The 21st-Century Teacher: Educating a New Kind of Driver

During a virtual meeting of the Global Cities Education Network, researchers from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) shared strategies for 21st-century teacher preparation. Their ideas mirrored a comprehensive set of recommendations generated by 18 accomplished teachers earlier this year. Practitioners and academics agree on teacher preparation’s destination. But how do we get there? We need a new type of transportation. And we need to trust the expert drivers in our midst.

This piece was originally published for Education Week’s Global Learning blog.  

Last week I was treated to a fortunate occasion of déjà vu.

During a virtual meeting of the Global Cities Education Network, researchers from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) shared strategies for 21st-century teacher preparation.

And guess what? The researchers’ ideas mirrored a comprehensive set of recommendations generated by 18 accomplished teachers earlier this year.

Practitioners and academics agree on teacher preparation’s destination. But how do we get there? We need a new type of transportation. And we need to trust the expert drivers in our midst: inviting them to be teacherpreneurs—innovative teachers who lead education and their profession without leaving the classroom.

We must prepare teachers today for hybrid and teacherpreneur roles so that the most accomplished practitioners continue working with students while expanding their influence.

Identifying energy sources

Every vehicle needs fuel—and we’ve got to get creative in this age of dwindling resources. So what about shared investments from universities, districts, unions, and community organizations? Many entities have a deep interest in recruiting, preparing, and retaining the best teachers. It’s time for meaningful, sustained partnerships that make a difference for kids. The Arizona K12 Center has teamed with the Tucson Unified School District and our organization—the Center for Teaching Quality—to support the teacherpreneur role of Sandy Merz, a Board Certified teacher who teaches engineering and algebra at Safford K-8 International Baccalaureate World School while connecting communities of teacher leaders who are transforming student learning.

Streamlining design for efficiency

Teacherpreneurs could design courses that integrate research with practice, ensuring that new teachers understand the links between their learning and what happens in classrooms. Using a blend of face-to-face and virtual communication, teacherpreneurs could provide job-embedded collaboration and mentoring that reinforces teaching as a team sport. Recently, I joined José Vilson, a math teacher in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, NY, to virtually mentor teaching candidates at Wheaton College—including those currently studying in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic—who are preparing for their careers by engaging with accomplished teacher leaders who are transforming education beyond their school buildings.

More sensitive gauges

Teacherpreneurs could develop performance assessments like edTPA. These tests could ensure that teachers are prepared for a given content area and that genuine measures of readiness—rather than seat time—determine when candidates are prepared to teach on their own.

Alternative routes, new roads

Providing these roles offers accomplished teachers a career pathway that maximizes their expertise without requiring them to abandon what they do so well: teach.

No longer do we need to force teachers to decide between “advancing” their career and teaching kids regularly. Let’s make way for the 700,000 teachers in America who are interested in leading without leaving, like teachers in Singapore and Finland are doing already.

  • JustinMinkel

    Teachers as creators, not just consumers

    Kris, one of the most fundamental shifts I think we need to make with our students is toward them being expressive creators, not just receptive consumers.  They need to write and speak, not just read and listen.  They need to solve problems and design products.

    I see a direct parallel to the vision you outline in detail here.  Teachers have long been seen as passive consumers of curricula, PD, and policy.  You propose a very different role for teachers–one that is harder and better–in which we create curricula, we design and lead PD, and we partner to shape policies that work better for our students and their families.

    Hybrid roles like the teacherpreneur designation are an ideal way to make that happen, shifting part of a teacher’s classroom time rather than loading one more thing onto teachers’ full workloads. This is the time.




    • KristofferKohl

      Teacherpreneurism: not essential in Singapore, Finland

      The last paragraph of your response got me thinking about the distinctions between the teaching profession in the US relative to high-achieving countries where teachers do not need teacherpreneurial roles because that ‘beyond the classroom’ time is built in to the day. Master teahers have a lighter instructional load so they can spend more time observing and mentoring newer teachers. Because their systems have been so intentional on the front end in establishing working conditions that are conducive to continuous improvement, they don’t have to carve out unique teacher leadership roles. Those have already been built in to the profession. 

  • bradclark

    We need more universities

    We need more universities willing to create positions for practicing teacher leaders on their under-grad teacher prep faculty.  The college course work offered by these in-the-field professors could allow for under-grad students to spend observation hours in k-12 classrooms as well.  Could be a cool model.

