Sunday, December 13, 2009

We Need LEARNERS, not Teachers in the Front of our Classes

On Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, I was very fortunate to be able to attend a discussion led by Will Richardson @willrich45 hosted by Scott McLeod and Iowa State University. It involved about 40 people mostly administrators, but a few business people, AEA folks, and one teacher. The discussion centered around the idea that the world has changed, and is rapidly changing more, while the educational system has stayed relatively the same. For those of you that follow my blog, or for those of you that know me personally, you know that this discussion was right up my alley.

Though we talked about many things including, educational policy, the Iowa Core Curriculum, leadership, technology and many other topics relevant to our current educational system, the thing that stuck out to me most was our discussion about schools needing to focus on learning. This seems like such a simple idea, but when you really think about it, too often decisions in education are not based on learning. Too often decisions are based on money, policy, or teachers. Not learning. Will said something like this:

We need learners, not teachers, in the front of our classes
  • Teachers are no longer the smartest people in the room; the smartest people in the room are the ones you invite in from outside
  • Teachers come in all shapes and sizes from all parts of the world
  • We need to create learning communities, not teaching communities
We have had this exact discussion at Van Meter. Not too long ago, the teacher was the primary source of information for our students, but today, if a student wants to know facts or find information out about a particular subject he/she can just do a google search and find more out about the subject than most teachers can provide. To perpetuate this situation in our district, we recently adopted a 1:1 computer program in grades 7-12. Students literally have the world at their fingertips. Teachers had better change in our district, or they will have no chance in connecting with our students. Not only will their subject become irrelevant to our students, so will the teacher.

What are we doing to make sure LEARNERS are at the front of our classes?

We are creating a culture of inquiry in which collaboration is the norm. The adults are learning with our students from other teachers and other experts in our building and throughout the world. We know students have access to whatever they want to know about a topic, so we are trying to facilitate their understanding by learning with them. We use our experiences to help students navigate their way through this world of instantaneous information.

We expect our teachers to adapt to this ever changing world by being risk-takers. It is easy as a teacher to get comfortable with what you have always done, but if you are truly a learner, you are creative and innovative. We want our teachers, no, we expect our teachers to think outside of the box. We support innovation by encouraging our teachers to do something new by modeling it ourselves. We are creating a learning community.

I think it is safe to say that our teachers have been asked to learn more this year than any year they have ever taught. With the 1:1 program, teachers have had to become lead learners, because they know they are no longer the smartest person in the room. It has stretched their thinking into what schools can be in the future.

We are by no means where we want to be as a district, but we are heading in the right direction. We have teachers partnering up with other districts in the state of Iowa and we have teachers partnering with other districts in the U.S. We also have students collaborating with adults as they direct their own learning.

Our spanish teacher, Stacey Wigant is working with the spanish teacher, Juliana Smith from Newell Fonda in a collaborative format. They are using a Ning to get our students to collaborate online. Stacey didn't even know what a Ning was until about 3 weeks ago. Her guide through this learning experience s another one of our teachers Shawn Hyer who developed a Ning for his reading classes all of two months ago. He has been teaching about 15 years and says this has been his most exciting year of teaching, not because of the technology, but because of the learning he has had to do to use it effectively. It has inspired him.

We also have our social studies teacher, Brent Jorth partnering up with New Milford High School teachers in New Milford, New Jersey. Yes, New Jersey. We met them through Twitter. I sent a DM to Eric Sheninger a few weeks ago about trying to get our kids to collaborate and the next thing I know we are going to have our sociology classes working together 2nd semester.

One of our students recently met one of her favorite authors on a day in which she was home sick from school. Watch the video on Shannon Miller's Library Voice blog. Our students have been empowered by lead learners like Shannon to think outside of Van Meter's walls. Our students are embracing the opportunities to learn anytime anywhere.

These "teachers" have been reinvigorated about the possibilities of what our school can become. They are excited because they are leading our staff and students as learners. It is inspiring to see so many teachers passionate about coming to our ever evolving learning community.

We do need learners at the front of our classes, and we need learners leading our districts at the local, state and national levels. We are fortunate to have a true lead learner in John Carver, leading our district. He has embraced the need for change, and has provided an atmosphere in our district to be the change that we want to see in schools.

It has been a blast for me to see such innovation taking place in our school in such a short amount of time. We have empowered our students and teachers to THINK, LEAD, & SERVE within their passions, and they are taking advantage of it. I hope to continue to learn along with them.


  1. Deron,

    Your school sounds like an exciting place with all of the changes that are taking place! You are well ahead of most schools in incorporating technology into all curricular areas. I agree with you in your thoughts on the need for learners in the classroom. I worry about students who have to spend a day, a week, a month, or an entire year with a teacher who does not have this philosophy.

  2. Our students are truly enjoying our collaboration project and making new friends everyday... This is a great opportunity for all of them...