Redefining “Teacher”

Who is a teacher? What is their role? Vocation, Profession, a mix of both? As thousands start the year online, face to face, or in various hybrid models, what is the new role of teachers in a digital environments?

Partners in Learning

First and foremost, teachers are partners with students, parents/guardians, and community members to provide learning opportunities, experiences, skills, and content. There is, in fact, too much teachers DO to list here. Yet, teachers continually invest in the sciences and arts of learning, and they are foundational supports for strong students and communities.

While many conversations about student learning are often centric upon the student, what if teachers, students, and parents/guardians collaborated on the students process of learning? Specifically, focusing upon the thinking processes of the student. Discussing and gathering input from all three groups around the process allows all three to participate and engage together towards a common goal. There are multiple ways and opportunities to involve parents into the process of learning, but one example is student-lead conferences. Teachers and parents can co-construct learning expectations for and with their student(s) and then design conference opportunities to best fit the course. Technology tools utilize asynchronous participation to create a collaborative document to track learning progress (example by Mrs. Howell & Reimagine Wa Ed). This live participation encourages student interaction, participation in learning as a creator of the learning experience, and practice as a community member in an online environment [more examples]. In fact, students comment on how valuable interacting helps the students learn “how to disagree without being disagreeable” (EdWeek). Another way to partner with parents/guardians is to provide examples of learning environments students can help create at home and sharing a common language sentence templates to encourage learning and growth mindset (see “Power of Protocol” below). More information and resources regarding ways to connect to parents can be found during these webinars by CommonSense Media, specifically “Equitable Distance Learning for English Learners” and “Creating Efficient and Easy-to-Navigate Lessons for Learning at Home.”

One significant aspect of a teacher is encouraging, fostering, and nurturing collaborative environments. Often mistaken for strategies regarding classroom management and behaviorism, the ability to create a classroom community is often referred to as part of the “art” of teaching. However, using Connectivism ideals and processes from Culturally Relevant Teaching (see this blog post), teachers can empower students and parents in better understanding the learning developmental processes through collaboration. In fact, using structured protocols can aid conversations and collaboration by providing “robust structures that allow more students to join in the conversation confidently” [Hammond’s article “Power of Protocol“]. Asset-based feedback looping [learn more here] is another example of how protocols and structure can enhance the feedback as student receives to empower learning. These approaches to learning are especially relevant as more and more parents become more involved in assisting their student’s education process with online or hybrid models.

Advocates for the next generation

Teachers receive research, experience, and professional development in the neurological learning and developmental sciences in order to accurately utilize strategies, methodologies, and ideologies to assess situations to help, assist, motivate, and empower students. Students currently need teachers to be advocates in fighting against outdated systems and injustices [more details here]. When teachers have open hearts and open minds, we see the best of who they [the students] can be and help the student start to believe in themself and grow.

“Dear Grown-Ups… Sincerely, Gen Z” TEDx Spokane, Kimber Lybbert (Moses Lake Educator), 17 Jan 2020.

A key factor of teaching is to BE a teacher. While professional training is required, many are passionate about this particular occupation and view as a vocational calling. Many in the education profession have an innate love of learning. Different content, different manners, different paths, yet always a joy of learning. Teachers frequently scaffold essential thinking patterns, skills, and content, but modeling the larger skills of perseverance, determination, risk, failure requires a vulnerability that is scary. Yet, these are the skills students need demonstrated and opportunities to challenge themselves (more info here) in order to grow into confident and competent adults.

Models of Learning, Empathy, and Creativity

We learn by watching. We learn by doing. Just look at the homunculus that anthropomorphizes how humanity learns through experiences that engage and ignite the senses, often resulting in the unexpected. Partly because learning, especially when prompted by curiosity, can be messy.

And that’s okay. In fact, allowing students to participate encourages the development in a variety of skills, such as decision making, time management, process analysis, innovation (also referred to as engineering) processes, collaboration, and creativity.

Teachers are no longer only instructors of curriculum. Rather, we should embrace being models and coaches of learning. In fact, we need to be willing to demonstrate and work with students to let them know learning is a continuum, a journey, a process.

And offer an invitation to join.

No written word
no spoken plea
Can teach our youth
what they should be.

Nor all the books
on all the shelves.
It’s what the teachers
are themselves.

Poem author unknown, from page 27 “Lifetime of Observations.” Photo by Tim Marshall from Unsplash

References & Resources

Barnes, Mark. “Role Reversal: Putting Students in Charge of their Learning.” Learning and Leading with Technology, Nov 2013. Viewed Aug 2020.

Coach John Wooden with Steve Jamison. “Lifetime of Observations On and Off the Court” McGraw-Hill Companies. 1997.

“Dear Grown-Ups… Sincerely, Gen Z” TEDx Spokane, Kimber Lybbert (Moses Lake Educator), 17 Jan 2020.

EL Education “Leaders of their Own Learning.” Viewed 06 Aug 2020.

Koole, Sander L and Nils B Jostmann and Nicola Baumann. “Do Demanding Conditions Help or Hurt Self-Regulation.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 6/4 (2012): 328–346, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2012.00425.x. Viewed Aug 2020.

Lindsay, Julie. “How to Encourage and Model Global Citizenship in the Classroom.” EdWeek. 07 Apr 2020. Viewed Aug 2020.

Miller, Andrew. “Avoiding Learned Helplessness” Edutopia. 11 May 2015.

Mrs. Howell. “Tracking Student Success” Templates. Referenced by ReimagineWaEd 07 Aug 2020.

Gonzalez, Jennifer. “Backward Design: The Basics” 21 June 2020. Viewed July 2020.

Gonzalez, Jennifer. “9 Ways Online Teaching Should be Different from Face to Face” 05 July 2020. Viewed July 2020.

Grinder, Michael & Associates. “Two & Three Point Communication” TWINN, 06 Jan 2017. Viewed 24 July 2020.

ISTE Standards for Educators. Retrieved from

ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from

 Kleij, F. V., Adie, L., & Cumming, J. (2016). Using video technology to enable student voice in assessment feedback. British Journal of Educational Technology,48(5), 1092-1105. doi:10.1111/bjet.12536

Utrect, Jeff & Keller, Doreen “Becoming Relevant Again: Applying Connectivism Learning Theory to Today’s Classrooms,” Spring 2019. Revisited 23 July 2020.

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