What Knowledge & Skills Do 21st Century Teachers Need?

Clauson-m120x148We often hear about 21st century learners and the knowledge and skills our students will need in the future. What about teachers? What are essential 21st century instructional skills that teachers will need to prepare our students? How are they different than the skills teachers have needed in the past?

As ASCD’s Annual Conference approaches, the big question on my mind is: how do we make sure teachers are prepared to meet the needs of 21st century learners?

Post submitted by Margaret Clauson, administrator for human resources at Wilmette Public Schools in Illinois and an 2011 ASCD Annual Conference Scholar.


  1. This is challenging as I want to be both forward-looking and realistic in goals. Thinking back on my career- decades I think I would have wanted earlier in my career some of the following
    – patience in working with the WHOLE CHILD
    – patience and the critical skills to weigh the latest innovations and determine whether they are useful or just fads
    – learn approaches for promoting social and emotional learning, especially within a culturally, ethnicly, and even linguistically diverse and global society
    (Toronto and other large cities force this but it would be good throughout.)
    – tech “wisdom” so that form can be matched with function, rather than jump to the latest toy
    – a little ability to improvise and “perform” just enough to engage interest from the first meeting with students
    These in addition to the usual teaching skills and life long learning habits.
    And we have only gone through 10% of this century!

  2. While I believe that teachers need heart and that it is in fact the starting place, I don’t think it is enough. Teachers need to be aware of the trends that affect learning for our students. We need to update our knowledge base to include the appropriate use of technologies to become more effective teachers and to help our students navigate a more and more complex electronic world with safely and ethically.

  3. While I believe that a kind heart is an intrinsic part of effective teaching, I don’t think it is enough for a 21st Century teacher. We need to be culturally and socially aware of the various students in our classrooms. Too often in the past we have excluded children because we didn’t understand our own biases even though we believed we were acting with a kind heart. Teachers of the 21st century also need to update our assessment and evaluation practices to reflect the electronic age that we live in. Too many of our tests and assignments are essentially the same as they were 30 years ago, even though the educational world has drastically changed. Teachers of the 21st century truly need to become lifelong learners and get in touch with the world their students live in.

  4. Teachers should become expert curators of information to be able to select, create, and use formative assessment questions for individual and group instruction. There is too much information out there in many different mediums, being able to discriminate and choose high quality and relevant resources is a must.
    When teaching Digital Natives being able to produce and employ multisensory presentations to maximize student engagement during instruction is essential. Most presentations today, unfortunately, are designed for visual learners. All types of learners should be considered.
    Teachers should become even better at Assessment. Collecting and analyzing formative and summative assessment, and reporting data to differentiate instruction is key to evaluating the success of the lessons.
    In a Globalized world Collaborating with peers to use formative and summative assessment data to improve instruction in professional learning communities and individual teaching is important to promote international mindedness.

  5. My list echoes some of the things that others have said. I believe that 21st Century teachers must:
    • Be digitally literate: Our students are digital natives. We must be able to use technology in ways that enhance instruction and “speak” to students.
    • Analyze and utilize data: While the influx of data can be overwhelming, accurate analysis and application of data findings can inform instruction in powerful ways.
    • Honor diversity: Our students are diverse in so many ways—ethnically, racially, socio-economically, linguistically, (dis)ability, learning needs, Multiple Intelligences, etc. We serve students best when we honor who they are and what their strengths are.
    • Differentiate: We must find ways to meet the needs of all students by differentiating content, process, and product.
    • Be efficacious: The best teachers are those who can identify a challenge facing a student (spotty attendance, learning disability, lack of prerequisite knowledge, attention issues, etc.) and think, “What can I do to help this student excel?”
    • Be adaptable: I recently heard a futurist claim that the amount of change coming in the 21st Century will be 1000 times greater than that experienced in the 20th Century. Yikes! We must be nimble to be responsive to so much change.
    I am regularly in awe of all that teachers do to help their students thrive. I have every confidence that 21st Century teachers will make remarkable strides to serve students.

  6. I think there are some very good points made here.
    Too often, I think teachers are forgetting that they need to transfer the “Doing” to the student. Sometimes we get so caught up in the delivery of important imformation and forget to teach students what to do with it. We need to have them use new information in a way that helps THEM make sense of it. Assesments have to be individually based. “One-Size-Fits-All” standardized tests do not help students demonstrate what they know. Information taught needs to be owned by the students in his/her own relevant way. We need to remember that when high school dropouts are asked why the chose to leave, relevance was an oft heard response.
    So while we are trying to incorperate all the best practices – “21st Century” Practices – for our students, we still need to remember to teach them the “why, when and how” as we are teaching the “what”.

  7. Excellent point Jeff!
    The 21st Century Skills are not just for teaching, nor are they exclusive to the learners. They should be considered as part of a Teaching AND Learning ecosystem.

  8. It is important teachers in the 21st Century first and foremost realize significant change is necessary to support the students of today. We cannot keep teaching from the post industrial model. I just had a conversation yesterday with the head of our teacher education department. She was emphasizing the importance of engaging ALL students even those difficult to motivate with project based learning that is relevant to making them college, career, and citizen ready. We also talked a lot about using performance based assessments instead of the traditional grading system and standardized tests most schools use. Teachers need training and ongoing PD in these areas. I would also take this a step further and speak to the importance of having a teacher effectiveness assessment that defines these 21st Century educator qualities and actions that demonstrate them.
    A visionary school that does this so well I would encourage you to check out is Quest Early College High School, the 2011 winner of the ASCD Whole Child Vision in Action Award.

  9. I have enjoyed reading the comments. Here in New Zealand we are having the same conversation and one of the key challenges I believe is the ability to adapt to change and be responsive to needs of students. A biggy for me is resilience, it is vital that we nurture and strengthen our own resilience (bounce back) and make a real commitment to model this to our young people and be committed to building others resilience through reflective practice, exploring strengths and making learning opportunities available to build individual and collective capacity.

  10. What knowledge and skills do 21st century teachers need?
    The follow are some things I feel today’s teachers need to know when working with students in the 21st century:
    1. Leadership among the staff and with the administration is shared in order to bring consensus and common, shared ownership of the vision and purpose of work of the school. Teachers are valued for the contributions they make to their classroom and the school.
    2.Teachers make the content they teach engaging, relevant, and meaningful to students’ lives.
    3.Teachers can no longer cover material; they, along with their students, uncover solutions. They teach existing core content that is revised to include skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and information and communications technology (ICT) literacy.
    4.In their classrooms, teachers facilitate instruction encouraging all students to use 21st Century skills so they discover how to learn, innovate, collaborate, and communicate their ideas.
    5.The 21st Century content (global awareness, civic literacy, financial literacy, and health awareness) is included in the core content areas.
    Subjects and related projects are integrated among disciplines and involve relationships with the home and community.
    6.Teachers are reflective about their practice and include assessments that are authentic and structured and demonstrate student understanding.
    7.Teachers demonstrate the value of lifelong learning and encourage their students to learn and grow.


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