Teachers and Leaders as Learners - Steve Barkley

Teachers and Leaders as Learners

Will Richardson in an interview with Connected Educators, describes the need for teachers to be “transparent learners” and “master learners.”

Richardson suggests that as transparent learners, teachers show examples of not only what they are learning, but also how they are learning. Students often see their teachers as experts in content and may miss the teachers’ expertise in learning. He states that what students need now are,” models of how to learn powerfully in a world filled with information, knowledge, teachers, and technologies” and that with transparency teachers can “move their classrooms from a culture of teaching to one of a community of learners.”   

As a “master learner”, Richardson shares that teachers need to understand “ not only the most effective practices to help kids learn deeply in classrooms (i.e. authentic, student-led inquiry) but also those that expand our opportunities to learn in the connected spaces we now find ourselves in. It means keeping abreast of new technologies and the new conversations around learning that come with them.”

Describing technology’s impact on learning, Richardson adds, “Now that much of learning happens in networks and communities online, learning becomes more an ongoing flow than a discrete event. That requires new and different skills and literacies surrounding information, sharing, collaborating, attention and much more. And it also means that we are skilled at connecting a student’s interests and passions to the learning we do both in and outside of the classroom.”

 As I worked on this blog I received a Twitter request  for a first grader seeking learning support. Check the amount of learning information she received.

 In my presentations on backwards planning I stress that student achievement is generated by “what the student does” [learning] and that an important teacher behavior is teaching and modeling “how to learn.”

I have observed some of the best examples of modeling how to learn in advanced placement classes when the teacher tackles a problem with students without the teacher knowing the solution. These teachers are positioned to model approaches to problem solving and learning, including perseverance (transparency). The teacher’s unsuccessful initial strategy or the hunt for clues or help, models “how” for students. I noticed the difference when I observed a fifth-grade teacher modeling how to find author’s purpose. When she shared “questions I ask myself” in finding the purpose, I overheard a student telling a classmate, “She knows”. That student identified the teacher as pretending to solve or learn which was less effective than a teacher who would be transparently learning.

Designing the opportunities for student learning, I believe, is the really challenging component of teaching. It’s why I suggest that the hardest work teachers do likely occurs when students are not present. Finding ways for the teacher to learn as a model for the students raises another instructional design goal.

Becoming a Learning System (Learningforward 2014)

Transparent and master learners are important roles for instructional coaches and school leaders to hold. When I train mentors for working with beginning teachers, I focus them on avoiding giving solutions to problems and instead work at teaching beginning teachers how to solve problems that occur. As a mentor examines, with the teacher, “what is happening” and thinks out loud about possible “whys” and possible strategies, she is modeling the critical thinking and learning process for a teacher.

How do you as a coach or principal demonstrate for your teachers that you are currently engaged as a learner? Social media such as Twitter provides leaders a forum for making their learning more transparent. When instructional coaches discover how much they learn from the coaching process, they realize they need to increase teachers stepping into the coaching role. The observation process and thinking that are driven by being the coach create a new way for many teachers to learn.

After 42 years in education and more than 30 in teacher and leadership development I continue to be awed by how much there is to learn about teaching and learning and the many opportunities available every day for learning.


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One Response to “ Teachers and Leaders as Learners ”

  1. Derek Oldfield (@Mr_Oldfield) Says:

    Great post! Glad you shared this last night during #wvedchat. I needed the encouragement to keep initiating this shift even in a situation where my impact is often suppressed by those above.

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