The Art & Science of Teaching in the 21st Century

Christmas break is over and, as parents and educators in the 21st century, there was a lot to ponder during our time off. Just as we must be adaptable in our vacation plans over the break, we must also be adaptable as teachers. Effective teachers share the characteristic of “adaptive expertise, allowing for making judgments about what it is like to work in a given context in response to student needs” (Darling-Hammond, et. al, 2009). This is especially true for educators in the 21st century.
Much has changed since we were in school and since we became teachers. Having both grown up in the 20th century, we would characterize our schooling as teacher-dominated with whole group lessons and standardized assessments. Occasionally there were those teachers here and there who brought learning alive, but it was not the ordinary practice. Teacher education programs, and therefore classrooms, have changed for the better. Classrooms in the 21st century focus on inquiry and student choice, where the curriculum is centered on students and their individual needs. We want our students to think about and learn in multimodal environments. This means that instructional elements are presented in more than one sensory mode and includes experiences such as video and audio elements, recorded lecture presentations, interactive audio-enhanced diagrams and simulations, and interactive quizzes and graphics. Your child may come home and brag about winning the Kahoot! ( review game for math or share that they listened to a podcast about Henry Flagler as research for their report in Social Studies. Even Kindergarten children want to know if you viewed their video of sight word reading (and reading fluency practice) on the Seesaw app ( When teachers and students engage in such activities, everyone succeeds.

Mrs. Kaidor: Professionally, as I develop my lesson plans each week, I make personalized instruction part of my day. This ranges from one-on-one math lessons, to small group comprehension checks, to after school writing labs. The students have diverse needs and my job is to meet those needs. My classroom is learner-centered, which means the students dictate the pace of the learning. Some days we cruise through the planned material and more; other days we dig deep into one idea or concept for a more meaningful understanding. The students leave my classroom as their own personal geniuses: they find their area of expertise or passion and share it. They also learn to take a lesson into the production phase, whether that be a poster, a google slide presentation, or an article published in the newspaper.

I impart the growth mindset in my classroom. Whatever you don’t know today, you can learn. Skills can be developed; knowledge is not fixed. We work towards mastery by challenging ourselves and being okay with failure. Oftentimes I hear students not feeling safe to explore their interests or ask those tough questions in school. In my classroom, I assure it’s a safe place to push your boundaries and explore the unknown. Through hands-on experiences and collaboration, students develop expertise and leadership qualities that will stay with them throughout their futures.

Dr. Oslick: As a parent and a teacher educator, I choose to send my child to St. Barnabas where teachers like Mrs. Kaidor have “adaptive expertise.” Furthermore, I know that the administration supports their teachers and trusts them to develop curriculum that prepares our children for the 21st century. I am delighted when my Kindergarten son sends me a video or picture via Seesaw and then follows up with me at home to make sure I am appropriately impressed. I know that he is receiving instruction that builds on his strengths and challenges him to grow. These are important elements of a 21st century classroom.

Future teachers also need to see these ideals modeled and the St. Barnabas community (teachers, administration, and parents) has been gracious enough to allow my college students to work in their classrooms. This past fall semester, I had ten students work as writing buddies with fourth graders, where they planned interactive mini-lessons. Feedback from both parties was positive: college students gained practice in planning and implementing these writing lessons and fourth graders received extra, individualized support to improve their writing skills.

Although we all worry about our children’s futures at times, we have confidence in their education and in the expertise of the faculty, staff, and administration at St. Barnabas. With a focus on students and their individual learning, as well as preparing our students to succeed in a multimodal environment, the 21st century is a great time for educators and for students.

Written By:
Julie Kaidor, 4th grade teacher & middle school mother
Dr. Mary Ellen Oslick, Stetson University education professor & Kindergarten mother

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R. C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad. (
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