“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward
Engaging students in learning means, first and foremost, that today’s classrooms must change. Our previous posts about engagement stress some of the pedagogical and technical changes that should occur in order to create the classroom environment that fosters 21st century learning. It is now time to address the teacher in the room. As we begin this discussion, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: THE TEACHER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN ANY CLASSROOM, ANYWHERE. Technology cannot replace teachers. The latest trends cannot replace teachers. No person, place, gadget, program or pedagogy can have greater effect on a student than an effective teacher. In order to engage students effectively, the role of the teacher in today’s classrooms must evolve from purveyor of knowledge to partner in learning,
In the 21st century, teachers must be partners in learning. This does not mean that teachers are “buddies,” “pals,” or “friends” with students. A partner is one who shares in the planning or execution of an event, program or life situation. I like the image of a dance partner for teachers. Partners in a dance work in unison to the same rhythm and beat. One leads, but both are vital to the success of the outcome. It is a good image to keep in mind as we discuss the changing role of teachers.
Teachers as effective partners in learning must possess certain characteristics. First and foremost, they must be experts in their disciplines. Teachers must stay abreast of the newest information and research. Maintaining expertise allows teachers to monitor students’ progress and provide positive feedback. Further, a highly knowledgeable teacher can guide students along their own paths to understanding, whether that is at a surface level or at more interpretive or innovative depth . Secondly, teacher-partners establish pedagogy that prepares students how to learn beyond the classroom. Open-ended questioning, emphasis on problem-solving, practice in collaboration and communication, and required decision-making are essential elements of a teacher-partner’s lessons. Lastly, teacher-partners maintain a positive classroom disciplinary climate in which respect for all participants, an expectation of challenging and rigorous activities, and the maintenance of a safe place to explore characterize every class session. Research has shown that students, regardless of grade level, are 1.5 times more likely to be more interested, motivated and responsive to instruction when a positive disciplinary environment is present. When these three characteristics are combined, the teacher casts aside the “sage on the stage” role, moves beyond the “guide on the side” stage, to become the teacher-partner, an active and integral part of student-centered learning.
“All of this sounds very altruistic and impossible in my classroom today,” you say. It is not. There are programs that allow you to begin the shift to teacher-partner immediately. One of those is Artifacts Teach (www.artifactsteach.com) This easy-t0-use web tool contains no lesson plans. Instead, the site provides the tools to custom design each lesson. Artifacts naturally lend themselves to collaborative analysis, skilled communication, and evidence-based decision-making. Artifacts Teach can start you down the road to becoming an effective teacher-partner in less time than it takes to write your next standardized lesson plan, and to distribute the text-based worksheets.