Tony Gurr

What EXACTLY are the “Skills” needed by 21st Century TEACHERS?

In Classroom Teaching, Conferences, Technology on 04/03/2012 at 3:04 pm

I have been heard to say that you can’t throw a rock into the blogosphere these days without hitting a post or article on the 21st Century “something-or-other”.

Love it or hate itthe notion of 21st Century Skills is one of those HOT topics these days – especially in Turkey.


I blog about this area far too frequently (my darling wife, Nazlı Hanim, just says I blog about “everything” too much), have a “big mouth” and live here – these are probably some of the reasons I have been invited to give a keynote at the upcoming Maltepe University Conference in April.

I didn’t have to think about it too much at all – this is the first time I have heard of a conference that specifically links the 21C concept to the “business” of what teachers need to “do” with what they know about LEARNing and TEACHing (with Turkish LEARNers).

The problem is that I still can’t help feeling that many in “educational circles” (or their advisors) do not link the 21C concept to real LEARNingchoosing instead to focus on what seems to be both the engine and the fuel of the 21st Century…..

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not some kind of EdTech luddite who wants to put a stop to the so-called “tablet and akıllı tahta dönemi” we are currently witnessing in Turkey. Turkey is my “adopted” home, I am a “milli enişte” and I am amazingly proud that I helped “create” one of Turkey’s first “digital natives” (and also one of the “toughest” and “most beautiful”, too – ask me about the “Türk kızı” who took down men twice her size on the Turkish TV version of Wipe-Out).

I am a “daddy”, too!

But, my “business” is LEARNing (as if you didn’t know) – not TECHNOlogy. And, I’m interested in how we actually “do” something with all the talk-we-are-talking these days – talk about the “new kids” on the “curriculum block”:

  • IMAGINEERING (a wonderful “skill” that brings many of the above together)… 

We know here in Turkey (not that different to the rest of the world really) that we still have major challenges with:

  • ORAL and WRITTEN COMMUNICATION (the 3R’s in TURKISH) – of course!
  • ENGLISH LANGUAGE (the 3R’s in ELL)

But, the “TECH” (and the “new digital landscape”) still get many more column inches and pixels than student LEARNing.


Our raging debate, a debate that others in the US and Europe have picked up, centres on Turkey’s plans to purchase “15,000,000 tablets” over the next few years (as part of the Fatih Project) – and has international and domestic commentators “really talking”:

Actually, I’m not sure if we should be talking about the “tablets”we should be discussing the “skills” the tablets are supposed to be ushering into Turkish schools.

…and, the impact of these skills on TEACHers.

In an earlier post, I discussed how these 21st Century “realities” are creating a new set of roles for teachers:

However, discussion on how these “roles” translate into a new evolving set of teacher skills, literacies and fluencies has been limited – especially, in Turkey.

This is what I’ll be talking about in Istanbul – at the Maltepe University conference.

So, and in preparation for my keynote – I’d like to try and create a “pre-conference PLN” (and hopefully a post-conference version, too). I want to see what people think about the following questions:

  • What skills do TEACHers (in Turkey) need as we continue our march into the 21st Century?
  • How many of these skills actually relate to how we deploy and use TECHNOLOGY?
  • How many of them relate to effective LEARNing and TEACHing?
  • What do TEACHers actually think themselves – and what do their LEARNers think?
  • How effectively is TEACHer (and LEARNer) LEARNing being promoted and supported (in Turkey)?
  • What else needs to change to make the 21st Century “wishlist” a reality?

I’d love to see some fresh ideas and commentsand see you at the conference, if you can make it. 


If not (and you are a lover of “bedtime reading”) – here’s a little list of some resouces on allthings21Cskills:

Tony’s 21st CENTURY LEARNing Library

  1. I’m reminded of a discussion at BETS ( I may have mentioned to you before …

    REYYAN: Of course we use new technology because we want to teach better.

    ME: No, I use new technology because it’s bright and shiny. Then I work out a pedagogical justification for it.

    OK, I was caricaturing myself, but it’s a common enough attitude.

    • A quick translation of the quote from Ziya Hocam (aplogies to those who might be able to do a better job);

      We are trying to teach 21st Century kids with 20th Century teachers (working in) 19th Century buildings….

      You get the idea 😉


  2. Well, this is a tough one, isn’t it? So much has been going on around the world about 21st C teaching and learning. Perhaps, so ‘too much’ of it that we just talk/write but do not take any action. Staff room talking with the other teachers about the digital generation and discussions in the blogs do not help much. Neither does a new computer/tablet, software or e book!

