There are countless skills, attitudes and approaches that might feature in a response to this question.
Here are three things that came to mind for me:
- Embrace mobile phones: Gone are the days when mobile phones were something to confiscate at the beginning of the lesson and give back to their owners at the end of it. However, what we also don’t want it learners sitting there checking their notifications every five seconds and tuning out of the learning environment through that distraction. As teachers, we need to make use of this powerful tool in our lessons and in order to do that, we first need to learn more about its capabilities. Once we have learnt what mobile phones can be used for in a learning context, we need to make the effort to integrate their use into our lesson planning. In terms of classroom management, we also need make sure learners are very clear about when they should and shouldn’t be using their phones as part of an activity.
- Embrace multilingualism: The ELT classroom, apart from a handful of exceptions, has traditionally been an English-only zone. The reality is that many of our students will come to us with experience and knowledge of at least one, and in a large percentage of cases more than one, other language. Their competence in the various languages in their repertoire is likely to vary from basic to full competence, and this may also depend on the context of use. Rather than banning other languages from the classroom, as 21st century teachers, we should be looking for ways to draw on the rich linguistic experience that learners have. In order to help us do this, it stands to reason that we ourselves should learn other languages. I am currently studying Italian, French, German, Spanish, Polish, Romanian, Mandarin, Indonesian and Arabic. My competency in each varies from beginner to reasonably competent. Sometimes the languages interfere with each other but mostly the learning process enables me to see patterns in the way things work from language to language, similarities and differences, which makes the learning more memorable. Our learners may study other languages at school, may use one or more different languages at home, depending on the context. Rather than isolating English learning, I feel it would be more valuable to connect it with students’ learning and understanding of other languages.
- Embrace the online world: In other words, be connected. There is a world of content available online, as well as opportunities to network with other teachers. Blogging, Curation, Twitter chats, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Google hangouts, all are used by teachers and trainers in various ways: to facilitate learning, e.g. through online courses, to share ideas with colleagues across the world, to ask for help/information/ideas, to troubleshoot problems and so the list goes on. It may seem overwhelming but you are in charge of how much or how little you do, how many or how few platforms you use. Everybody has their favourite way of ‘doing online CPD’ – what is yours? The key thing is to experiment, decide what suits you and then use it to your advantage.
If you do all these, then hopefully you will swim rather than sink as a 21st Century teacher.