So often in education, we talk about “21st century skills.” We want our children to have access to learning that best prepares them for the career landscape that they are destined to enter. Very little is said, however, about the 21st century educator. While identifying key skills is critical, it’s equally important that educators adapt to be able to best deliver a meaningful education experience for every child.
The purpose of education is to foster growth and development of the whole child. To ensure that they’re challenged academically, but to also meet their needs socially, emotionally, and morally. Education should involve creation, innovation, safety, failure, growth, and character. Our students inherently love to learn; the role of an educator is to create a space where students are inspired to pursue that love for learning while fostering their passions.
As educators, we must value curiosity, collaboration, tenacity, and fun. School should be challenging, applicable to the real world, and student-centered. As our students’ needs change, educators must be curators of information rather than be-all-end-all deliverers of information. Our students deserve to do meaningful work that they can be proud of. Project-based learning offers the best opportunity for students to draw real-world connections to what they are learning, and must be included within a well-rounded curriculum.
Relationships and class culture are central to our work. Students are people first and learners second; without building a relationship of mutual trust and respect it is nearly impossible to foster a community of learners. For this reason, time must be taken each school year to foster community through class building and character building activities. All students should enter their classroom feeling safe to learn, fail, succeed, and grow.
Rigorous, challenging work is crucial. Tenacity is a muscle that students must build, and we must place emphasis on challenging work that pushes them outside of their comfort zone. Because tenacity has been found to be the number one predictor of success in every area of life, it should be a central focus within every classroom. Tenacity is built through challenging, meaningful assignments that students can redo/upgrade as many times as necessary to grasp the concepts/standards.
All children learn at a different pace, and strictly adhering to an assessment schedule that does not allow for different paces of learning stifles growth mindset. As educators, we must recognize that just because a student does not grasp a concept by test time does not mean that they should move on and give up on attaining mastery of that concept. Mastery does not have a deadline, and grades should be updated to reflect current understanding of material.
Passion for learning must be a core value of each educator. Curiosity and excitement surrounding learning is critical in communicating to our students that learning never stops. Educators should be lifelong learners, and commitment to continuous growth through professional development opportunities should be celebrated.
Finally, school should be fun. Our classrooms should include jokes, lessons that inspire a sense of wonder, and make our kids want to run to class so they don’t miss anything. Joy should be something we strive to inspire, whether it be through good music, a welcoming space, dressing up as a character for a lesson, playing games, or bringing snacks.
At their core, the 21st century educator is flexible, curious, and, most importantly, forever a student of their craft.