I’ll be honest. I didn’t really plan on attending a lot of sessions at ISTE this year.

However, the one I attended today was one of the few on my schedule. It also happened to exceed all expectations.

The session, moderated by Ken Shelton and featuring a variety of educators, including Paula White, a member of my PLN for whom I have much respect, was a panel discussion focused around some thought provoking and deliberately worded questions developed by Ken himself.

What ensued was a meaningful and engaging conversation about what it means to be a teacher in the 21st Century, about the use of technology in the classroom and the struggles that teachers face.  Each question Ken posed was worded just right to allow for deep thinking about what it means to be a teacher in 2010. 

One of the things that I took away immediately was the idea that we are NOT 21st Century educators. Rather, we are contemporary educators.  I have always struggled with the label “21st Century learning” as a way to define what I do, when in fact, I am educating and preparing my students for the future, not the present.

One of the first discussions delved into this.  Are we contemporary teachers just because we integrate technology, or is it more than that? Furthermore, do we NEED to always integrate technology to be contemporary teachers?

One of Ken’s brilliant questions was: “Do 21st Century teachers make a conscious and deliberate effort to integrate tech into their curriculum?” (I may be paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.)

I had to really think about the wording of the question. Conscious effort, yes, but deliberate? That was the word that got me. Should we be searching for ways to integrate technology into the curriculum just because it’s expected or because we feel obligated or because the technology is there? Is it a necessary aspect of being a 21st Century teacher to be seeking out ways to use technology in our classroom?

Or, should the technology we use in the classroom be so seamlessly integrated that we use it only when it fits our learning goals and leave it aside when we can achieve a learning goal without it?  As Paula suggested, technology should transform a lesson without the lesson being centered around the technology itself–seamless integration.

On the other hand, should we be thinking deliberately about why we are using technology, how the tool will engage students and transform learning when we introduce new tools into the classroom?

As an audience member stated, “curriculum needs to drive technology.” We need to keep learning goals in mind first before we think about the technology we are integrating into the classroom.

One of the last questions asked was:   

 “Are these the greatest challenges a 21st Century teacher faces?

  • Money 
  • Lack of resources 
  • Lack of Professional Development 
  • Student aptitude/attitude 
  • Lack of Administrative Support”

I don’t believe that all of these qualify as the greatest challenges of a contemporary teacher. Some of them are facts of life (money and student aptitude/attitude), We can either claim these as road blocks, or we can label them as stumbling blocks from which we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep trudging. 
 One thing you can clearly see is missing from the list: time. This was mentioned by an audience member.  I am of the opinion that if it matters, you can make or find the time for innovation and risk taking.  Seek out your own resources, find your own learning network to support your professional development needs, write grants and work with what you have.

Maybe this is asking too much, but we have to stop making excuses.  

So what is a 21st Century teacher?

A contemporary teacher is one who maintains relevant content and delivery and allows students to explore content through whatever medium or pathway that is appropriate for the task, whether it is using technology or not. A 21st Century teacher is a contemporary teacher, integrating technology seamlessly with content, transforming lessons and building global citizenship amongst his/her students.  S/he is an advocate for his/her students, s/he connects with like-minded educators and never stops learning.

What does it mean to you?

photo courtesy of aaron schmidt on Flickr


  1. Reply

    Hi! I just discovered your blog yesterday and have been learning a lot from your past posts! I wasn't able to attend ISTE this year but can/t wait until Philly next summer as I live in Delaware so I'll definitely be there. Is your PLN just for Philly educators? I haven't found anything similar in DE.

  2. Melhutch


    Great post and couldn't agree more. Some teachers do need time but others also need help reorganizing their time. It is all about the best way to reach your goals and right now we have some new ways- no different from other tomes in history I imagine. Thanks for telling us about the panel.

  3. Reply

    As a primary educator I wrestle constantly with the use of technology purposefully in my lessons. I am constantly asking myself if the curriculum is driving my use of technology or if we are using technology for the sake of using it. It sometimes seems like such a fine line. The distinction between conscious use of technology and deliberate use of technology is intriguing. I think I'll be pondering this for awhile. I guess I'll know I have it figured out when using technology is like picking up a pencil in my room….it just happens.

  4. Reply

    Thanks Mary Beth for both attending our session and for sharing your thoughts. This is a conversation we could have continued all afternoon. Hopefully we will continue this conversation on a global scale for months and years to come.

  5. Reply

    Integrating technology does require changing your outlook and changing your practices to align yourself with what is current and relevant.

  6. Reply


    I like your analogy of technology being like picking up a pencil. That is definitely where we want our teaching to be and where we want our students to be!

