Focusing on Learning

How do school leaders continuously guide the flow of teacher conversations, PLC’s and planning from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning? How do they focus on what they see and hear students doing rather than on what they see teachers doing? I was recently asked to provide some input on work that a principal and instructional coach were doing on a template for lesson plans. As I considered their thinking I was first moved to consider a need to move away from the term “lesson plan”.

Consider this definition:

A writing noting the method of delivery, and the specific goals and time-lines associated to the delivery of lesson content.

It helps the teacher to know what to do in a class (prepared by themselves) with quite specific activities.

I have struggled with lesson plans being seen as achieving an outcome within a fixed, short amount of time. When teachers work from that understanding, it often leads to learning being broken into very small elements often decreasing student interest. Teachers sensing a lack of student engagement turn to “teaching” the objective, often further decreasing student responsibility for learning actions: setting a negative spiral into motion.

Keith Hughes provides a video where he describes changing from seeing himself as a teacher to being a F.O.L.E., a Facilitator of Learning Experiences. Hughes states that “learning occurs in the brain rather than the space between the teacher’s mouth and the students’ ears.” What differences occur when teachers individually and in PLCs see themselves designing learning experiences to facilitate rather than designing lessons to teach?

Michelle K. Baldwin illustrates her focus on learning in a post  about how her students explored “expressing ourselves through the arts.”  As I read the post I could easily unpack the planning behind the learning. Planning around what students would do and experience and how teacher facilitation could increase the learning.

Consuming information that is delivered from a teacher is not LEARNING.

Michelle K. Baldwin from Avenue4Learning

The reasoning is the same when you consider teachers working with instructional coaches or mentors who are facilitating the teacher’s learning. The statement “experience is the best teacher” is NOT true. Experience with a coach or mentor is the best teacher. Facilitation by the coach assists the teacher in debriefing, reflecting, and learning the most from the experiences she has had. The coach can’t skip the experience and “teach “the understanding.  Too often in the classrooms, teachers skip the experience for the students.

Alan November wrote a blog, Interview Questions for New Teachers in 21st Century Schools,  where he described the changing role of teachers:

“The big change is not adding technology to the current design of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning and fundamentally changing the job descriptions of teachers and learners.“

Several of his questions can be used to facilitate conversations with teachers as they examine changes underway in your school:

  • How do you teach students to learn what you don’t know?
  • How do you teach students to become problem designers?
  • What are your expectations for students to self-assess their work and publish it for a wider audience?
  • How do you give students an opportunity to contribute purposeful work to others?
  • How do you teach students to manage their own learning?


November identifies a challenge for school leaders:

“While disruption of the traditional classroom culture is inevitable, it would be impossible to simply flip a switch to the new one. We will need leaders who understand how to manage the transition. “

School leaders need to create the same learning environment for teachers that we are asking teachers to create for their students. Professional learning needs to be less scheduling sessions to teach teachers and more facilitating  learning experiences for teachers. Are you a F.O.L.E.?

Explore taking each of November’s questions listed above and applying it to leaders working with teachers:

  • How do you teach teachers to learn what you don’t know?
  • How do you teach teachers to become problem designers?
  • What are your expectations for teachers to self-assess their work and publish it for a wider audience?
  • How do you give teachers an opportunity to contribute purposeful work to others?
  • How do you teach teachers to manage their own learning?


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One Response to “ Focusing on Learning ”

  1. Rose ICS London Says:

    As ever Steve, you flip the conversation and make me sit up with a new perspective. I particularly needed to think some more about your sentence, ‘How do you teach students to become problem designers?’ It’s a great conversation and thinking starter – of course, designers solve problems!! – brilliant. Let’s embrace this in our thinking and practice as we develop F.O.L.E. competencies. Thank you.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…