1. What about something as simple as ‘contributor’? You don’t necessarily have to have the innovative ideas or design something flashy to be a 21st Century Leader/Learner/Educator. I really believe that being a contributor in the simplest sense is something we should all be doing to shape the lives and futures of our colleagues, our learners and ourselves to prepare everyone for THEIR tomorrow, not ours.

    • George

      I think that is a great point…I think that the way you are describing it, I would add that description to leader. What do you think?

    • sajefa

      Yes, to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower and a contributor. Once you become a leader, these traits of a contributor and follower are ingrained and the hallmark!

    • Tama Trotti

      Yes , not everyone can be a leader – ( some don’t have that desire) but everyone can be a contributor.

    • TKA

      Good Morning George,
      I do not believe that these characteristics only hold true for the 21st Century Educator. I would think if we evaluated and looked into the lives and philosophical makeup of the great educators that these characteristics were always present. This is an inclusive list that shows the traits of the effective educators of the past and present because their main focus was about making sure the focus was creating a culture and climate of learning which was student focused:)

  2. Regina

    Love this! Storyteller is spot on and timeless. I never really thought of my job as an artist so that characteristic was particularly thought-provoking. And I don’t think it was an accident that you put Relationship Builder at the top of the list. I agree that is the number one characteristic.

  3. Chris

    Subject knowledge, classroom management skills, high expectations and actually knowing how to teach properly need to be on there.

  4. Great Article!
    I guess if every educator around the globe incorporates even 5 of these in their style of teaching, then education will become much more fun and engaging.
    Moreover, rather than just teaching, an educator should actually act as a mentor/guide and put in the magical potion of camaraderie.

    • Chris

      Our goal as teachers shouldn’t be to be more fun and engaging. Instead, our goal should be on learning. Students can learn without being engaged or without having fun. Likewise, students can be engaged and have fun while learning nothing or very little.

      • Depends on how you define ‘learning’. Isn’t learning most authentic when the learner is emotionally and imaginatively engaged? Learning is by itself fun and engaging and our responsibility as educators is to find the wonder in what we teach.

        • Chris

          Definitely, learning on its own is fun and engaging. That is why as teachers we shouldn’t go out of our way to enhance engagement and fun within our subjects. Learning about history science and math are already fun. We don’t have to have gimmicks to get students engaged.

          Our goal as teachers needs to be primarily focused on learning. Fun or engagement does not equal learning. You can have fun and be engaged and learn very little. You can be bored to tears and still learn.

        • Teresa Murray

          Carolina: Learning is not fun and engaging. And just because something is engaging doesn’t necessarily make it learning. Learning new things can certainly be interesting. And I am also curious about ‘authentic learning’. What would inauthentic learning be?

          • Carolina

            My statement is not based on the idea of using “fun” and “engaging” activities as a frill to make school less boring.
            I recommend to you the work of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Antonio Damasio, Kieran Egan and Gillian Judson regarding the importance of imaginative and emotional engagement in teaching and learning. I agree, there is a danger in thinking anything fun is learning, and that is not what I am saying.
            The learning process, for it to be authentic in the sense of true and rich, needs to involve emotions and imagination, and this often turns out to be quite fun.

          • Teresa Murray

            It is important some of the time. Unfortunately, the reality of PD and current ideology is not saying this.

      • sajeda

        Spot on! More authenticity and meaningfulness will ensure engaging and fun as part and parcel of learning!

        • Teresa Murray

          What is your evidence for this statement? And how does something become more authentic? Much of this approach is ultra post-modern and quickly degenerates into meaninglessness. Evidence is the growth of tutoring, particularly in math, where desperate parents simply give up on schools.

    • Again, great ideas here George. This is an excellent start.

      Finally made it back. Here is what I left on that post on Facebook from George. I really want to think more about how we get to “there” from “here”, something I am tackling personally as an educator of undergraduate computing science but also in my role of leading others (colleagues and internet friends) as well.

      “Thanks for that link Dean Shareski. I have read much of Stephen Downes work but there is always another essay that I missed. This one is particularly relevant to a project that we call semestre-i here at the Tecnológico De Monterrey. I also find myself discussing the transitional phase that many of us educators are in. How we get from “here and now” to the “new order” in education is a difficult road but a journey that I enjoy. cc to Mark”

  5. Irene Fenswick

    Excellent characteristics of a 21st-century educator, George! I completely agree with you, it’s not about technology, it’s about changes at a global level, as well as local one. Hope these ten critical characteristics remain whatever the destiny has prepared for us.

    Thank you for sharing, George!

  6. Great article! These 10 essential characteristics are also what we would want to model for our students? I like the part where you state: “As educators, we need to constantly think about the world that we live in, and how important it is to capture and develop the hearts and minds of the learners we serve.” I noticed the shift educators made instead of 21st century to now future ready skills. Either or, I think we all agree these skills will constantly change as we move to a future we do not know what it looks like?

  7. Couldn’t agree more that the first trait, relationships, is unequivocally the most important. What’s the old saying… “Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Innovative approaches to facilitating learning are amazing and necessary and important, but will crumble like a sandcastle without the foundation of a deeply rooted connection between staff and students.

  8. I think educator’s need to also have empathy. Truly understanding a challenge, identifying a task, empathizing with your audience…all help to gain a deeper understanding of teaching and learning. Plus, empathy skills are contagious and we can help instill those characteristics in our students!

