“Passive Learner” to “Active Creator”

It was a blessing to be able to connect with Jam Gamble on her podcast (coming out soon) talking about speaking this morning. Jam is one of those people that just has a way of making you feel better about yourself only by being in her presence, which is a fantastic (and rare) gift to have.

One of the things that we talked about is the connection between being a good teacher and a good speaker.  I have thought about this a lot before the podcast, and as I look back at the early parts of my teaching career, I would say that I was an excellent speaker but not necessarily a good teacher.  I could talk all day, tell stories, make humorous connections to content, and my students would be engaged in the material.  When they would leave my classroom the following year, I would hear things from them like, “Mr. Couros, you were so much fun to listen to, and now it is hard to be with our new teacher because they make us do work.”  Early on in my career, I wore that statement like a badge of honor, but now I cringe at the fact that I set my students up to count on me to “engage” or even “entertain” them than to empower them to learn on their own.  If the students needed me to be interested in learning by the end of the year, I did more harm than good.

If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you have seen that I have often focused on moving from “engagement” to “empowerment”. This is something that I thought of while writing this post:

This is important to state…engagement and empowerment are not mutually exclusive from one another, but you can be engaged without being empowered, but if you are empowered, you are definitely engaged.

It is also important to understand that “lecture” is not a bad thing. I think that being a great storyteller and making content interesting is an essential trait of a modern day educator.

My point is that if the learning in the classroom is all about what the teacher does, and less about what the students create, then what is the long-term impact that this will have on our students? Do our kids learn that someone else will make it happen for them, or that they can make it happen for themselves? Yes, we need others on that journey to support us, but what is our contribution to solutions moving forward for ourselves and others?

If you want to see the effectiveness of a teacher, don’t look at what they do, but what their students do because of them.

From “The Innovator’s Mindset“:

“..we must keep in mind that a culture of compliance will not foster the environments we want for students or educators. Demanding compliance will not effectively prepare learners for being productive citizens today, nor in their futures.”

Not only is shifting the mindset from “engagement” to “empowerment” beneficial to our students (and in my belief, society as a whole), it is also advantageous to the teacher. In a time where teacher burnout and stress is becoming more of a factor in education, ramping up your passion for doing the majority of the work for your students will only accelerate this truth.  One of the best teachers I know told me that as she focused on becoming more innovative in the classroom and focused on empowering her students, she not only saw their learning go up but her workload going down.  How many of you reading this would take that trade-off?

Think about this standard practice for many educators…

Teachers come in weeks early to decorate their classroom (and let’s be honest, often because they feel the pressure of other teachers doing the same thing), doing all of that work themselves.  They will make it picture perfect for their students, and show a bit of themselves on the walls. I used to do this early in my career and put every child’s name on a basketball to welcome to the classroom.  Imagined if you walked into that room and hated sports.  A student would be thinking, “Seriously? A year with this guy?”  So then we put in ALL of that work, and then we keep saying things like “our classroom.”  If it were “our classroom,” we would use that time to help kids have ownership over the room.  You can share a little piece of yourself in your space, but do the students see themselves through their creations, represented on the walls that they spend their days?  Take that approach and you get less work for the teacher, and more ownership and empowerment for the student.

If we continuously focus on “engaging” our students, will there be a point where creating high quality, high production videos, could replace the engaging content of a teacher, for less money?  I hope not, but we have to realize that content is everywhere, and if “meaningful creation” is not a factor in the work students do daily, what impact will that have on the profession?

Take a look at this picture created by my brother (Alec Couros)  years ago called “The Networked Teacher”:

Image by Alec Couros

Here is what we need to understand about the above picture; the technologies will change but the arrows won’t. We will never live in a time again where people won’t be able to create and share content with relative ease to the entire world.  That picture would not have been created when I went to school, but it exists now.  What does that reality change for our schools?

Shauna Cornwell recently wrote the post, “The Art of Science and Innovation,” where she gives distinct examples of students moving from “passive learner” to “active learner” or “creator.” Some of her ideas are listed below:



She sums up these ideas beautifully at the end of her post:

“There will always be a time and place for teachers to use a more lecture-style format, offer mini-lessons, and use direct teaching, but in today’s changing world we know that our students also need more than that.  Innovative teaching and learning is about finding a balance that offers our students more regular opportunity to play an active role in their own learning.”

As you read any new book or attend a new workshop, continuously ask the question, “Is this more about what the teacher can do for the student, or about empowering and finding ways so that the student can eventually do things for themselves?”  This subtle shift will be needed for our students to create their futures, instead of hoping someone else will do it for them.

Source: George Couros