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Essential skills for teachers in the 21st century

Uncategorized Nov 23, 2020
The nature of teaching is constantly evolving, especially in a world that is rapidly changing by the day. Technology keeps advancing at ever-more increasing rates, which brings massive changes to the way the world operates. We are trying to prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist, and help them to develop the skills that they will need to deal with the many political, environmental, economic and social challenges that the future will bring them. 
So what are the essential skills that teachers need in today's world and into the future?  
Gone are the days where students comply without question, and the teachers’ authority is respected outright. No - these days, students will not hesitate to question the relevance of what is being taught, and teachers cannot rely on the use of fear tactics or punishment to enforce compliance. 
So what are we to do? Well, we need to be able to persuade and motivate our students to learn - we need to be able to ’sell’ the relevance of the learning to them, so that they become more interested and engaged. Some ways of doing this are:
  • Become really good at story telling, and weave stories into the learning at every opportunity. There is a reason why stories were the primary means of education in every culture around the world before the traditional education system began. Stories create emotional connection, and this helps to keep the information in long-term memory. Also, once students are emotionally invested, they become much more motivated to keep learning and dig deeper.
  • Listen to your students. Find out what your students are interested in, and where their strengths and talents lay, and then tap into that. Provide some element of student choice in your teaching programs so that students have the ability to use or demonstrate their strengths and talents, or further explore their unique interests.
  • Explain how the learning will be relevant to them in the near future in a practical sense. How will they need to be able to apply it and what benefit will they get from it? How will it make their life better? Always emphasise the result that is going to bring them some type of benefit to their life. Or, alternatively, how will their life be worse if they DON’T learn? This can also be very motivating.
  • Give students the opportunity to make a different in someone else’s life. Don’t relegate learning just to the classroom - giving students the opportunity to apply their learning to the broader community can be very empowering for students.
  • The ‘know, like and trust’ factor - students are more motivated to learn from teachers that they like and that they feel likes them. Be authentic, let students know a bit about you, be consistently pleasant and approachable. Show genuine interest in your students so that they know you care about them.



Attunement is the ability to ’tune in’ to your students needs and feelings, and then respond appropriately. It’s going a step further than empathising, which is the ability to share and understand other’s feelings.  Being able to attune effectively will mean that your students feel like they are really seen by you, and taken care of. This is important, as according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, effective learning cannot take place until students feel like they are safe and connected.

Being able to attune to our students needs means that we also need to be able to improvise. Whilst it’s great to have a plan, it’s not always great to follow the plan if it’s not what your students need at the time. Always tune in to what your students are feeling and needing at the time, and keep altering your approach based on this.

Emotional intelligence 

Emotional intelligence will be one of the most sought after skills in the future of work. As technology and artificial intelligence (AI) advances, many of today’s jobs will no longer exist. However, AI will never be able to fully take over those occupations that rely on a high degree of emotional intelligence (such as nursing, counselling, and yes - teaching). Therefore, to future-proof your job as a teacher, you need to have high emotional intelligence. 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, monitor, regulate and control your own emotions. This requires us to have a good understanding of who we are on a deep level and to be self-aware. What are your values and beliefs? Does your behaviour/ actions match your values and beliefs? In what ways do your beliefs limit you? What do you stand for? What is most important to you? How do you react in certain situations? What triggers you? Why does it trigger you?

Once you have a deeper understanding of who you are, you can start becoming more aware of how you think and feel about certain things, and how things affect you. You start to understand that you control your responses and emotions, and that you can change your state of mind whenever it suits you.

This skill helps us so much in the every day life of teaching because you will find that less bothers you. You won’t take things personally and other people's actions or words will not affect you as much. This leads to less stress and a much calmer state of mind. You will be able to respond thoughtfully and intentionally, rather than have a 'knee-jerk' reaction. 

When you have greater self-awareness and control over your own emotions, you can then model this for your students, and help them to develop this very important skill too. You will be able to read and understand their emotions on a deeper level, which will help you to relate and connect with them even more so.


Creativity is not just for the arts. Whilst the arts are very important, creativity is also about being able to make new connections between ideas or concepts, and creating new ideas or solutions.

In order to deal with the challenges that our future holds, our students will need to be able to ’think outside of the box’ in order to create innovative solutions. In order to help our students to develop this skill, it’s important that we are modelling it for them and providing opportunities to be creative as much as possible.

Approach teaching as a problem solving activity that requires creative solutions - for example, how can you make the curriculum more engaging? How can you help students make new connections and create new ideas? How can you help a particular student become more excited about learning? 

Model the creative process at every opportunity - whenever you come up with a new idea for something or make a new connection, explain your thought processes to your students to make your thinking more visible, so that students can emulate it.


Over the last few decades, with the rise of the information age, teaching has moved away from the delivering of content, to the facilitation of learning. However, teachers need to be not only facilitators, but cultivators. What do I mean by this?

Psychologist Peter Benson delivered a fantastic TED talk called ’Spark’ - in it, he talks about the idea that every human being has a spark - by that he means something that lights them up and gets them excited about learning. He argues that people should be ‘known by their sparks’, and that the primary role of parents and teachers is to help students identify and cultivate (ie. nurture and help to grow) their sparks.

This requires us to be able to develop a deep understanding of each student and their unique strengths, interests and talents, and to encourage them to follow their passions, whatever that may be. It requires us to understand that every person’s spark is different and valid, and to cast no judgement over it. 

What other skills do you believe are essential for teachers in the 21st century? 
This is something that we delve more into in Stage 3 and 4 of the Transformational Teachers Success Path, a membership for teachers who want to make a difference in the world. 
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