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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Teacher as Learning Platform

How do we support students developing as efficacious self-directed, social learners and involve parents as partners in that journey?

I struggle with balancing expectations for student independence and inquiry with the patience and nurturing needed to help students graduate from school work to their own work. In my own life, I tend to make changes cold turkey, but what works for me as a person isn’t what works for my students as learners. Currently, I’m engaged in assessing the language I use in the classroom and the non-verbal cues I deliver, regardless of what I’m saying, to improve as a nurturer. Rather than act as a hang-gliding instructor (“Jump here; land there!”), I’m trying to act more like the hang-glider, lifting up students during their flights of learning.

I want to be Falkor instead of Carl Conrad Coreander.

Students bring their own curiosity and interests to class. I try to acknowledge and value these things through student-directed work aligned to student-selected reading and writing goals. For me, to communicate better how much I value what students bring to class, I need to slow down and match my nurturing words with patient, open nonverbal communication. I need to match speed with students. I need to lighten up. I need to be sure not to wound students through my impatience for progress. I need to become a learning platform.

I’m working on it. I’m kind of goal-oriented, so having a a particular end in mind (“Jump here, nurture there!”) works for me. I think. I’ll check with my kids and get back to you.

To help further a nurturing community of learning around students that rewards curiosity, inquiry, and communication about their work, here are some ideas I have for next year (or this Spring?) for involving students, parents, and experts in the work of our classroom:

  • Continue student goal-setting and self-assessment. Keep embedding goal-setting in entrance and exit slips. Ask students to self-assess as pre-assessment for projects to set learning goals and decide on how to benchmark and measure their progress. Ask students to self-assess their learning and work at the end of projects. Ask kids to run student-led conferences twice per 9 Weeks, at both interim and report card times.
  • Help students produce YouTube videos about a day in the life of our classroom. Share out the videos with parents, students’ friends, and my colleagues, as well as with visitors before they come to class.
  • Help students produce a wiki for parents, friends, colleagues, and visitors that teaches them how to sign-up for the social media tools we use and how to follow our work via social media.
  • Maintain a collaborative blog with students that features weekly posts about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and why we’re doing it our way.
  • Maintain a collaborative Twitter account with students to share out daily work and discoveries.
  • Establish a classroom Google Voice line for student and parent suggestions to be checked weekly.
  • Write permissions forms that make it easy to say yes to social media. Include options for anonymous use of tools using randomized IDs. Include options for different levels of teacher oversight and input for social media accounts. Find a way for each student to participate in a personal learning network in a manner that’s comfortable to both the student and his or her parents.
  • Work with the parent-teacher organization to create a parent blog about experiences with class and the school. Hold quarterly information nights for parents to explain and teach the social media tools we use in class and train parent bloggers. During class time, invite students to comment and respond to parents’ points of view on our learning.
  • Create a visitor blog or map managed collaboratively by students, visitors and the teacher. Ask for introductions from visitors before they arrive – physically and/or virtually – and let kids comment on them. Ask visitors to write about what they’ve learned from our students and what they’ve learned about public education after their time in class
  • Make Expo-Night an all day open-house to accommodate parents’ schedules and draw in community partners and division personnel. Dedicate a day per semester to display, present, and play around student learning. Run the day from the beginning of school through 6:00 PM or so, and keep kids after school as necessary for parents to pick up after work. Schedule student project and portfolio presentations and performances throughout the day, including physical education demonstrations and open-studio times for students ready to talk about their processes.
  • Meet with the parent-teacher organization to brainstorm fund-raising ideas for class. While policy commonly says that principals have final say over classroom fund-raising, the parent-teacher organization can sponsor events on its own. Imagine a student Etsy boutique or classroom Donors Choose page maintained by a parent volunteer in collaboration with students and the teacher. Parent-teacher organizations are oftentimes already authorized to fund-raise in ways classroom teachers are not; take advantage of that by forging partnerships with parent-teacher organizations.

How do you take advantage of social media to strengthen your relationships with students, parents, and learning? Is it even right to think of ourselves as learning platforms?


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


4 thoughts on “Teacher as Learning Platform

  1. Dear Chad,

    Lots of good ideas here, one that jumps out at me tonight is “to help students graduate from school work to their own work.”

    It is true that those students who are able to master classroom material quickly are granted more freedom to then move onto what they want to study. This is also true for students who really struggle and move to special education tracks. Ultimately, I find that special education and gifted and talented programs are designed much the same way-individualize learning. Then there’s the “middle” of the bell curve that just keep pace with curriculum and never get to experience learning outside of it within school.

    I like your first bullet as it describes individualized learning for all. So how will students know how to measure their progress and what to have in mind for assessment? How will students know how to conference effectively? Can we just trust them to do so, or not negating trust but understanding human development do we still need to provide structures and instruction on how to use those structures?

    Pushing on,

    Posted by Adam Burk | April 12, 2010, 8:24 pm
  2. Thanks for the questions, Adam. The structures are definitely needed as complements to trust, confidence, expectations, and support from caring adults.

    I’m working through the assessment piece. Generally, I try to get students to articulate a reading or writing goal while planning a making project – a project through which they make something: a blog, a Storybird book, or, as were suggested today, a model skateboard with decals to be marketed and licensed to skate companies and a “virtual tour of a jumbo jet in flight.”

    Right now, our reading and writing goals are more quantitative than qualitative. For example, students want to “write neater” or “write longer” or “write an essay” or “read faster” or “read more” or “read to learn about X.”

    When I see students write down such general, if authentic, goals, I ask, “Why? Why is this your goal?” I want students to feel invested in their work; I don’t want them to try to commit to projects that they don’t love. I get answers like so-and-so “says my [reading/writing sucks],” or, “I don’t want to feel stupid.”

    And so I hit a fork in the road of authentic learning. Do I say something like, “Wow. That’s a great reason, and so is standard 7.4.e!”, or do I sit with that student’s reason, try it on, and forget about the tests that are really much more important to my career than to my students’ learning? Do I search for the “genius of the and?”

    Frankly, I hedge my bets. I help students set up feedback schedules and write summative self-assessments based on their own goals because my co-teachers and I run a tripartite class with an Standards of Learning (SOL) reading station, a writing fluency station, and a self-directed learning station, which I run. While we collaborate on writing prompts and data-driven areas of focus for SOL reading assignments, we try to value students’ goals as completely as possible in the self-directed learning station.

    Ultimately, the strength of our arts-infused, literacy-focused program will carry us through state testing without the need to provide so much direct instruction on reading standards. However, we had a rough year testing last year and need a good year testing this year to sustain the school politically and economically.

    Once we’ve established our viability, I think we’ll emulate programs like the New Country School wherein students are helped to align exemplary project-based work to state standards and given the support and freedom necessary to surpass those standards through authentic learning.

    I also completely support providing models, coaching, and choice of content for kids before their first few student-led conferences. I think that any student who is ready for more independence should certainly be allowed to riff on conference content and media, as well.

    Let me know if I can add to anything here for you –

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 12, 2010, 9:02 pm


  1. Pingback: Teacher buy-in to parent vision « Cooperative Catalyst - July 21, 2010

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