Rethinking the Role of Teachers

The role of teachers is transforming across all levels of education.  Providing knowledge at the front of a class is no longer enough.  We as teachers are now acting as guides and mentors, motivating students to be life-long learners.  An essential element of this is providing opportunities for students to direct their own learning experiences.


Modern schools are becoming learning environments that help students gain 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.  These skills will be essential for students when entering their adult lives.  A critical element in the implementing of these skills is the technology-enabled teacher.


Teachers who have the classroom skills and knowledge to facilitate creative inquiry and digital literacy are becoming important in the classroom as well as mentors and leaders in professional development (NMC/CoSN Horizon Report, 2016).


This is changing the way that professional development is being delivered to teachers.  For example, the Mindlab course I am currently enrolled in has allowed me to connect and share with teachers all around the country and I have even communicated with teachers in USA around topics that I have been researching.

Social media such as twitter, Facebook groups, Pinterest and blogs are creating communities of interest that can enrich professional development and classroom teaching.  Students in secondary school classroom are often already using these social media platforms in their everyday lives.

The Ministry of Education’s new initiative of Communities of Learning (COL) will bring new challenges for leadership and teachers (Ministry of Education, 2016).  The aim for a COL is to raise both the achievement for all students and especially for identified students in that COL by sharing expertise in teaching and learning (ako) across the community of schools.

By collaborating and sharing expertise within the COL, students’ learning pathways are supported and their transition through the education system improved. One aspect of this approach will require teachers to provide cross-school collaborations in shared expertise and assist in implementing new technology initiatives.

Social media could be a way in which opportunities for parents, families and whānau and communities to be involved with their children and young people’s learning are facilitated.

The challenge for our school will be in creating an agile environment that supports teachers in their continuing development of professional knowledge and skills.  An OECD survey conducted in Australia showed that on average Australian teachers have just nine days of professional development each year and this is often piecemeal and unfocused (The Conversation, 2016).  We will need to move far beyond our current model of professional development and embrace a new approach that transforms our teaching practices.

Linda Hippert (Getting Smart, 2015) has written on the transition that an American city has made away from the “sage on the stage” models of professional development to adopt an approach that uses the expertise and passion of individual teachers and schools to provide PD that is relevant to the school and the wider region or what we would now call our Community of Learning.

This shift did not happen organically.  The change took organising and visionary leadership.  If we are to create an agile learning environment that meets the learning needs of our students in the 21st century we will need to take the same approach.

Our success will come through providing opportunities for collaboration between teachers. Developing professional learning networks where teachers can seek guidance and inspiration from colleagues will help rethink pedagogies and curricula delivery and content.

I argue that while we maintain our traditional responsibilities as teachers we must now rethink our roles as teachers to incorporate technology and 21st century skills into our pedagogical strategies.  We must meet the needs of our students ensuring that they stay connected in their schooling and learn in-demand skills that will enable students to contribute to society in this world of rapid technological change.

Stewart McKean


Australian teachers get fewer training days than in other countries and turn to online courses for support. (2016) The Conversation

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Horizontal Professional Development: Teachers Teaching Teachers to Develop 21st Century Competencies. (2015) GettingSmart

 Retrieved from

Community of Learning Guide for Schools and Kura. (2016) Ministry of Education, New Zealand

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NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12Edition. (2016)

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One thought on “Rethinking the Role of Teachers

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  1. Your comments on professional development and how it needs to transform resonate with me. If Australian teachers have 9 days of PD I wonder what the average number of PD days are for Kiwi teachers? It is not only the number of days that we have but how we use them, and what we are trying to fit into them. The sage on the stage and one PD for all is not an efficient way to deliver professional development. Although I can see the intent of the COL positions as being able to lever the expertise of staff across a school community, I am also concerned that the increase in positions in our school related to the COL will not lead to an increase in competition for time in a congested PD space. The way we deliver our PD will need to change so that we can choose and direct and personalise our own development as teachers.

    Just as we want our students to learn in-demand skills so do we as teachers!


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