    I think teachers need a plethora of skills from computer literacy to creativity to be able to cope with 21st C teaching/learning and the digital generation I am sure many other members of the blog will mention those- I am also sure that most of the teachers already have them whether it’s 21st C or not. Let’s imagine the teacher is equipped with the skills in question, what I would like to focus on more are the following questions :



    If the answer is “NO!”, sorry my friend, there is not much to be done.

    If it is a big YEEEEES, let’s move on and have a look at Guy Claxton’s definition of a Capable Learner.

    If we are after helping our students become ‘ capable learners’ by using technology, I think we should be focusing on the following characteristics:

    CURIOUSITY, IMAGINATION, ADVENTURE: Are my students curious, are they using their imagination, do they enjoy this and percieve it as an adventure? I think this is particularly important for motivation. What is the use of reading an e book but not a regular book if it doesn’t create the above impacts on learners?

    COLLABORATION AND INDEPENDENCE: Can my students work with others efficiently? Can they learn from each other? Can my students work alone? What is the end product?

    Mostly, digital generation prefers to work alone. At times, this may be good but it may also deprive them of an important skill: Collaboration. These two must go hand in hand.

    FOCUS AND INTEGRATION: Can my students focus or do they get distracted easily? Can they concentrate on the information long enough? Can they integrate this information with something else and learn from this? Can they use the information properly? We all know that one of the most striking characteristics of digital generation is multi-tasking. The question is: do they learn from multi-tasking or is it just surface level information? Our duty is to use this trait as effectively as possible so that learning takes place.

    METHODOLOGY AND SELF-EVALUATION: Can my students define a problem? Do they follow a strategy? Do they come up with solutions?

    These also overlap with the 5 FLUENCIES: Solution, Creativity, Collaboration, Media and Information fluencies. (from 21st Century Fluency Project )

    For the last 3 months I have been travelling around Turkey giving workshops to teachers at different institutions, some being government school teachers. To be honest, I do not think ‘miraculous’ electronic devices pushed into education world by big companies will solve the teaching/learning issues in Turkey. Do you know why? Firstly, I think the answer to my first two questions is a NOOOOOO! Secondly, I strongly believe that with a few exceptions the skills that the teachers need as we continue our march into 21st century are the very skills that a teacher should already have. And only the few exceptions such as computer literacy actually relate to how we deploy and use technology. In a nutshell, my friend, if we value learning and teaching and if we CAN teach properly, we can do it with or without the gadgets! The gadgets are just the decorations!

    I must make a note here: All this is about teachers NOT students. Our students DO need technology. It’s an important part of their life-it may help them to learn and I DO believe in the benefits. But, not before WE TEACHERS CHANGE OUR MINDS AND OURSELVES.

    I wish I could listen to you at Maltepe University but most probably I won’t be able to make it. Good luck to you with this and please keep us informed.

  3. Came across this – and had to “add” it into the pot.


    We’ve all heard how (__noun__) will save/revolutionize education. But unfortunately, it’s not going to have the expected impact. Some may use (__noun_) in an exciting, creative way, and will be able to say that their students are engaged at a new level. But many implementations of (__noun__) will be thoughtless, with opportunities for even minor impact buried under a host of systemic issues that can’t be solved by going shopping.

    Schools will adopt (__noun__) without a vision of what to do with it
    Schools will purchase (__noun__) without really thinking about how it fits into the current infrastructure, much less a new way of doing things
    Schools will assume that (__noun__) changes things – but will not set aside the time for the participants in the change process to actually decide what “change” is or to plan and implement new processes that support it
    What happens next?

    Blame teachers and students
    Look for other things to purchase that makes (__noun__) “work” in the classroom. Vendors will be all too happy to supply more stuff to buy
    Do more “training” on (__noun__)
    Search for the next new (__noun__)
    I find it odd that the phrases “save education” and “revolutionize education” are used nearly interchangeably in the current public discourse about education. Aren’t they really in opposition? Save implies that things don’t change all that much, that the system just needs some sprucing up to get things back to the mythical way they used to be. And what does revolutionize mean other than re-creating everything?

    But whether you believe that education needs radical change or minor course correction, a “thing” won’t make that happen. Only people will – the people at the heart of the system, teachers, parents, and students.


