Opinion
Education Opinion

Teachers as ‘Lead Learners’

By Sarah Brown Wessling — May 17, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Sarah Brown Wessling

I like to tell my students that in our classroom, we’re working to flatten the hierarchies that separate teacher from student. I remind them that anyone who comes into our classroom—students, administrators, community members—gets elevated to the status of learner because there isn’t more crucial work we do. Yet, living this elevated learner culture is a tall order when it comes to leveraging that philosophy across an entire school, district or state. In my inaugural year as a hybrid teacher (½ the day in the classroom and the other ½ as professional development coordinator for our district) I’ve learned a lot about what it means to use professional learning to impact not only student achievement, but also learning culture. Here are five snapshots from my learning this year.

Presenting vs. Teaching
So many times I’ve heard teachers say, “Please don’t stand up and talk to me about inquiry, teach that way too!” I agree. Professional learning undermines itself when we don’t teach it. If we’re extolling the virtues of productive group work, then our learners need to be learning by doing productive group work and not just sitting and passively hearing about it. If we want teachers to be learners first then we need to help them feel that same struggle, nurturing, and excitement they will recreate in their own classrooms.

When Teachers Do the Teaching
When teachers are put in positions to lead their peers, to share their own struggles and successes, colleagues listen. When teachers can close that gap between research and reality, between the vision and how to get there, we’re offering our learners a peek into the metacognition of teaching. When teachers can “think aloud,” when they can make what’s intrinsic, suddenly extrinsic to each other, we can shift that culture.

Systems Thinking
Rather than having the mindset that we’re aiming to develop stronger teachers, we must think about cultivating better teaching throughout a system. When I work with administrators, I’ve often asked them to consider what their “teaching moments” are during a day. Part of our professional learning plans must address the ways in which we all teach everyday, how we all live learning every day.

As a system sees itself comprised, not of isolated parts that work best on a linear path, but as a flattened hierarchy with a compass towards teaching and learning, we’ll not only see the impact of curious pursuit, we’ll also see that teacher-leader or leader-teacher really means lead learner.

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. She is also serving as TCHr Laureate for the Teaching Channel and was the 2010 National Teacher of the Year.

The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)