  7. Reply

    Thanks, Andy, for an engaging conversation! I agree that we only scratched the surface yesterday, and I do hope that the conversation continues!

  8. Chad Sansing


    Hey, MB – thanks for blogging from #ISTE10!

    The line you quote from the audience strikes me: "curriculum needs to drive technology."

    What, then, should drive curriculum? I want to say, "students should drive curriculum," and I want to work towards realizing that statement, but I'm curious about your take on it Is it possible? Desirable?

    I'm also thinking a lot about your words here:

    A contemporary teacher is one who maintains relevant content and delivery and allows students to explore content through whatever medium or pathway that is appropriate for the task, whether it is using technology or not.

    Should we maintain and deliver content? Has social media shown us as teacher that we're happier and learn more when we seek out content maintained elsewhere to share? How would our classroom practice change if we put kids in charge of maintaining and delivering content the same way we do with social media?

    Should we deliver pizza, make it with the kids, or give them the keys to the pizzeria and car?

    Have a blast in CO for me –

  9. Reply

    Great post! Really has me thinking about tech integration and my lesson planning. Keep up the stellar work and I'll see you around.


  10. scmorgan


    As someone watching from afar (attended last year, but not this), I appreciate the reflection from the session. I especially like the shift of terminology from 21st century teacher to contemporary teacher. I, too, struggle with phrase 21st….
    And I agree with with your comment about time. I paraphrase Sheryl Nussbaum Beach who says we make time for what we value. If I value learning, I will make time for it, and use appropriate and necessary tools to make it happen.

  11. Dan Fink


    C'mon, Chad! That's an easy question to answer: "what drives curriculum."

    It's state mandated standards, formulated via scientifically based research.

  12. Chad Sansing


    I hear you, and I'm grinning, but I'm not convinced we can't get away with greater flexibility and student choice. I think we self-limit here.

    There are compromises we can make in how we choose to use class time. Google time is a possibility (say 20%). Negotiating state curriculum with students is a possibility (you give me three standards, and we'll get you a blog and a trip/Skype call to the aquarium for or action research). Subverting the state curriculum is a possibility (A People's Textbook of Algebra, anyone?). Ignoring the state curriculum is a possibility (gulp).

    I feel keenly the conflict between my vocation as an educator to help others learn and my occupation as a public school teacher to cover state curriculum in such a manner that students recall it for an end of course test. I have positive evaluations, but my test scores have dropped since I stopped obsessively teaching to the state test. People walk through my classroom a few times a year and offer me a few complimentary generalities about what they see. Then, at the end of the year, people talk to me about all kinds of numbers in great specificity. I am confused in so many ways by this, but remain convinced that leaving public education to escape this confusion is self-serving. I recognize why I get talked to about numbers and I acknowledge the effective job people do in working with them – I value their efforts on our kids' behalf and their work with me to push my teaching. I am lucky to be so supported in my work by my division.

    My point: if we're willing to dwell in ambiguity and take year-end commentary on our tests scores as feedback from adults with different priorities rather than as judgment from our betters – our approvers, our gatekeepers, even our mentors – then during the year we have a lot of wiggle room in covering "the" curriculum.

    I worry that the easy answer is an easy target for our complaints and thus helps us be complacent in sitting in judgment without acting in accordance with what we know about learning, child development, and human motivation.


  13. Dan Fink


    @Chad My original statement was not meant to be facetious. I believe that any curriculum that isn't standards based is invalid.

  14. Chad Sansing


    I thought you were trying to be humorous, what with the "Dan Fink" vibe. My apologies for misinterpreting your message.

    However, Mark, standards are not scientifically researched, If they were, they would be tested annually to see which standards promote student learning. Standards that promote learning would be kept; those that don't promote learning would be dropped. Standards are chosen by politically appointed bodies and sustained through economic means via planned obsolescence. Can you imagine if we actually scientifically tested standards each year and then companies had to make new materials based on new standards and we had to buy them? We do this already every decade or so, not because of science, but because of the political and economic ties between our politicians – who convene the bodies that set standards – and educational vendors – who lobby those politicians for standards-based education. Standards – as they exist – are quite clearly economic vehicles for private and public investment in proprietary learning materials. They are part and parcel of material culture, and those that master them, sadly, are afforded increased opportunity for financial prosperity than those who tune out such standards.

    We can't decry a culture of pop materialism and then teach our kids right into its hands without appearing hypocrites, accepting a salary as a reward for spending time on trivia that is immaterial to students' lives or the future of their world.