  4. Well, I believe it all has to start with the readiness of the instructor to become a ‘Lifelong Learner’. If you think that there is something new out there and you are willing to learn, you can cope with anything- be it technology, or still better, ‘imagineering’ as you would put it.

    However, we still have instructors who believe that the grammar translation method is the best of all teaching/learning methods, and students do not need speaking/writing skills!!!

    Somehow the notion of ‘ teacher ‘ which really should be ‘teacherlearnerteacher’ must have gotten lost somewhere on the road to becoming a teacher. Some seem to be in this profession just for the summer holidays .

    There seem to be few teachers interested in self-development, especially in state schools.
    You design workshops to cater for the needs of your instructors but only a handful attend!

    Therefore, the question to ask is: ARE OUR TEACHERS CAPABLE LEARNERS?

    If the answer is yes, nothing can stop you from transforming your institution into a 21 C establishment.

    If the answer is NO, o zaman kolay gelsin! There is virtually nothing you can do.

    • Hi Özlem,

      I can’t agree more. I arrived Ankara only this morning after giving a workshop to 200 government teachers in a beautiful city of Turkey. Just before the workshop one of the teachers approached and said to me:

      ‘ Why are you torturing English teachers? We are sick and trired of going to seminars and workshops, just leave us alone.’ Seriously!!!!!!!!!! This was before the workshop, mind you, so I can’t blame me:)

      Quite a number of others were literally fighting outside blaming the Ministry for forcing them to attend such organisations.

      Some of them slept during the workhop let alone the ones who were either talking on the phone or texting. Eventually, I had to ask the ones who were not interested to leave during the break. And that’s what they did: around 100 teachers left! Yaniiii 50% of them. I continued with the ones left and it was much better than the first period.

      Funnily, or should I say tragically, the techician, who was standing in the corner and was there to help me with the projector, mike etc said that despite his limited English from high school he had enjoyed every moment of it and he had learned. NOW, THAT IS A PERSON WHO IS CAPABLE OF LEARNING.

      Another tragicomic moment was when the authority from the ministry was giving a speech and talking about 21st century learning and teaching and how Turkey is unfolding and adapting herself to the era! He also left, of course, saying that he doesn’t speak English and unfortunately could not see the 200 21st century teachers in action!

      • Here’s another one for “the pot” – sent to me from an old friend in Dubai.

        Written in 2010 (by Brad Johnson and Tammy McElroy), the title is very relevant to our chat here – The Changing Role of the Teacher in the 21st Century.

        Brad and Tammy wrap up their article with this conclusion:

        Effective teaching has to be fluid and adaptive to current culture. The effective teacher understands that there are core skills and knowledge that have to be learned, but must be presented in a manner that students find relevant, even if not in their immediate lives. This requires an art and a science to teaching that makes the teacher of the 21st Century effective.

        The science of teaching requires content knowledge, organization, management skills, and detailed planning. The art of teaching is not about possessing an outgoing personality, but making connections to students, parents, as well as connecting the curriculum to the real world in a relevant manner. Thus the 21st Century teacher creates and maintains intentional relationships with her students, parents, and colleagues for the sake of tomorrow’s success.

        This is not an easy task, but when the teacher understands how her role in the process has changed, it does make the process much easier. Success of students is the ultimate goal of education; however we have to remember what makes that success possible, an effective teacher. An effective teacher is not someone utilizing the methods and initiatives of 1965, but rather embracing the culture of 2010 and adapting to the needs of students today. The effective teacher will connect the art and science of teaching to make the learning environment relevant and applicable for her students. In the end, the teacher will thrive and the students will flourish when the role of the teacher adapts to the needs of culture of today.

        You can read the full article HERE.

      • Just got this from Adnan in İzmir.

        TOOLS for the 21st Century Teacher –

        The question is – what do you notice about all these tools?


      • OK – final one for today. I’ve just tweeted this one:

        It’s a solid set of reasons why technology can help us – as teachers. Would you agree?


  5. Been getting a few e-mails – and have asked permission to post a few.

    From Burçak (in Ankara):

    Next-generation teachers

    The first thing that comes to my mind is a kind of teacher who knows the characteristics of 21st century students well, and who can keep his/her pace according to the required standards of 21st century (knowing and using technology, making use of social networks, implementing them in his/her classes).

    Also, I think, getting lost in the deep sickness of ‘the notion of experience’ is a big issue of this century. As teachers we should understand the importance of practice no matter how experienced we are. Through ‘practice’ teachers notice what they are doing wrong, and create their own strategies to do better.

