Teaching vs. Learning

Schools and districts need to shift from fostering a culture of teaching to building a culture of learning.
"Truly learner-centric teachers aren’t focused on set curricula or preconceptions about what everybody needs to know; instead, they help each student find ways to leverage their strengths and natural curiosity to grow and learn in meaningful, personalized ways."

Each day, millions of students, teachers and administrators enter schools around the country with one goal in mind: learning. Student learning is truly the raison d’etre of the education system, but if our collective eyes aren’t focused on what kind of environment we’re creating and how we’re approaching the way students use their time, it can be disturbingly easy to lose sight of learning. Too often, schools, teachers and classrooms who think they’re creating great learning environments are actually creating great teaching environments. The distinction may seem subtle, but it’s fundamental to determining whose needs we’re actually meeting.

Think of it this way: When was the last time you were at an educator professional development day and heard the question, “How can students learn better?” Probably never, right? When we get a group of teachers in a room together, we tend to ask, “How can we teach better?” On a certain level, that makes perfect sense because pedagogy is the part of the classroom and learning process that teachers can take the most ownership over. On the other hand, however, high level sports coaches don’t sit around and ask, “How can we coach better?” They’re squarely focused on making sure the athletes play better - because that’s how games are won.

To ensure we stay focused on learning, we need to put students first and allow them to control content (what is learned), access points (how it’s learned) and assessment (how learning is demonstrated). The job of the teacher in a learning-centric environment is not to design enlightening lessons or fun, engaging projects but rather to provide support, help students navigate individual challenges, and find ways to connect learners with information and experiences that are relevant to them. Truly learner-centric teachers aren’t focused on set curricula or preconceptions about what everybody needs to know; instead, they help each student find ways to leverage their strengths and natural curiosity to grow and learn in meaningful, personalized ways.

Of course, shifting away from the traditional teacher-centric model and toward this learner-first understanding of school can be a difficult transition for teachers, administrators and students alike. Even schools who move to embrace student-centered approaches like personalized learning or competency-based learning frequently slip back into their old patterns. Too often, these approaches become watered down and transform into “personalized teaching” and “competency-based teaching,” almost completely losing sight of learners in the process. That's why it's so important to keep focused squarely on student learning above all other concerns and constantly brainstorm new ways to provide freedom for learners to grow and explore.