    If we were assigned process standards only pertaining to the real-life habits of people engaged in real-world occupations, that would be fine. But we're not. We're asked to teach politically appointed facts. So long as this is the case, standards should always play second or third fiddle to relationships and pedagogy in the classroom, and content standards that we teachers empirically know to be worthless should be ignored.

    Thanks for sticking to the point at hand –

  15. Dan Fink


    @ Chad: you are incorrect about curriculum standards, as far as they were devised by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. This fact is taught in any university pre-service teacher education program in the state.

    Instruction based on objectives that descend from standards are assessed annually in our state by the PSSA.

    A bottom line consideration IS cost, you are correct about that. It's great to have pie-in-the-sky idealism because it's often a needed antidote to everyday travails that wear on the soul. However, when you harshly scrutinize that idealism without letting your emotions interfere, you quickly realize it is unrealistic.

    It's nice to dream, but who can afford that luxury any more? Life in America is turning into a day-to-day prospect. "The future" for me is the next few months, not the next few decades.

    We are like all other civil servants. We operate at the pleasure of our elected officials who control how and where the money is spent. You have two choices … direct your energies to electing politicians who best reflect your own views or leave the public school system and teach at a private, tuition driven school. In my experience, private schools are really no difference at closer inspection. They, too, are driven by obsessions with chasing dollars– not tax dollars, but tuition and donor dollars. There's a different political hierarchy, replace politicians with parents who are paying the steep tuition rates. The headmasters and teachers hold little in the way of power.

    I'd rather stay in the institution that at least has union representation.

    So you see, there's no way around it … education must be delivered by the most cost efficient means. You have to be lucky enough to be teaching in a school where you the teacher is on the same page as the administrators. If you aren't, you are going to be unhappy and therefore, of little use to your students, because your unhappiness will taint your attitude. Kids are very perceptive to this.

  16. Dan Fink


    "21st century teacher to contemporary teacher."

    Correct, scmorgan! "21st Century" is such a culturally inspired descriptor and meaningless when you really think about it. The measure of time is strictly an arbitrary man made concept and thoroughly dependent upon the culture from which one originates.

    I personally didn't start feeling differently when 1999 turned in 2000. I don't believe anyone really did either.

  17. Chad Sansing


    Mark, Pennsylvania is adopting the Common Core Standards by 2013. The last time the state adopted new standards? 1999. How can you be convinced those standards are scientifically proven to be valid drivers of learning (rather than, say, pedagogy or classroom management) if they haven't been substantially revised in 11 years? Did Pennsylvania get it so right in 1999 that you trust every standard to be motivating to students and their learning in and of itself?

    Of course our instruction is assessed annually; however, that doesn't mean that we've interrogated the standards themselves through studies meant to ascertain if each in and of itself is inherently motivating without the instruction and relationships that happen in a classroom. Standards aren't scientifically proven.

    Moreover, delivering standards-based content that's limited to trivia rather than skills isn't inherently cost effective. For that to be so, teaching trivia would have to be the best aim of education, which it is not. Bring on the skills-based standards, but eliminate the trivial ones. Let's make more room for service and not memorization if we're to recast the character of our nation in the lives of today's youth.

    My idealism is rooted in what I see helping kids learn. Its not pie-in-the-sky. Its based on empirical evidence of students' accomplishments in my classroom and the classrooms of countless other teachers working to make learning something vital and shared with students, rather than lethal and done to them.

    I'm fine with cost-effective education that matters. I'm not okay with paying teachers to try to make kids memorize disposable information that matters more to politicians and vendors than to students' lives and livelihoods. That's a waste of money.


  18. Dan Fink


    "The last time the state adopted new standards? 1999"

    This is why some people lose their patience with other people, because other people rely on substandard sources to support their cases. Had you actually visited to the PDE website and either read 22 PA Code Chapter 4 or downloaded the .pdf files of the PA curriculum standards, you'd know that the 1999 citation is incorrect. They were signed into law in 1999. However, the law states that PA curriculum standards are to be reviewed and revised as needed EVERY THREE YEARS. If you read 22 PA Code Chapter 4, you'd learn that standards were revised throughout the last decade.

    Next time you are going to take on PA education law, be sure to be more informed by not relying on some newspaper writer who obviously never studied the subject.

  19. Chad Sansing


    Mark, I'm not taking on PA education law; I'm taking on your assertion that standards as scientifically-based. They are not. In PA a politically appointed board reviews them (17 of 22 members are nominated by the governor). Do you know off the top of your head how many times that board has chosen to revise the standards since 1999? Have those revisions coincided with changes in administration?

    I'm also taking on your unwillingness or inability to engage in a discussion about why you believe what you do. How can you rail against an impatient, material culture and support standardize education which guarantees annual profits for education vendors and political contributions to the politicians that "support" standardized education?