    But one thing is important in the 21st century, I notice much more collaboration between teachers, they tend to share these strategies. The teachers’ views on certain topics have changed within this century. Many of them are eager to learn from each other; therefore, observation is something that is not as scary for them, but it is only an opportunity to see variety from different teachers. Also, they are aware of the fact that practice requires getting feedback from eachother.

    Moreover, 21st century teachers should adopt more student-centered methods, adapt their teaching strategies according to the required standards, they should also integrate instruction and assessment in a way (assessment should not be left to be nightmares for 21st century students).

    In my opinion, a skilled teacher in the 21st century is someone who doesn’t ignore and who CAN still make use of humanistic approaches in this highly mechanic century. Otherwise, the integration of technology into our lives will have generated more and more robot teachers!! (like next-generation cell phones , the more applications they have, the more easily they can get out of order, and because they are adapted to the needs of new century, the first function of the cell-phone is not fulfilled)

    Tony, I think nowadays there are three types of teachers: teachers who are aware of the qualifications of being a 21st centry teacher, and they have already leaped to the next level, and there are teachers who are making a great effort to adapt to the new challenges of the 21st century, and the last type of teachers (indeed the minority of teachers) who still resist. They will need a huge leap to the next level, but will:)

  6. Another one – this time from “Teacher X”:

    Tony, actually I am freaking out about this issue.

    We have many teachers that are completely naive about applications and tools – and some teachers in Turkey who dont have an email account!!

    I guess it has something to do with ELT departments in universities. The other day I was talking to a teacher candidate at XYZ University (ELT department) and she tolld me that in
    their ‘materials development’ classes they are still making ‘puppets’. I have a professor there who still needs to see me to give some feedback – he cant do it online 🙂

  7. A teacher from Adana says:

    Tony – the list of skills you have for students is the same list for teachers. You say walk the talk a lot – we must BE the talk. We have to be rolemodels – but we are not.

    Also today lost of students are better at technology (than teachers). We cannot teach them but they can teach us.

  8. Hi Tony. This is coming to you from Canada. Here at my university, the faculty of education has recently pushed to start to incorporate smartboards into their classes. I believe that the elementary and high schools in the city have had them for about 10+ years now. What does this say for progressive teacher education? New teachers are graduating and joining the schools with an immediate skill deficit. In my impression, it should be the new teachers’ stealth role, to bring in new ideas, skills and ideas that brighten the teachers in the trenches, lives. Actually, graduates of 2012 should be digital natives… Universities and education systems for the most part are a generation behind. I think the inclusion of smart boards was more a matter of keeping up with what is popular than what is necessary. The initial inclusion of smartboards in elementary school was driven by learning styles. Inclusion in high schools was more about the use of the tool for math and also because they needed to maintain the technology standards the students were used to as they progressed. Now we have the same situation with students coming from high schools into the education programs in the universities… now it is our turn to update. Odd that we are not out in front eh?

    • I got myself trained in using a smartboard last semester (not that it really needs a lot of training – any technologically literate person can work it out themselves). Currently I’m helping someone with their doctoral research, comparing classes with and without the smartboard. Currently my opinion is that it’s still more in the “bright and shiny” category than it is a useful educational tool (or as Tony would put it, LEARNing tool). I can see how they could be more useful at an elementary level, but at the moment I find them fun on occasion but not worth the hassle for regular use. When (a) they are as easy to write on as a whiteboard and (b) we have them in every classroom, I’ll probably change my mind.

      • From another teacher (not too far from Ankara) 😉

        Firstly, I definitely agree with the saying ’19.yy’ın binalarında, 20.yy’ın öğretmenleri ile 21. yy’ın çocuklarını eğitmeye çalışıyoruz.’ Maybe I’m showing a bit favoritism as it belongs to a professor from Gazi 😉

        I graduated from Gazi University but we only had chance to see/use technology in my last year when we were provided with projectors. To me, lecturing a course via projectors was the “peak” in terms of technology till I came across the many blogs of teachers who used in their teaching. At that moment, I really felt overwhelmed about how to keep up with these rapid developments – because our 21st learners were expecting us to make use of them.

        In fact, only keeping up with technology isn’t the secret of success – except for perhaps helping us gain the learners respect (as they are already knowledgeable enough with technology).

        Most importantly, we should be good models for them because they are influenced by our behaviors. Walk-your-talk should be the main principle that we follow and then comes other skills like being a risk-taker, collaborator, and facilitator. It is critical that teaching is supported with technological tools, not the starting point – this is the real secret.