      • Davis Laughlin

        I see ‘reflective’ as an inward thing and empathy as an ‘outward’ one. An effective teacher is reflective – he/she is constantly pondering and evaluating lessons, strategies, ideas, insight, etc. Sadly, there isn’t much time for reflection these days . . . things are too fast. Empathy is our ability to connect with someone else’s pain and ‘feel it.’ Reflection can happen all alone – empathy requires a second party. At least that’s how I see it. 🙂

        • Sunmi

          David, I completely agree with you. Teachers reflect to understand best practice. When teachers identify and reflect on their practice as well as analyze and evaluate what occurs in their classroom, changes and improvements are noticed in their teaching. Reflections answer questions to the why and how a lesson went wrong or was successful.
          Empathy, on the other hand, is behavioral. At our school, we are implementing positive behavior. I have a student who had a bad experience at his previous school and was treated harshly by his teacher. He seems to be apprehensive most of the time. With constant praise and being a bucket filler class, he has volunteered and taken part in class discussions. Empathy is powerful. : D

  9. First of all, I congratulate you for your excellent contribution, we need more reflection and insights on this matter, thank you very much!, I would add that a fundamental characteristic of an educador is to develop skills to instill a service oriented attitude fueled by a sense of compassion. I see this characteristic as essential to transform society.

    • sajeda

      True, Compassion through service oriented approach could be a descriptor for relationship builder?

  10. Jenny Seib

    Great article. Very thought-provoking. I particularly liked the Storyteller and Designer sections. I agree that stories definitely help to foster relationships with my students. It makes them feel closer to me as a person and not just their teacher. And I feel that it develops a stronger bond between myself and students, which puts them in a better frame of mind for learning. I also really liked the comment in the Designer section asking if we, as teachers, would want to spend the whole day learning in our own classrooms. Good question! I like to think yes, but will keep this question in mind when planning and interacting with my students.

  11. George,

    As usual – really good stuff. I am a large fan of your work – it forces me to think deeply and for that I am indebted to you.

    I am currently exploring the concept of emboldened and passionate leadership. I look at it from the standpoint of how would I lead my schools and district different if I had nothing to lose. If it was truly from the heart all the time – I was not worried about leading in a way that was sustainable for me personally. I was truly trying to achieve the outcome I thought was best for others with (this is overstating it) disregard for myself.

    What if I did that? What if we all did that? I think our schools would look a lot different if people did not lead as though they need or want a next contract. If they did not lead like they did not want to have to uproot their kids. What if . . .

    • sajeda

      Yes, how far could anything be sustainable? Why can’t we look into simpler gains, that which is beneficial and productive for the need of the moment? The stress that is built up in thinking for 10 , 20 , 50 years stops the learning enjoyment of the moment. If learning gratifications are achieved on day to day or lesson by lesson or project by project, then it would lead to a better future undeniably. Why the rat race for goals and MDGs? Strive for it, no doubt but with outcomes unguaranteed, just as the future cannot be guaranteed.

  12. Melissa watson

    I’m liking your thinking and agree that relationship building is paramount as identified and listed first, but what about inquiry? I think we can not possibly achieve many of the other elements without encouraging our students to be risk takers and to ask question what is presented to them. Guided inquiry is so important in primary school and good teachers are very good at it. It not only builds creative thinkers but engagement and often challenges teachers to explore their own thinking.

  13. Mohammed H Randeree

    Excellent article.
    One suggestion I would make is “Selective/Critical”…
    We are being inundated with so much information, it is important to differentiate between the valuable and less useful. Especially as we have to ensure essential education as well as develop similar discernment and thoughtfulness in our students.

  14. V.

    With this title, even with these qualities already imbodied, sounds like a lot of useless pressure.
    Would work fine with “10 objectives every teacher can achieve”

  15. Steve Weatherell

    Yes, the list is great, but your first comment made me think: many people dislike the ’21st Century’ label. In fact, I feel we are struggling for vocabulary in many areas of modern education. Educational Technology, EdTech etc are also ugly words. But to go back to 21C, George, I think you have already solved it earlier with your ‘Today’s Classroom’ which I frequently refer to. It may not be happening everywhere, but it could and should, so Today is a great ambition. So, if you ask me, 10 Essential Characteristics of Today’s Educator.

  16. Jim Reif


    Very thought provoking. I would consider adding in communicator/listener to the list. We need to listen to students having difficulty days (see above empathy comment) but then we often need to communicate those needs to parents, counselors, maybe special education teacher or administrator.

    Even as I type this, I think they all need to be encapsulated as Champion of students.

    Thanks for giving me something to ponder this weekend.

  17. David Oehrlein

    I listened to your talk in Albany, Mn a week ago and you mentioned that teaching in isolation is a choice. I agree. I believe a teacher who chooses to teach in isolation is unable to be a 21st century educator. I think another characteristic would be, risk taker.

  18. Mary Jane Napolitano

    Hi George,
    From the first time I listened to you during our division wide innovation initiative- you have made me reflect deeper in my own practice as an educator and as a teacher leader. Following you on twitter enables me to enlarge my network and the list you enumerated and how you explain each characteristic lighted up many light bulbs on my head.
    I just thought of adding – RISK TAKERS as one of the characteristics. As educators of the 21st century we are not afraid to take bold steps in tying new things in our classrooms. We employ teaching strategies with which learners are not familiar. We utilize behaviors that in some way break down traditional class structures, hierarchies, etc. in order to promote better student learning.
    More power to you George!

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