Internet. Some of ‘em don’t even see their teachers in person! Sigh. It’s getting to the point now that teachers have to actually learn something new to reach and engage these young whippersnappers. No more reading, writing and ‘rithmatic with nothing but pencils, paper and a shoe with one hole in it. Now little Muffin and Junior have their own laptops and might even collaborate with kids in different countries if they feel like it.

Some of these skills, of course, are holdovers from the 20th century which have grown more refined or essential as the calendar clicked. But education professionals still tout them as desirable — if not outright necessary — components of contemporary classrooms. Probably more so than any other era of academic history. So they’re “new” when it comes to importance, if not concept.

  1. Blogging Teachers competent in WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr and other free, popular blogging platforms have an excellent (and paperless!) tool at their disposal. But even the simplest user interface requires a few different skills to properly maneuver; such literacy is absolutely essential when creating viable, engaging assignments. Probably the easiest way to incorporate blogging into a classroom setting involves daily (or weekly) journal postings. Students can answer specific prompts, comment on one another’s postings, promote their own works and even virtually meet with other educators and industry professionals. Similarly, blogs also provide a nice space for workshopping creative writing pieces. The applications stretch further beyond that, of course, but it takes an educator skilled in blogging’s tenets to discover them. With so many schools and businesses greening themselves up these days, this route saves a few trees and trips to the recycling center.
  2. Social media: Social media doesn’t have to worm its way into assignments to prove itself educationally valuable. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn burst with teachers and other academic professionals chattering about ideas, strategies, resources and tools. While not exactly a requirement for the 21st century classroom, as social media continues expanding in popularity and usefulness, many “old guard” educators may find themselves left out of the loop. Love it or hate it, the Internet serves as an essential staging ground for professional exchange. Individuals who struggle with making sense of the admittedly overwhelming social media milieu should reach out to their savvier peers. Get some advice on which feeds to follow and groups to join. Open up to the potential for professional (if not personal) growth such global exchange opportunities allow — even if it intimidates or annoys, as even the most curmudgeonly user will walk away having learned at least one thing.
  3. Interclassroom communication: More and more, teachers turn to Skype, Cisco and other communication tools to connect with other schools worldwide. Why set up international pen pals when technology allows kids to interact almost literally face to face? Video conferencing tools aren’t anything new, of course, though as of late they’ve moved out of the boardroom and into the classroom. Not every employer will necessarily desire Skype savvy — especially in districts with minimal resources — but knowing and understanding different classroom connectivity conduits is certainly impressive on a resume. Teachers with access to the relevant tools use them for a wide variety of activities, such as collaborative assignments or cultural exchanges. And speaking of…
  4. Cultural literacy: Cultural literacy has always been a desired skill in teachers abroad and living in multiethnic domestic regions. But with the world growing even smaller, a wider number of educators are going to need international savvy, even if they’ve never once set foot in a foreign country. American colleges and universities saw a 3% increase in foreign students during the 2009 through 2010 school year. And that was during a not-insignificant economic downturn! Students and their instructors alike must both learn how to navigate an increasingly multicultural society, so education professionals should jump on any opportunities presenting themselves. This involves far more than just noshing on international cuisine and calling it a day. Take classes, attend lectures, festivals and other events, read, talk to people and (if possible) travel. All of these broaden an individual’s cultural knowledge, which they can then impart to their impressionable students.
  5. Socratic seminar: With a label like “Socratic,” this teaching style certainly didn’t recently explode into existence like so many wisdom goddesses out of fatherly skulls. Nancy Walser’s 2008 article in the Harvard Education Letter suggested its triumphant return to American classrooms. Rather than the traditional lecture structure, Socratic seminars and dialogues place a right fair amount of stress on student participation, insight and exchange. They walk away from the experience with a broader understanding of the subject matter rather than just their instructor’s interpretations. Because of this, Walser praises the method’s emphasis on “critical thinking, oral communication, flexibility, self-direction, and teamwork.” Rolling Socratic opens students up to a wide range of perspectives in a way more standard strategies can’t. With the world becoming more and more heterogeneous, kids are going to those need multiple angles if they hope to make it in college and career alike.
  6. Community engagement: In addition, Walser’s article also considers initiating neighborhood and community service projects another landmark in 21st century education. Teachers requiring their students to nurture the world outside themselves aren’t particularly new or unique, of course. But, as with the Socratic seminar, such assignments have taken on a higher degree of importance now that the 21st century’s hit. A sluggish economy especially presents many opportunities (not to mention some degree of urgency, depending on the region) for community service, beautification and development. It opens up participants’ eyes to the world’s real struggles, but empowers them to find effective solutions, which are lessons largely impossible in a classroom setting. In addition, they also learn to think creatively and spontaneously and soak up a diverse range of perspectives and insights.
  7. Information literacy: Seeing as how information literacy is considered integral to student success, schools have little use for teachers without the relevant skills. Again, while the concept has never really not been a part of education, its very shape certainly changed sharply in the past decade. Knowing how to properly research and process information via books, periodicals and libraries hasn’t passed into obsolescence just yet, but even avowed Luddites know technology holds more value these days. With so many unique issues such as fair use, creative commons and open editing saddled onto the internet alone, teachers need to stay on top of…well…pretty much every information conduit out there. A daunting task, to be certain, but an essential one. Otherwise, their students might display far more adroitness than their own teachers, a disparity that won’t really help when it comes to building up their skills!
  8. Networking: A networking teacher is, ostensibly, an open teacher. Conferences, seminars and other professional development opportunities have been a part of education since before the 21st century, but once again everyone’s old pal evolution comes into play. Considering how much importance most industries place on staying connected with fellow professionals worldwide, it makes sense that instructors possessing mad networking skills command more positive attention. After all, their flair for all things connective connotes a willingness to sop up ideas and strategies from contemporaries near and far. Rather than merely following trends, they adapt earlier than others and mold them into new and exciting forms while others begin catching onto the concepts. This skill set obviously ties inextricably with social media, although the latter only comprises one facet of networking. A significant facet, of course, but a facet nonetheless.
  9. Computers: Surprise! Because the previous eight entries weren’t already building up to this or anything. Seeing as how technology is becoming the standard — assuming it isn’t to some extent already — in global classrooms, cluelessness just won’t do. Today’s students are the first to grow up without ever knowing those dark, dreary pre-internet-and-difficult-PC-access days, and their learning styles reflect in kind. Where once computer literacy was a class all on its own, offered in districts able to afford a desktop or two, contemporary times see many, many more wired classrooms. From grammar to mathematics, tech-savvy teachers find creative ways to use computers as effective lesson enhancements. So if the “skills” section of that resume droops wearily, fire up a laptop. Public libraries and community colleges offer free or low-cost classes teaching a wide range of computer topics of interest to the academic community. Pick a few and start from there. Students will greatly benefit from an engaged, dedicated teacher who knows his or her way around a digitally-defined syllabus.


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