        There seem to be two kinds of problems with Turkish teachers; one is “dinosaur teachers” bound to their traditional methods and the other one is the experience of “younger teachers” trying to keep up with changes, but ending up confused about how to make use of them. I consider myself in the second group, and I have trouble in using what I know. The solution could be attending training programs and starting to take more risks. Once we convey to our students we’re trying new things together, they’ll love and trust us – the real key for better learning. In order to see the results, we may ask our students to write reflections about how they feel, what is good and bad – and then shape ourselves accordingly.

        I am not sure if my comments meet your expectations, but I hope they do. I really hope to attend your conference.

      • Maybe the most important thing to remember is that Marshal McLuhan got it wrong: the medium is NOT the message.

  9. And. another one from my dear friend Laurencehe actually went through all the questions for me 😉

    What skills do TEACHers (in Turkey) need as we continue our march into the 21st Century?

    Self belief, the right to experiment, and the right to fail, unfettered by the demands of those in charge of them. ‘Adaptation’ is %50 success and %50 failure; only by learning from failure can individuals learn and improve themselves. Teachers also need to develop their interactive skills; to learn to communicate both verbally and nonverbally, and understand that a lesson is nothing to do with ‘planning’ but an ongoing interaction between themselves and their learners; they have to cultivate adaptability to the requirements of the moment.

    How many of these skills actually relate to how we deploy and use TECHNOLOGY?

    Technology is erroneously seen as the panacea for all types of classroom interaction. I do not trash it, but I think it’s a side-issue for all types of teaching and learning activity. It’s something that can be used, I agree; but only within the framework outlined above for a learning activity.

    How many of them relate to effective LEARNing and TEACHing?

    Goes without saying that all the skills I’ve outlined above will help to promote an effective learning experience. I make no distinction between the two learning and teaching; they are actually part of a mutual learning experience.

    What do TEACHers actually think themselves – and what do their LEARNers think?

    Think about what? I think it’s difficult to elicit one’s thoughts in a judgmental atmosphere, something that I think characteristic of the current learning environment in schools and universities. Until such time as a mutually supportive environment can be created at all levels – departmental, institutional as well as pedagogic – then I think neither teachers nor learners will ever disclose what they ‘really’ think.

    How effectively is TEACHer (and LEARNer) LEARNing being promoted and supported (in Turkey)?

    Apart from isolated instances, such as your own, negligibly. All the seminars, conferences, and other events, ape the ideas of being ‘interactive’ or ‘mutually supportive,’ but actually reinforce the existing hegemonies which are based on hierarchic models. Until such time as leaders can understand the significance of listening rather than judging, then the current situation will never change.

    What else needs to change to make the 21st Century “wishlist” a reality?

    Implied in what I’ve said earlier.

    Laurence Raw – Baskent University.Department of English, Ankara, Turkey. (Twitter)

  10. Hi Tony!

    This is such an exciting issue to be discussed about. When we talk about 21st century teacher, the first idea that might come up into our minds must be technology, but I also believe that our kids need to see happy, knowlegable, self confident, humorous, multi-tasking, active, practical, good-looking teachers.

    If we put it into consideration that kids want role modals and as they spend most of their time at schools and they are with their teachers most of the time, it must be a fantastic idea that their teachers can capture their interest and encourage them unconsiciously to become a valuable person for their society.

    No student want to see a miserable looking, knackered teacher who has no idea of what is going around in the world. No student would take such a teacher as an example so what should be done?

    Teachers need to have time to read, to attend valuable conferences and seminars related to their field, to follow the news, to have hobbies, to do sports, to travel. This way, they gather enough ingredients to make their classroom more motivating as well as making their students well-informed.

    A 21st century teacher is a person who is a teacher, a healer, an actor. Someone who has the ability, self-esteem and knowlege to leave his footprints.

    All the best,


  11. I’ve read through the comments, and i see a lot of reinvented wheels, whether theoretical, practical, institutional or individual. How can you break free of them? If you can do that, then perhaps you might be able to construct an effective pedagogy.

  12. Reblogged this on OzLokie and commented:
    We’re almost three years on from this post and I’m left thinking that we are still asking the same questions…
    In technology terms three years is a lifetime!
    In students eyes three years probably feels like three lifetimes!
    But what does three years feel like for a teacher being told to engage with technology in their classroom?

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