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Reflecting on 21st Century Teaching


Technology in teaching iPad and monitor – Photo taken from ELTpics by Victoria Boobyer, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license


  • Technology is at the heart of the 21st century education. The question is: how can we best use technology to improve teaching and learning?

Technology can bridge the miles between us all, and it offers exciting opportunities and novel challenges for teachers. There is a host of the Internet sites with Lists of the Hottest Social Networking Sites and Mobile Apps that will transform our teaching.

We need to take the time to be comfortable with those technological tools that are useful for our students. Technology should foster meaningful learning and interaction among students. Otherwise technology can make our classes worse: e.g. Power Point Presentations are usually used in such a way that teachers read from the slides while students copy a large amount of texts which makes the classes extremely boring.

Technology can improve our teaching if we think how to really exploit technology rather than just use it. It is, also, very important that we educate the students on how to evaluate the sites and find the reliable information on the Internet on their own.

E is for EFFECT

  • Teaching is a rewarding profession that allows us to make a difference in lives of our students.

Sometimes we make a profound impact on some students, but in most cases we’ll never know about it. I’ve been always happy for just a (few) student(s) in each generation to say that I encouraged them to do something differently to achieve their goals.

When I think about my education the first thing that comes to my mind are the language classes in which I was listening enthralled as my primary school teacher was reading books to us: Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, many other wonderful novels and stories… I was seven/eight years old then and those classes were magic, they kindled my imagination and developed my love of reading.

In my view, effective teaching means to equip the students with skills they can use outside of the classroom, and to develop their ability to inquire and create constructively and independently without external controls.

 “That means knowing, understanding many things but also, much more important than what you have stored in your mind, to know where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to proceed independently, to deal with the challenges that the world presents to you and that you develop in the course of your self-education and inquiry and investigations, in cooperation and solidarity with others.”  (Noam Chomsky – On Being Truly Educated)


  • Autonomy is essential for learning and it means that students follow their own path.

Students’ impetus to learn comes from within because they control the conditions of their learning rather than working within a structure that is pre-determined and inflexible. Individual learner has self-determination, s/he can reflect, make choices, and arrive at personally constructed decisions.

In many English language classrooms today teachers choose the coursebooks, they plan the lessons and direct the activities, and they correct and assess the students’ work. Thus, in the teacher-directed classrooms we have passive learners who think that all they have to do is to attend classes, let the teachers do their job and learning will take place. In such English language classrooms teachers are responsible for students’ successful learning.

There is convincing evidence that the students who take the initiative in learning can learn more and better than do students who sit in the classrooms passively waiting to be taught.

Autonomy involves students having a range of learning strategies which they are able to apply flexibly in different contexts. It is important that teachers help students to develop learning strategies through learner training in the classroom.

For further reading:

David Nunan – Nine Steps to Learner Autonomy

Tricia Hedge – Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom: A guide to current ideas about the theory and practice of English language teaching (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers) – Learner-autonomy and learner training (p.75)


  • Competence should be the only criterion for recruiting teachers in the 21st century.

A competent teacher is a good combination of knowledge and personal qualities (such as: patience, understanding, persistence, flexibility, sense of humour, …)

A competence is best described as ‘a complex combination of knowledge, skills, understanding, values, attitudes and desire which lead to effective, embodied human action in the world, in a particular domain’ (Deakin Crick, 2008). Competence is therefore distinguished from skill, which is defined as the ability to perform complex acts with ease, precision and adaptability.

Also, since teaching is much more than a task, and involves values or assumptions concerning education, learning and society, the concept of teacher competences may resonate differently in different national contexts.

Common ground across different cultures on the nature of teaching, teacher learning and teachers’ competences can be outlined in six broad paradigms, which should be seen as integrated, complementary aspects of the profession (Paquay& Wagner, 2001):

  • the teacher as a reflective agent
  • the teacher as a knowledgeable expert
  • the teacher as a skillful expert
  • the teacher as a classroom actor
  • the teacher as a social agent
  • the teacher as a lifelong learner

For further reading:


In recent years the Internet has provided a wonderful platform for teachers to connect, share advice, ideas and experiences (e.g. Facebook, Blogging, Google+, Twitter…). Teachers find PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) useful for connecting with like-minded people worldwide and for keeping up-to-date with current ideas. Twitter is the most powerful of the current social networks, and an amazing swap shop for teacher ideas and materials.

The use of social networking sites in teaching and learning has both positive and negative consequences. It can improve our teaching and learning, it can help us to gain an understanding of other cultures, be in contact with people all over the world, maintain and strengthen relationships, communicate effectively with others.

It is a paradox, however, that using social networking sites can cause people to be distracted, overly stressed, and increasingly isolated. In my opinion this should not necessarily be such a great problem if we are well-organized and learn how to prioritize our work. Having a particular place and an amount of time allotted for being online can be a very good idea.

