Trading Places

The students are the teachers; the teachers are the students - and we're all in this learning mix together.

Photo of Laurie Bartels
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When students become teachers and teachers become students, the roles are reversed and eventually the roles dissipate and everyone is simply a learner. This was the case in workshops I organized for many summers at a local independent school. At first there were eager although slightly nervous students and semi-skeptical teachers. Most teachers were curious to see the kids in action and some teachers were skeptical because they thought they "knew" the students and could not imagine those kids "teaching".

Lo and behold, the students surprised the teachers, and the teachers surprised themselves, as well as the students. Students rose to the occasion by preparing in-depth presentations for the sessions they taught, and in the sessions where they assisted by offering clear guidance to the adults. 

Teachers saw their students through a new lens and were able to change their mental image of those kids whose ability they had initially questioned. Teachers also learned to allow themselves to not be the experts. Ultimately, over a period of several summers where many of the same students returned to teach, a collaborative effect occurred. Students and teachers were equals. This mixed gender group of students, despite spanning several grades, bonded with one another and each summer the graduating seniors were sent off with a lunch and a memento from the group.

A spillover effect impacted workshops that took place during the school year, with students assisting during PD-focused faculty meetings. 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this approach was the modeling done by the students. The workshops had a digital tech component. During the workshop planning stages students shared the approaches used by their teachers in the classroom, and they discussed how ineffectively some of the teachers used the technology. Since the students were the consumers-not just of the tech but also as the learners in the classroom-they were well poised to model for their teachers alternative approaches to teaching with tech. Sometimes it pays to ask the learners for their input!


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Photo of Paula Marra

Hi Laurie,

I truly enjoyed your inspiration! we are all learners, let's learn from each other, let's change roles. I teach Kindergarten. I am inspired after reading your post so tomorrow I will ask for a volunteer to lead the day with me. Cheers, Paula

Photo of Laurie Bartels

Hi Paula,
Your comment (thanks!) sparked another idea that I was discussing the other day (I believe with Michael Schurr.) What if teachers teaching the oldest lower school grade, the youngest and oldest middle school grades, and the youngest upper school grade all switched places (rotating?) every few years so that all of those teachers were able to experience the grades that fed into theirs and the grades they were sending their students off to?

As well, what if teachers stayed with students (again on a rotational basis) for two years and then cycled back to their starting grade?

I am smiling at the thought of a kindergartener assisting you with leading the day. :-)
Cheers, Laurie

Photo of Jessica Lura

How did it go? We do a "teacher for a day" prize at our fund-raising auction. It's always super popular (and then it's fun watching the students, especially the younger ones, "run" the day with their teacher).

Photo of Jessica Lura

I could definitely see the learning value of teaching the grade level around which you teach--truly getting a sense of where they come from and where they are going.

Photo of Valerie Swangren

One of the notes I made when I was researching PD was 'participate in positive collaboration' . I think it's important to keep our focus on the students when we do PD. Allowing them to experience teaching while we are the ones receiving instruction is a great idea. It certainly gives us an opportunity to reflect on what and how we are teaching and may even give us some insight into how we prepare ourselves to teach (and learn).

Photo of Sarah Lundy

We're probably all familiar with how the experience of being "the teacher" compels us to a new learning relationship with the content or skills at the center of the classroom. Of course, we should offer our students that opportunity! One of the thoughts I'm most struck by here is how teachers really have to assume an authentic the role of student or learner, rather than "audience" or "evaluator" to make room for students as the leader of the learning.