From Followers to Learners

from-followers-to-learners-1-e1524400967683.jpgIn my teacher preparation program we were taught to comply with “best practice” for lesson planning as determined by the public sector of education.  This meant extensive lesson plans created to ensure preparation by the teacher to engage students in learning specified content.

Let me say that again….

Extensive lesson plans created to ensure preparation by the teacher to engage students in learning specified content.

I was expected to know how to differentiate for diverse needs of all my students. I met this expectation by thoughtfully planning scaffolds, modifications and strategies for various student needs. For my first formal observation in student teaching my lesson plan for one 40 minute period was 8 pages long.

That’s correct…. 8 pages.

I planned for what I was going to say, what students were going to say and do- the entire process of learning according to me. This sort of detailed differentiated lesson planning is considered best practice in many education circles. It’s actually what is expected in many teacher training programs and schools.

With all the planning and focus on differentiating for content delivery, I left little wiggle room for students. There was no space in my plan for student questions, interests or any exploration of the concepts beyond what I knew or told them.

And then came Ms. C’s feedback. Ms. C was my cooperating teacher who was graciously overseeing my development as a student teacher for 5 months.

Ms. C’s feedback was in a different language juxtaposed to that of my first formal program evaluation. In response to my 8 page lesson plan, Ms. C wrote, “You’re great at stifling students in overly structured lessons saturated with content that you deliver. How would you feel if you were in the desk chair during this lesson?”

Ouch. Just ouch.

The beautiful part is that there is so much growth in pain. Ms. C ignited the fire in me to begin a transformational reflection journey- and for that I am forever grateful.

What if instead of me doing all the work to plan completely structured lessons to deliver content, I spent more time understanding the learners and helping them understand the learning goal?

Cue paradigm shift. My entire philosophy and purpose as a teacher began an instrumental change even before I was a “teacher”.

As a teacher to be, I was becoming conditioned by a system to create perfectly structured learning experiences for students. Upon reflecting I was forced to consider exactly what I was taking away from learners by creating those very learning experiences.

The answer was pretty blatant. When I was doing all of the work in planning, I was also doing all of the learning.

I believed in planning and the necessity of differentiation. But, I also wondered… if I create all the steps for learners to be successful, where is the learning process? Will students be able transfer the scaffolds I create for them to different scenarios?

In my quest to answer these questions I found that when the teacher does the cognitive work, finds the resources, and plans the steps for learning- students are walking down a predetermined path…. as followers.

How egotistical is it to think that all students will succeed with my scaffolds, learning process, and differentiated plan… for them.

Meaningful learning is a process that isn’t perfectly structured or completely planned for. It involves learners setting up the process through which they learn. Can they do this naturally? Not that I’ve seen… without support. Teachers support by setting up processes with students for them to learn, not by processing learning for students to follow.

This is where my journey began. From followers to learners. It begins with the teacher; a mindset shift.

3 thoughts on “From Followers to Learners

  1. Great Post. This was me during my training too. I wish I had recieved some honest feedback like you did, as painful as it would have been to hear at the time. It’s no surprise teachers are often utterly exhausted at the end of a heavily planned lesson, while students seem to have an abundance of energy. When teachers do all the cognitive work, their ‘followers’ can cruise through without having to do any of the heavy lifting!


  2. Love this! Definitely a mindset shift. Sounds like you had a great teacher to learn from. I’d love to hear more about some of the processes you set up that really enable student agency.


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