What kind of power is in a title, and what if we redefined the role of the teacher?

I’m currently reading the book Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker. Often when I read a book for professional learning, I skip around depending on the work in which I’m currently involved. Last week, I read a phrase that resonated with me about viewing teachers more as student mentors. I immediately knew I wanted to spend more time thinking and writing about that notion.

I’ve had various mentors throughout my life, but a commonality is that they don’t tell me how to do something. They don’t just feed me information on what to do. They listen, they guide, they share their own experiences. This is vastly different from the role of a traditional teacher in a factory-model classroom. In those classrooms, the students mostly sit-and-get, with the teacher being the sole “expert” in the class. While many schools are moving away from teacher-directed learning, I think most are still far from seeing their teachers as mentors for their primary roles.

[bctt tweet=”The teacher takes a backseat (or a sidecar, at least) to the learning happening around them.”]

Today, my family is spending the day at my father-in-law’s lake house and I brought my book along to read by the water. I decided to go back to the beginning and read from the start.  Early in the book, the authors speak to why some schools are moving to a blended learning model. They say:

“It can free up teachers to become learning designers, mentors, facilitators, tutors, evaluators, and counselors to reach each student in ways never before possible.” (11)

That sentence got me thinking even more about titles and the power they have in a role.

What if we dismissed our preconceived idea of what a “teacher” looks like. This is typically based on what teachers were like in our own classrooms growing up. Instead, let’s imagine what a designer looks like, what a facilitator does, how tutors work. How do mentors differ from teachers?

I’ve been known to answer the question “Why do you do what you do?” with “I believe in the power of innovative education.” Well, innovative education is student-centered, student-driven. Innovative education occurs when learning designers, mentors, facilitators, tutors, evaluators, and counselors populate classrooms. Learning is individualized. Students aren’t just moved along through a unit based on unit time. They don’t just access the teacher-given resources or answer teacher-created questions. They have choice. They have power over the direction their learning goes.This is an enormous mind shift, giving more agency to the students to drive their own learning. The teacher takes a backseat (or a sidecar, at least) to the learning happening around them.

This shift in thinking brings me to a bigger question: What if the students carry these titles, as well? What if we empower them to be learning designers? They can evaluate their own learning (with digital learning components they have access to real-time data), and provide peer evaluation. They can mentor younger students, or tutor those who need more time/assistance to work through a particular concept.

There is power in every stage of the learning process. Let’s give students as much control over that as possible. When we start graying the lines between the titles of “student” and “teacher” more emphasis can be placed on the actual learning taking place.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Photographing Travis.

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