What is the Role of the Teacher in 21st Century Education?

I am a member of many professional learning communities. I do a tremendous amount of reading, trying to be at the cutting edge of knowledge in my field: education. Here’s what I mean when I say “cutting edge“: to be one of the first people to know about new developments and news in the field of education in general, and English Language Teaching, specifically, which is my field in which I work, as an educator in an International Baccalaureate World School, located in Santiago, Chile.

Well, as I said, while reading I just came across an open question, asked by a colleague from Bengaluru, India, named Shivananda Salgame.

No, I didn’t make up that name, nor the question. Trust me, both the person and the question are real. In fact, let me first introduce you to Shivananda a bit, and then I’ll add my reflections to the question he posed.


Over 20 yrs of experience in Information Technology Industry, with rich experience in Operations, Business Development, Corporate Planning and HR & Talent Development function. Currently, I have been associated with various projects of great social relevance in the area of Technology in Education and Technology for Rural uplifitment….

• Defining Business Models for Educational Products/solutions
• Successfully built and managed variety of operations – Technology services, BPO, Consulting Services etc….
• Start-up Operations – new projects/clients
• Talent Identification, Hiring and Retention
• Human Resource Development & Management
• Team Development
• Business Development & Client Relations
• Organization Structuring & Development
• Corporate Planning


Shivananda Salgame is the Founder of iLearn-International:

April 2009 – Present (3 years 9 months)
About Us: iLearn-International was founded in 2009 by a team of professionals with rich experience and deep passion in the education space, with the objective of making school education more enjoyable and purposeful to the student. We are currently bulding some reveloutanary and pathbreaking products/solutions which will focus on improving the “learning experience” of the student.
We at iLearn-International are commited to:
 Make learning more experiential, engaging and enjoying
 Enhance and Enrich the Knowledge, Skill, Ability and Attitude
 Ensure that every student “Discover the Joy of Learning”
 To assure Academic Excellence and Holistic Development

Email: shivananda.salgame@gmail.com
Twitter: @Salgame


OK, Shivananda is for real, and so is his question.

Here’s my first reaction to his question: “Why are we still asking this question, almost 13 years into the 21st century?” After mulling it over a bit, it began to dawn on me that we (the world in general and educators in particular) simply haven’t reached a consensus on what the answer to the question is. We have a multitude of answers to the question.

Therefore, I won’t hold you in suspense any longer. That would be counterproductive. Here’s my answer to the question:

“The role of the teacher in 21st century education is to provide differentiated leadership, in and out of the classroom, that promotes learner autonomy, both in individual and collective learning situations, and thus the capacity to interact critically with the tremendous quantity of information available through the technological advancements of the 21st century, about any given topic, to achieve the desired learning outcomes.”

Now, I’m smiling, (really) 🙂 , because I know that definition I’ve just given is inadequate, because there is so much more that I wanted to say, especially about connectivism, about how to use and reuse information, about how to establish mutually beneficial, collaborative learning networks, about creativity, about innovation, etc.

I simply stopped writing my definition because I knew it was ridiculously long and basically, the more I tried to make my definition all-inclusive, the longer it got. So I stopped trying for a memorable metaphor, and realised that I’m not the first person to leave this question inadequately answered, as I have done here.

There are obviously multiple roles for the 21st century educator. For me, differentiation is a key element. Our students are not all the same, and a one size fits all approach to teaching and learning is destined to work for some, yet surely cause failure for others.

Leadership is a key element. Anytime a teacher walks into a classroom and simply teaches the material, without becoming the acknowledged leader in the classroom, then there will be a void, which someone (a student) will fill.

That is to say, the leader of the classroom (which you decided not to lead) may or may not be interested in teaching and learning. In other words, you’ve got distractions which will eventually negatively impact learning. There are people who claim that the more disadvantaged the student population you teach is, the greater the need for teacher leadership.

Actually, it applies to all classrooms. Leadership that is caring and principled, fair and purposeful, exhibiting consistent values about work and character, worthy of emulation and respect by students, this is what I refer to here by the term, “leadership”. Again, this aspect is indispensable in all classrooms.

Another key is the use of the wide variety of technology which makes information available. There is nothing that a teacher can teach, nowadays, that students can not independently find out for themselves.

So what are you there for, if the students really don’t need you to teach them? Obviously, you need to be the guide, the one who models how to interact with information, assess it critically, use technology to achieve their goals, as individuals and as members of a group.

Obviously, I think collaboration, cooperation, and communication are important aspects of 21st century learning. A further and equally important aspect is making your knowledge available for others to use, reuse, create, recreate, synthesise in some novel way, and then feed forward to continue the process. I’m talking about sharing what you know with others.

This is a principle of connectivism, which differs from constructivism, or constructivist learning because it is inclusive of the idea that learning resides in machines as well as people.

Of course, we can debate the validity of that statement and you would surely ask me to prove it, provide some evidence to support my beliefs. My best answer would be to use me, personally, and my way of learning, as an example of what I mean by connectivism.

You could also read one of my books about connectivism. Just “google” the term “connectivism” and my name, “Thomas Jerome Baker” and you will have access to my books on Amazon or a print version at my publisher, Createspace. As I said though, you would still be able to have a good debate with me, even if you do not read my books.

Believe it or not, I’ve also written a couple of books about debating, but you begin to get the picture about me, which is my argument. Whenever I want to know more about something, I research it, use my personal experience as an experiential platform from which to write, and then make my reflections and learning available for use and reuse.

I rest my case Your Honor.

Having won our debate (I’m serious, I won the debate about connectivism with you) 🙂 (no?), here is a good place to conclude with a question:

What about you? What is your answer to the question: What is the role of the teacher in 21st century education?

I would like to know how you define this. As you know, nobody agrees on a definition, so your answers are just as good, probably much better, than the ones I’ve tried to give here.

That’s why I’m trying to learn from you. So please tell me:

What is the role of the teacher in 21st century education?

Please leave your comment here on my blog. I thank you in advance for reading, and I also thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts, reflections, and ideas with me.

By the way, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous, successful, and incredibly Happy New Year!!!

PS: I am waiting to read your responses! Leave your comments today!




About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Baccalaureate, Connectivism, Culture, Education, Education Technology, EFL, Higher Education Teaching & Learning, Reflections, Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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