September 26, 2010

"Make sure you do your own learning before that of those around you": what's choking teacher learning?

On September 29th I'm hosting a live discussion with to see if we can't get to the bottom of the biggest barrier to educational improvement: what's stopping teachers, en masse, learning explicitly for themselves every day?

I make a big, but I think fair assumption: teachers do not have enough time on a daily basis built in to their day, either through structures or through personal choice to make the time, to reflect on their experience and engage in challenging learning about teaching. And I pitch this against mounting research that shows the best education systems in the world are the best thanks to one key trait: they have the best teachers.

From the blog post I wrote this week over on

In the last eight weeks I've traveled on 30 planes. I am well versed in the most disturbing piece of guidance one is offered before take-off: "Make sure you fit your own oxygen supply before helping those around you, including young children".

The message is designed to make us have a mental check against our natural instincts - to help children first - given that if we don't look after ourselves first and foremost we'll not be in a position to help anyone.

I think teachers and schools need the same, regular safety briefing every time we start a learning journey. Teachers need to become much more automatic in their own learning habits before attempting to help youngsters learn for themselves.

In August I asked the same question to nearly 1000 educators throughout Australasia and California: "Is the teacher's job to be Learner In Chief?" The answers were not immediate, nor particularly sure of themselves when they did come. The challenge emerged thus: many of these teachers felt their main job was to teach, and that any learning they might undertake themselves is a rare, added bonus.

I believe the opposite should be true: teachers need to teach less to help learners learn more, and they need to put themselves in the position of learner far more frequently than they currently do.

Do you agree? Am I, Will Richardson, Alec Couros (discussion link) and others giving our teacher peers too a hard time by insisting on them learning how to make challenging changes in their practice? Are teachers learning enough through the occasional conference and chat about their day in the car on the way home?

I'd be delighted for you to join me on 29th/30th September (depending on your timezone) for this genuinely global discussion, normally with teachers and leaders from New Zealand, Australia, Europe and North America, and see what tactics or even strategies we can see emerging around the world to help teachers become the Learners In Chief of their schools.

(Pre-registration is required. Conversation best accessed by telephone (no charge) or Internet with microphone. More information here.).


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Should be a prerequisite for every teacher and administrator hiring:

"I pledge to be a self-directed, networked learner every day of my life."

How can we say our mission is to teach students to be life-long ("networked" s/b used here but it rarely is) learners when we don't expect life-long, networked learning from ourselves and our colleagues?

Today's snapshot: click!; title, Hypocrisy.

I agree with your point that teachers need to teach less to help learners learn more, and they need to put themselves in the position of learner far more frequently than they currently do.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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