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Teachers Aren't Teachers

Jul 06, 2021

Have you ever heard the phrase that the best way to learn something is to teach it?  Or have you ever, instead of you, yourself teaching a concept, had your students take over to teach it because you knew they would have to learn it first?

You’ve experienced this yourself.  The only way to be able to teach something is to learn it first.  And this is why teaching can be so hectic, especially if you’re told you’re teaching a new subject or course within your certification.  First you have to learn it, then you have to get into the complexities of best practices in teaching that specific content.  Talk about time consuming, right?

But what if it didn’t have to be that complicated?

What if we approached it not as a teacher, but instead as expert learners?

In this episode I’m diving into how teachers are not teachers, they are expert learners of their specific content, because gone are the days where you can just talk at kids and expect them to absorb everything you say.  Kids just don’t work like that anymore, and when you  step into the role of expert learner you’ll be so much more effective at helping your kids do the same.

After listening to this episode you will have a renewed understanding of your role as an educator and how you can empower your students as learners through that role.  You’ll also walk away with actionable strategies to take advantage of this renewed understanding of your role.

So, teacher-friend, let’s get to it.


Ok, so let’s dive into this idea that teachers not being teachers, but instead are expert learners can be so empowering for you in the classroom and for your students.

Instead of talking at them about the content, you’re able to help them work through the content and the learning experience you’ve created for them.  You’re able to meet them on the same level, learner to learner, and share the experience that is learning within your content.

Sure you still have the coveted student to teacher relationship, but instead of you being the beholder of all knowledge, you can relate to your students who knows how to learn this stuff, and they’ll be more prepared to listen up when you tell them what to do, accomplish, or try out as they get into the messy, but beautiful learning process.

So how can we do this.

How Students Will Engage

First up, you’ll want to teach your students how to engage with and encode new content specific to your course.  How will students take notes, where will they do this, and at what point will they dive deeper into the content using those notes?

The flipped classroom lends itself nicely to this because the content is accessible outside of you, and therefore you can be there to help them work through it.  But whether you flip or not, you must take time to teach your students and work with them on best ways to engage with and encode information within your content.

I like to do this at the beginning of the school year with the entire class, then I do periodic check ups individually and in small groups throughout the school year, especially as we approach larger assessments.

I can’t stress enough how important individual conversations are when teaching students how to do this. Once you set up and deliver a lesson on how best to learn from a lab in science class, for instance, you want to have conversations with students after assessments show how they aren’t getting it so that you can show them the process again or in a different way.

Learning is Messy, Embrace It

Next up, I am recommending that you embrace the messy but beautiful learning process.  Make the learning process an overt and obvious occurrence in your classroom, including the messy parts and mistakes.

Research shows that learning is more solidified in the brain if we make a mistake and then learn from it.  We do this all the time, but it’s like there’s taboo around getting something wrong.  So we need to normalize this in our classrooms.

You can start by making your own mistakes, out loud and in front of everyone.  Now you’ll want to plan this out, and you’ll want to make it seem like you’re accidentally making mistakes and that you think you’re totally right, in hopes that someone points out how you’re wrong so that you all can correct the mistake together, talk about why it was so easy to make that mistake, and how to avoid it in the future.

I have to stress here that it’s imperative (to your students learning and your reputation as an educator, ha) that you stress to your students how their understanding is now stronger because they just learned from someone else making a mistake.

Another way to embrace this messy process is to get students reflecting on it frequently.  You want them specifically to reflect on their effort to performance ratio.  Put another way, help them see their learning process and how it impacted their performance.  Carve out time in your calendar after every larger (or smaller if you’ve got the time) assessment for them to do this in a structured way, helping them see how their work is or is not paying off.

Find a Content Specific Mentor

Lastly, I want to recommend that you find someone who is an expert learner in your content area, and who can help you become an expert learner in that area as well.  This is a hard one because I don’t have one to recommend for every single content area.  It’s also hard because this is different than finding an expert teacher.  Instead you want to find someone who can help you through the tricky parts of what you teach, and best ways to go about learning it and helping your students do the same.

I’m excited to announce that here at Teach On A Mission we are growing, and I’m excited to welcome four different Content Coaches to the team.  Huge shout out and welcome to Rachelle in AP Psychology, Adriana in AP Biology, Emily in ELA for 9th and 10th graders, and Joy in 11th and 12th grade literature.

Each of these amazing teachers will be offering a monthly membership program within their content areas where they provide resources, pacing, and content coaching to teachers they will mentor in becoming expert learners.

Stay tuned for more information coming about these mentors.

As a recap for this episode I want to give you some specific action steps and things to consider about your role as an expert learner.

Action steps:

  1. Think of your first few days of the school year and what you do in your classroom before starting content.  Carve out some of that time to be dedicated not just in hooking your students on your content, but for teaching them best ways  to learn within your content.
  2. Carve out time in your calendar, in each and every unit, for students to reflect on their learning… what we’ll call their effort to performance ratio.
  3. Find a mentor in your content, and not just someone who will provide you the resources, but someone who will coach you and help you become an expert at learning your content so that you then can coach and guide your students through that learning process.

There you have it teacher-friend.  You are not a teacher (ok, seriously you are), but instead you are an expert-learner, and acting from that place can empower you in having impact with your students, and you’ve got the actionable steps to make it happen.

I’ll see you same time, same place next week right here on the Sustainable Teacher Podcast.  Bye for now.


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