We should have in mind that computer mediated communication may initiate many relationships and friendships today, but it is still face-to-face human interaction that solidifies and gives a deeper layer of meaning to those interactions.


Wise advice – Photo taken from ELTpics by Evan Frendo, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license


When we work, we are not motivated purely by external goods, such as pay or profit – there is also an essential need for living a fulfilled and worthwhile life. Students are our constant source of inspiration. They motivate us and bring out the best of us as teachers when we see them learn and improve every day.

Unfortunately, most teachers today are not autonomous in making decisions, they have to conform to some rules, regulations, and plans, most of which are formulated by the people who are not informed or have no understanding of a truly effective teaching.

Teaching against our beliefs and opinions about what is right and professional, can considerably dampen our enthusiasm.  However, despite many difficulties (just to mention very low teachers’ salaries in my country, for example), there are some great teachers who never give up and do their best to improve educational system and push the things forward.


Pictures_2013. 1065

Summer sky (photo taken from my window) by Ljiljana Havran

Good teachers are committed to lifelong learning and professional development and they strive for continuous improvement through reflective practice.

It is very important to review and revise some of the beliefs about ELT pedagogy every year as we reflect on our practice, listen to our students’ feedback, exchange ideas with colleagues at CPD events or on social media, read about research.

I would like to encourage my colleagues to start a blog or a teaching journal and/or create an account on Twitter as soon as possible.

Also, my suggestion for the beginning of the new school year is: make a list of the questions regarding teaching/learning and reflect on them. The first question I’d put on my list would be:

What would I like my students to do independently? How can I get them to want to improve their language skills independently?


About ljiljana havran

English language teacher (General & Aviation English), passionate about learning and teaching. Curious, adventurous, a lifelong learner. Love: good books, music, lots of dance.

6 responses »

  1. Hi Ljiljana. I love the section about technology. Yes, there are all sorts of pushes towards the latest apps and so on but the best resource in the classroom is the group of learners. They can use websites and so on to gather information and such. Personally, though, technology is often missing in my lessons but quite conspicuous in my planning stages.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Technology is often missing in my lessons but quite conspicuous in my planning stages”. This is a thought-provoking line worth expanding on, Marc (in a blog post maybe?). I’d definitely like to know more about this approach.

      Liked by 2 people

    • ljiljana havran

      Hi Marc,
      I love that you have a knack for getting the gist of the text and summarizing it in a few sentences. Technology is really handy for both teachers and students and can be used for learning, connecting and sharing. However, despite all sorts of pushes towards the latest apps (as you put it well), the best classes are actually those ”unplugged” when our students’ stories provoke some lively and interesting discussions in English.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.:)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We’d just like to raise a question about the order of the elements here. Why begin with T? Why not A?

    Our hope is that in the 21st century more teachers will push a little more thoughtfully against the spin and hype that obscures what is really going on. If technology appears to be at the centre of education, it is because, in reality, something else is: the economic imperative. Those with the power to decide are backing high-tech solutions because of the economic benefits. The criticism of the old factory-model of education was implicitly a criticism of a pedagogy that let the economic imperative rule. And too much of the post-factory-model pedagogy continues to serve (wittingly or unwittingly) the hegemony of the economic.

    Why not insist that autonomy be at the heart of 21st century education? Adding that there is a lot of thinking still to be done about what that autonomy consists in. Illich had a lot to say about a tendency for commodified technology to promote heteronomy rather than autonomy. Hopefully, in the 21st century more teachers will realise that there is more to autonomy than people being able to choose and control the conditions of their lives. The reduction of freedom to the issues of choice and control is a centuries-old phenomenon, and the consquences have been very unpleasant. It’s high time more thought was given to the matter.

    Just a couple of points we think ought to be borne in mind when teachers strive for continuous improvement through reflective practice.


    • ljiljana havran

      Thank you very much for reading my blog post and taking the time to comment.

      The only reason I began my reflections about the 21st century teaching with T (and not with A) was my attempt to be creative (or playful); I thought it might be interesting to put the elements in such an order to form the TEACHER acronym (Technology / Effect / Autonomy / Competence / Human (connection) / Enthusiasm / Reflecting).

      We live in the world in which economic imperatives profoundly affect our daily lives. Given the importance of economic factors, and in a system of general education focused on providing students with knowledge relevant to being a global citizen, we have to admit that technology has a central role. I also hope that “in the 21st century more teachers will push a little more thoughtfully against the spin and hype…”, however, I believe that technology can be really useful if we try to really exploit it in order to foster meaningful learning and better communication among students / teachers / parents / school management…

      I fully agree with you that learner’s autonomy must be at the heart of the 21st century education. In my view, the main aim of modern education would be to encourage students to be active learners who think independently, who explore things and find answers by themselves, and who are willing to challenge and critique authority.

      I loved the line in your latest post where you pointed out that the aim of a new education for meaning and civilisation “would be to deepen and refine their (learners) sensitivities, cultivating the richest possible engagement with the world they live in.”



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