Great learning happens when teachers get out of the way of students

Photo by Jens Lelie
I’m hearing this constantly on Twitter following some powerful student Ignite speeches at the recent ISTE conference in San Antonio. The implication that great student learning only happens when teachers get out of the way is a false dichotomy. It implies that the students succeed despite us. I bet behind the scenes for all of those amazing students, there was a powerful and passionate teacher and supporter. Whether this is a school teacher, a parent, a friend, a brother, a cousin, whomever, everyone needs a supporter, coach, or teacher. A great teacher will impact learning. A great teacher doesn’t put a ceiling on a student’s potential. Students need great teachers. I am a massive advocate for learner-centred pedagogy and curriculum but there must be a balance. In the “The Child and the Curriculum”, John Dewey calls for a balance between the curriculum and the child. Neither should dominate. It is a democratic balance. Too skewed in the child direction “minimises the importance of the content as well as the role of the teacher.” 

The role of the pedagogue

Pedagogy is defined as “leading children to a place where they can learn for themselves”. This leading can be done from any position. By their side, in front, behind or from afar. Great pedagogues use an arsenal of tools to lead students to a place where they can learn for themselves. Pedagogues provide a hand up. They throw learning curveballs. They meddle in the middle. They sage on the stage. They guide by the side. The key is knowing when to switch the roles. Knowing what toolset to pull from the pedagogical toolkit to assist students in learning for themselves. 

Do great teachers get in the way? Yes…when they need to.

Do great teachers get out of the way? Yes…when they need to


4 thoughts on “Great learning happens when teachers get out of the way of students

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  1. Thanks for sharing Steve. The role of a “teacher” as you said can be anyone from an actual teacher to a parent to a best friend. I agree that as teachers we can impact on student learning by setting the ground work but also allowing them to test their understanding themselves. Cheers Cam

    1. Thanks for commenting Cam. Being a teacher does not always require a four year degree. Some of the best teachers I ever had have never set foot in a classroom.

  2. I totally agree Steve with the assertion about adjust to the context, Steve Collis’ TED Talk captures thus. However, I squirm at the thought of **greatness**. This is not meant to celebrate mediocrity, but I think that there is something in Winnicott’s notion of ‘good enough (see Deb Netolicky’s [post]( Personally, I have written about the perils of being great [at the expense of others]( and the conditions that [allow for supposed greatness]( Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts.

    1. I think all teachers are great. The title is a direct quote from a tweet and was meant to make you squirm (lol). Categorising teachers is a bad move IMO as I believe all teachers have the capacity to inspire learning. For me, it is the assertion that learning happens despite teachers was the part that irked me. ‘Great’ in this context applies to all teachers. Thanks for the comment and further reading, as always you expand my thinking.

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