    • KristofferKohl

      Lab Schools

      Absolutely. Every school of education at a university could have an affiliated Lab School where teaching candidates are applying what they learn in the classroom of their instructor/professor. The blended role could be a cost-saving measure for both the school district and the university. Both entities could have twice the number of accomplished educators remaining in the classroom while preparing the next generation of practitioners with hands-on experience.  

  • bradclark

    added value

    It would also be an alternative way to increase the pay of teachers with very tangible benefits.

  • SusanGraham

    A Win/Win

    What if a teacher prep program and a high need rural school system shared an embedded NBCT who taught a Teacher Cadet class, supported teacher candidates and their cooperating teachers and facilitated professional development?

    • bradclark

      There you go.  Very efficient

      There you go.  Very efficient model.

    • KristofferKohl

      I love this idea, especially

      I love this idea, especially if a portion of the candidate support and PD could be accomplished virtually. A number of rural districts could then support the teacher’s time. Have to find creative ways of connecting funding source. Forgive the ignorance: does NBPTS supply any sort of stipend for candidate support providers?

  • RachelEvans

    Teacher Leaders & Teacher Prep

    This has me thinking.

    In the last two years, I have returned to my graduate school and given talks to the teacher candidates about being a 21st century educator. I talk about differentiated instruction for literacy classrooms and what that looks like in the day-to-day. I talk about the challenges inherent to the job of educating every child and what strategies I use to increase my odds. I talk about how the CCSS have changed what I’m doing, how I’m talking, and  how my students are talking. I talk about 21st century skills and what I’m reading to educate myself, what I’m talking about with colleagues, and how I am incorporating these into my curriculum. Finally, I talk about the teaching profession and the need to work diligently to professionalize the career. I share my bookshelf and explain how and why I am involved in education outside of my classroom.

    The response to my visits is overwelming. The candidates ask tons of questions and the feedback that I receive is extremely positivie. This last time, my professor wrote me a check out of her personal account and snuck it into a thank you note. When I read it, I wrote to her and explained that I didn’t feel right cashing her check, but I would certainly cash one from the university 😉

    This thread has inspired me. Intitally, I was invited to speak because I have maintained contact with my professors and I always share with them “what it would have been great to learn.”  I want to reach out to this professor, in particular, and see if there is a way to formalize communication between me and her students. I would love for this to be something that we do a couple of times (a few times) a semester— a webinar would be perfect. I am going to try to recruit a science and math teacher at my school to join me if I get the go ahead from the university.

    One topic I’d like to explore with them is how to mitigate the silo mentality by making room in the busy curriculum to accomplish interdisciplinary projects in order to capitalize on group work and creative thinking/problem-solving across disciplines.

    I’ll keep you posted!

    Rachel Evans

    • KristofferKohl

      Explorers, Pioneers, and Settlers


      Thank you for such a thoughtful response and real-world example of this kind of blended role in action. 

      It reminded me of a concept shared by a colleague about explorers, pioneers, and settlers. Explorers discover a world beyond the one we know, Pioneers convince us that it is livable. Settlers are satisfied with the status quo but can be convinced to live in new terrain when it feels ‘normal’. 

      What you and so many other teacher leaders are doing right now is blazing the path — letting your colleagues know that there are levels of leadership beyond department, grade level, and/or committee chair. You are blurring lines between teaching and leading in ways that current structures are not prepared to leverage. Rather than build time in to your day for mutually beneficial guest lectures at the local university, you’re having to do that work in addition to your everyday instructional load. But explorers and pioneers make it comfortable for district and higher ed leaders to be convinced of alternatives that leave everyone better off. 

      If you are looking for additional, trail-blazing routes, I recommend getting in touch with Collaboratory members Megan Allen, Jon Eckert, and John Holland who are each teaching groups of future teachers by tapping in to the expertise of accomplished educators like you through a virtual guest lecture circuit. You can Skype into their classrooms and provide a whole new crop of young teachers with a vision of the teaching profession that transcends the outmoded hierarchies of today. 

      For teaching and learning to change, we’ve got to begin preparing teachers for the dynamic, flexible system of education that we want rather than the antiquated version that we have now. I’m thrilled to know that you’re in the party of explorers doing just that!

  • SusanGraham


    And in that perfect, logical school those cooperating teachers might be NBCT candidates. A whole school would be the equivalent of a lab school. 

    Funding might be a combination of clinical faculty from the teacher prep program, school system PD budget, possible Title II funds if the school is high need, and maybe some grant money.