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Teacher as Collaborator

Teacher as Collaborator


I have always had a love/hate relationship with school. Even before I started school, I loved the idea of it. Getting to work with my friends to learn new things is so fun. However, I also hated going to school. Most of the school day is spent sitting quietly and listening to others. Sitting quietly and listening is super dull.

As a teacher, I tried to remember how much I hated sitting quietly and listening as a kid, but I often fell into the trap of talking at my class.


My experiences with school as a student, a teacher, and a mother have made me a passionate advocate of personalized learning. Learning is fun. Our brains are hardwired to learn, and we get a shot of pleasure chemicals when we learn something new. Kids should be addicted to school like they are addicted to video games, but they aren't because of the way we run traditional schools.

This blog is not a complaint against individual teachers. Teachers work unbelievably hard to make their lessons engaging for students. However, they often do not have the resources they need to personalize the educational experience for each student.

The other problem is that teachers are trained to be the "boss" of the classroom. The teacher tells the students what to do, and the students do it - hopefully.

What if instead of being a boss, a teacher was a collaborator? Students are always ultimately in charge of their own learning, so why not have teachers facilitate learning instead of controlling it?

This approach requires resources for students to use independently to learn according to their own goals and a shift in mindset for the teachers, students, parents, and administrators.


Kids love to learn, but they also need to feel safe. When students don't feel safe, they can't learn. If a student is labeled as "failing," he doesn't feel safe. If a student doesn't understand the material, she doesn't feel safe.

When a teacher is a collaborator, the student and teacher work together to choose what a student will learn. The student can select goals that are achievable and meaningful. She can learn in ways that work for her. The teacher doesn't have the difficulty of teaching an unwilling student because the student is invested in her learning.

Completely personalized learning is not going to be possible in a classroom of 30 unique students, but there are small changes teachers can make to transition from boss to collaborator.


First, get to know your students! Finding time to get to know each student can be more complicated than it sounds. To get one-on-one time with a student, the other kids have to be working independently. We all know that getting kids to work independently at the beginning of the school year is difficult if not impossible.

The trick is providing educational activities students want to do. Allowing students to work in groups makes any activity more engaging for students. You will also want to have students work on concepts that are in the right zone of difficulty. Tasks that are too difficult will frustrate kids, and tasks that are too easy will bore them.

A great way to start the morning is morning work tubs. The goal of morning work is to transition students into school, so they are ready for a day of learning. Fill your morning work tubs with activities the students will look forward to using. Legos, blocks, clay, markers, fancy paper, beads, and circuits will all keep your students working happily. Then, you can use morning work time to connect with individual students.


Once you have gotten to know your students, you will be able to integrate their interests and goals into their learning plans. Incorporating student interests can be as simple as encouraging a student to write about his favorite sport or providing books on Minecraft.

For a bigger challenge, work with a student to design a project based on his passion. Then, give the student time during the day to work on the project. The student will likely be so excited he will start working on the project at home too.

The most significant change if moving from boss to collaborator is mindset. Instead of planning with the goal of covering all of the standards, think about ways you can help your students achieve their goals. The change in the energy of your class will be palpable. Your students will feel empowered, and so will you.

If you are looking for resources to support your students’ personalized learning, check out my store at Teachers Pay Teachers: The Productive Teacher. My focus is creating resources that students can use independently, so you can focus on teaching not planning.

Note: I got the idea for the teacher as a collaborator from reading How to Raise Successful People by Easther Wojcicki. You can get it at Amazon.

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