Teachers Step Off Their Stage

Teachers need to reinvent themselves, like Miley Cyrus. We need to come in like a wrecking ball and smash our traditional approach. Like Miley did. Hannah Montana was great! But her audience changed. With time, her fans grew up and started to leave Hannah behind. So what did she do? Cut her hair, ramped up her wardrobe and engaged her audience again. Please understand, I do not align myself with any of the twerking or ridiculously bizarre on and off stage behaviour. But as one of my smarter senior students pointed out, she is the consummate marketer. Gimmicks aside, she did grab her audience back.

So how can this metaphor possibly work for our slightly more serious profession? Why should we change our tried and tested ways? Because if we don’t, we will lose our audience. If like me you have been teaching for a couple of decades, you will have noticed a major shift in your students:

  1. They don’t believe everything you tell them without questioning you.
  2. They know that there is more than one teacher in the class: peers, social media experts, Google, YouTube…and you.
  3. Technology is integral to the lesson, rather than something banned or hidden under the desk while the ‘real teaching’ is taking place.
  4. They don’t sit in their nice neat rows, in silence, not sharing or collaborating.
  5. They expect feed forward, so that they can make improvements. Not just feedback after submitting a paper based assignment.

Okay so that’s some of the changes in our audience. What can we the teachers do? Step off the stage. Provide them with the basics, the facts that they would generally need to ‘gather’ before ‘processing’ and ‘applying.’ (R. Fogarty’s Three Story Intellect) However, instead of preaching to the minority while the majority have a firm grip on the basics, flip your class and put the onus on the students to do the preliminary reading, viewing or listening. Resources to use include apps like Explain Everything or Educreations. Sites like YouTube or Clickview. Or simply readings you’d like them to do prior to the lesson.

Introduce them to blogs. The best way to bring all their work together into one place and allow for cross curricular links is through blogs. Students can add media rich work and develop personalised web pages. Teachers can give feed forward as the work develops, rather than after the due date, in which case it is too late for improvement. It gives students an audience. WordPress is a good blogging site, but there are others.

Get rid of those medieval rows. If you’re lucky enough, your school might invest in some modern furniture, beanbags and whiteboard tables. If not, get creative. Get a few comfy chairs or couches from a generous aunt. Make their workspace inviting and homely. Get your desks into groups and get students talking about their work, looking at and critiquing each other’s work. Google Docs and Google Slides is a great way to get them on the same page. Literally.

Are you prepared to leap off your stage at the front of the class and work along side your students?

Rethink and revamp your year planner, tasks and assignments. Investigate how effective project based learning is and how you could implement it in your class. Students love the autonomy it offers as well as the choice it affords. The big thing is to give students the time to develop their ideas and process these ideas into a useful artefact. Remember that part of PBL is calling in the community’s experts. Your community might simply be your school. Look to your colleagues for expertise which goes beyond their subject area. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wealth of knowledge sitting right there in your staffroom. It adds authenticity to the curriculum. In my life time for example I have personally experienced life in an apartheid-run country. I have been educated in a segregated school. I have taught in a segregated school. And thankfully for anti-apartheid revolutionaries like Nelson Mandela, I have witnessed the rejection of those draconian laws in favour of equal education for everyone. We’ve all got a story to tell which goes beyond our subject knowledge.

So, with your wealth of knowledge and expertise, are you prepared to leap off your stage at the front of the class and work along side your students? Are you prepared to trust that they will learn, even if you are not driving the learning? If so, give flipped learning and PBL a go. Put your reflections on a blog and invite a colleague in to share authentic insight.

And yes. I am aware that the Miley Cyrus metaphor was a step too far.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Gerardo Lazzari.


  1. You’re right. Of course you’re right! But it’s scary!
    How do we introduce OURSELVES slowly into this process?
    It would mean perhaps one lesson/integration a week at first, perhaps?
    And how do you avoid the logical conclusion that “we’re not doing real work now, so we can fool around”?

    Thanks for the great article :)

    1. Make it the expectation in your class. When your students realise that they will be left behind if they don’t do the flipped lessons, they will get it done. And never sit behind your desk while the differentiated work goes on. Be in the mix with your students even when they don’t need you!

  2. We need to lead the change. As scary as it is for us to make changes our audience may not be expecting change either. It does not mean no discipline. There needs to be consistent integration of new methods which I’m sure many of us are already doing. Maybe we just need to hot up the pace.

    1. You are so right. The discipline expectations do not change. In fact, when students are engaged, discipline problems disappear. Trust new methods because they do work.

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