    The nationwide adoption of Common Core standards will send a frisson of instant gratification down the spines of those companies' CEOs as states compete to outspend and out-update one another on the most "rigorous" iterations of rushed product meant to create false scarcity of new learning materials (which teachers should be able to create).

    My research skills aside, Mark, how do you reconcile you faith in standards with their obvious ties to private profit and political maneuvering?

    Business isn't bad, but supporting a standardized testing regime that makes a profit of trivializing student learning is bad business.


  20. Reply

    Thanks, Chad, for pointing out my poor choice of words. We should not be delivering content like pizza. I guess a better way of thinking about it would be guiding students toward understanding content.

    I still think that it's important that we expose our students to a wide variety content. When students drive the curriculum, they may be limited to what interests them and may shy away from heading outside their comfort zone. I know that I myself am guilty of forgetting to travel outside my own circle to get different viewpoints and information.

    That said, I don't think we should necessarily have a checklist of items that students need to know. Rather, a skill set that they have acquired while exploring various content areas.

    Thanks, again, for challenging my thinking to go further and deeper!

  21. Dan Fink


    @ Chad I don't get involved with what administrators do behind the scenes. As long as they leave me alone to do my thing, I'm OK. They trust me to do what's right and so far, that's been the case. it's not necessary to intellectualize how to instruct children with disabilities. We have our scientifically researched methods and they are proven to work. We have our assessment methods and they are proven to work. You should work with a class full of emotionally disturbed kids and then consider how much time is left to ponder these academic ideas as if you are still back in the classroom at university going back and forth with your prof. I'm more interested in the doing, not the talk talk talking, about my teaching methods. That's not what I find interesting to discuss. I'd rather discuss the failings of a generation that, for the most part, doesn't "get it." I'm not blogging or posting to make others feel good about themselves, which is what 95% of blogging and tweeting is preoccupied with.
    I've never known so many people so needy for affirmations from strangers. I don't need strangers to tell me I'm doing a good job. I know I am already. These PLNs, for example are little more than mutual admiration societies, in reality. Any "learning" is secondary.

  22. Chad Sansing


    Mark, my ideas are my own and come from classroom practice, as does my writing and thinking. I don't teach self-contained classes, but in my classes I have taught several children who carry the label you cite two core subject areas for the past two years, and I gladly work with them again this year.

    Am I correct in interpreting your comment to mean that you don't care about reconciling your faith in standards with your mistrust of educational profiteering so long as your administrators leave you alone?

    Your points shift towards ill-fitting ad hominem attacks too easily, Mark, when you don't want to answer, let alone over-intellectualize, my questions, which are usually about values conflicts in your shifting answers. I'm commenting here to encourage some reflection about teaching, learning, education, and public schooling. Some people affirm my work; others don't. I'm fine with that; I believe in my work. You post quite often for a different kind of attention – you have even posted about the negative attention you have received. It's disingenuous of you to claim that you don't blog for your own ego needs. Let's posit that we all do, for whatever reasons we have. I would rather err on the side of civility when I question people than so readily commit to lashing out at them. Mark, I interact with several people who promote non-commercial educational materials and with people who constantly interrogate the use of instructional technology. I think you would find a nation-wide community of common belief and action if you could get past your rhetorical styling, if you care to do so – if you care to stop feeling like a voice in the wilderness, which is a mystique you write about on your blog.

    I see social media as an opportunity to connect with other educators and learn from them (which, in my experience, has been primary; I am sorry for all parties involved for your "bad" experiences with people online). Clearly, you don't see me or others online as real people – or you do and you just promote that idea so you can experience what it is that you do- so again, perhaps it's time we stop "seeing" one another; I think we need some space in our relationship, Mark, if you are able to acknowledge that one exists, technologically mediated though it may be. Let's both stop talking, talking, talking to one another if it bothers you so. Let's share responsibility for not talking, Can we do it?

    Finally, I do need to say that as a classroom teacher with years of experience working with tremendously curious and motivated students with special needs and their collaborating special education teachers, that when you say, "it's not necessary to intellectualize how to instruct children with disabilities," you do a disservice to the students and teachers trying to find new ways to provide universal access to learning. There is no point at which we can stop and say that we have worked hard enough to become better teachers, that we need think about teaching no more, and that we can be content with ourselves regardless of our students.

    Sincerely going now,

  23. Dan Fink


    @Chad I'm sorry that you don't "get it," but social media as a cultural phenomenon just begs to be criticized. Many of those who champion them deserve equal scrutiny, sometimes with impunity, depending on the topic.

    I should have said "it's not necessary to OVERintellectualize how to instruct …"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.