Friday, 7 January 2011

From teacher to 'learning coach'

For a long time, I have felt that the title 'teacher' (in my language, Finnish, too - 'opettaja') is misleading or wrong in the 21st-century context. A teacher is somebody who has sole access to secret knowledge, and stands in front of the classroom giving lectures. He/she is the deliverer of knowledge, in a one-way process, which was believed to automatically lead to student learning earlier, but which we all now know is not necessarily the case. Wouldn't it be about time to think of a new, more appropriate title for ourselves - one that would describe what is expected of us, to make education more learner-centred?

Today, I came across an interesting article on the World Future Society website: The World is My School: Welcome to the Era of Personalized Learning by Maria H. Andersen. And there it was - the title I've been trying think of: LEARNING COACH! Ms Andersen describes the new role like this:
As the learning coach, my job is no longer to “deliver content” to the students. ... Now I can use my time to help students search for good questions, help them to understand the content they are learning, provide activities to help them work with the concepts or connect the material in an applied way, and foster discussion with other students on these topics.
Ms Andersen's model for personalized learning sounds really fascinating, although slightly sci-fi at times, too, but that's what futurists of education should present us with, to boldly go where no teacher has ever gone before.
A system for personalized learning will not grow from inside formal education. Education is like a field that’s been overplanted with only small patches of fertile soil. Too many stakeholders (parents, unions, administration, faculty, etc.) compete to promote various ideas about how to change, acting like weeds or plagues that choke off plant growth. The fresh and fertile soil of the open Web can foster the quick growth of a personalized learning system. Then, like a good fertilizer, it can be used to replenish the soil of formal education and help us to reach that “Holy Grail” of education: personalized learning for all.


Maria H. Andersen said...

Thanks for the mention of the article. I just rebuilt two of my algebra classes as a "reality show" where they have to complete daily "learning challenges" and you "win" the contest by getting an A. It's rather complicated, but I thought I would mention this because I only refer to myself in this new paradigm as the "learning coach."

sinikka said...

Thank you for your comment! Sorry if I somehow misinterpreted your article... I just really liked the name 'learning coach'. I think that if teachers were called something else they would have to start thinking about what they do differently. Teacher is such an old 'loaded' word, and when we think of ourselves as teachers, it easily leads to the old-style learning environment, even though clearly our students need something else today.

M Coleman said...

The terminology can definitely 'jump-start' conversation and change. "Learning Coach" has a great ring to it!

sinikka said...

I've been thinking about the problems inherent in the title 'teacher' for a long time. Then again, as you rightly say, changing the terminology might jump start change, but not automatically lead to anything big. Just today I read in Seth Godin's blog:
"It's a lot easier for an organization to adopt new words than it is to actually change anything." Of course, this is very true, too.