Today’s teachers and teacher candidates are caught in an educational quagmire. They are being asked to implement instructional strategies that support 21st century learning, but they’ve had few opportunities to partake in these types of learning experiences themselves.
The typical classroom in 2015 is more academically and culturally diverse than classes before the turn of the millennium. Unlike their own experience, where students with special needs were often isolated in ‘special’ classes, teachers today are being asked to differentiate learning and personalize the educational experiences of students with a wide array of individual learning needs and abilities. Unfortunately, the academic, linguistic, economic and cultural diversity found in most K-12 classrooms is rarely replicated in the staff room or teacher education programs, leaving teachers with limited personal experience of being part of a diverse community of learners. Compounding this challenge is the cookie-cutter nature of most teacher education programs, additional qualification courses and professional development (PD) sessions, leaving teachers with limited first-hand exposure to having their own learning experience differentiated or personalized.
Just as the student population has become increasingly diverse and complex, so has the curriculum resources and assessment tools used in the 21st century classroom. Most educators would have been lucky to have had weekly access to a computer lab when they were students, whereas current teachers have to be prepared to teach in 1:1 classrooms with ubiquitous Wi-Fi, where each student may be carrying more computing power in their pocket than most pre-millennial school computers.
In contrast to the simple set of textbooks that were the primary source of information in the classroom of the 1990’s, the 21st century classroom is inundated with web resources that teachers have to be able to quickly discern the educational value and academic appropriateness of each resource.
Unlike the occasional quiz or end of term summative test that pre-millennium students studied for, teachers today are being asked to assess for and of learning while providing formative feedback that responds to daily learning goals and success criteria.
Essential to preparing teachers to overcome these increasingly complex challenges is ensuring that their initial training and ongoing PD replicates the context of the current classroom. Thus, if authentic, inquiry-based, tech-enabled, 21st century learning is good for K-12 students, it should be good for teacher and teacher candidates as well.
In an attempt to avoid the narrow scope of learning and regurgitation of facts that was often the result of rote lessons and teacher-centred teaching, authentic and inquiry-based learning has been proposed to engage learners and foster critical thinking. Research has found that in addition to increasing student learning, an inquiry-based approach can motivate students to learn and advance their problem solving and critical thinking skills.Thus, in contrast to the passive nature of many teacher training sessions,
[Professional development should] create learning contexts that allow [teachers] to make decisions about their learning processes and about how they will demonstrate their learning. [Professional development] should encourage collaborative learning and create intellectual spaces for [teachers] to engage in rich talk about their thinking and learning. They create a [professional] ethos that fosters respect for others’ ideas and opinions and encourages risk-taking.
[Preservice programs should provide] opportunities to seek answers to questions that are interesting, important and relevant to [teacher candidates that enable] them to address curriculum content in integrated and “real world” ways and to develop – and practise – the higher-order thinking skills and habits of mind that lead to deep learning. 
(See appendix for original paragraphs)
With a few minor changes, the above paragraphs are excerpts from the Ontario Ministry of Education guide to ”Getting Started with Student Inquiry” document. The ease with which these paragraphs can be revised with references to students replaced with teachers, teacher candidates, PD and preservice programs highlights the need to have teacher learning replicate what takes place in the contemporary classroom. It is also important to note that these modified descriptions are closely aligned with the research regarding effective PD that suggests that learning opportunities that are ongoing, practical, collaborative, and participant driven can be considered to effectively support teacher PD and are associated with instructional improvements and improved student achievement.
The need to prepare students for a rapidly changing and digital world has resulted in calls to support the development of the 21st century skills of creativity, communication, creativity and critical thinking. If teachers are to be effective in supporting the development of the 21st century skills of their students, they must be well versed in these skills themselves. For this to occur, education systems must offer more effective professional learning than has traditionally been available. Consequently, holistic opportunities to use technology to support 21st century skills should be infused throughout preservice and in-service training programs so that educators have authentic opportunities to develop these skills themselves.
Just as traditional forms of testing and evaluation have been shown to be inadequate in capturing the dynamic nature of 21st century skills and ineffective in supporting student learning, traditional forms of teacher evaluation may be equally poorly suited to document successful teaching or foster professional growth. While an emphasis on assessment for and of learning has been found to increase student learning while also enhancing engagement and motivation, many teachers are failing to utilize the full cadre of formative assessment practices available to them. This divide may be the result of the lack of experience teachers have in personally benefiting from formative assessment and being the recipient of this type of feedback. Consequently, just as formative assessment has been found to have a positive impact on student learning, opportunities for teachers to receive ongoing and timely feedback, in addition to engaging in self and peer evaluation, may improve their ability to use these types of strategies to assess their students while also directly supporting professional growth.
Proponents of formative assessment, authentic, inquiry-based, and tech-enabled learning advocate for these types of instructional strategies not just because they are innovative, but because they have the potential to enhance learning – student and teacher learning. Thus, as life-long learners, it should be evident that teachers can also benefit from participating in learning strategies that mirror those of the 21st century classroom. Reinforcing the notion that if it is good for students, it can be good for teachers.
Teachers create learning contexts that allow students to make decisions about their learning processes and about how they will demonstrate their learning. They encourage collaborative learning and create intellectual spaces for students to engage in rich talk about their thinking and learning. They create a classroom ethos that fosters respect for others’ ideas and opinions and encourages risk-taking (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011).
As teachers give students opportunities to seek answers to questions that are interesting, important and relevant to them, they are enabling them to address curriculum content in integrated and “real world” ways and to develop – and practise – the higher-order thinking skills and habits of mind that lead to deep learning (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011).
 Nesbit, J., & Liu, Q. (2014). The Facts on Education: Is Inquiry-Based Learning Effective?
 Ontario Ministry of Education. (2011). Getting Started with Student Inquiry.
 Borko, 2004; Hirsh, 2004; Nord, 2004; Smylie et al., 2001; Warren-Little, 2006; Wei et al., 2009 as cited in Rutherford, C. (2010). Facebook as a source of informal teacher professional development. in education, 16(1).
 Smylie et al., 2001; Wayne et al., 2008 as cited in Rutherford, C. (2010). Facebook as a source of informal teacher professional development in education, 16(1). http://ineducation.ca/ineducation/article/view/76/512
 Darling-Hammond, L., & Richardson, N. (2009). Teacher Learning What Matters. Educational Leadership, 66(5), 46–53.
 Rutherford, C. (2013). Bringing Preservice Education into the 21st Century. Proceeding of the 2013 Conference of the Society for Information Technology in Teacher Education, New Orleans, LA
 Beckett, D., Volante, L., & Drake, S. (2010). Formative Assessment: Bridging the Research–Practice Divide. Education Canada, 50(3), no 3.
 William, 2007 as cited in Beckett, D., Volante, L., & Drake, S. (2010). Formative Assessment: Bridging the Research–Practice Divide. Education Canada, 50(3), no 3.