Irreplaceable teachers demand empowered learners

By September 30, 2015Education

Empowerment. It seems the concept draws the dividing line between what we’ve done and what we will do in education. In a teaching system, the power of decision-making lies in the hands of the teacher. Serving in the role of possessor of content, and driving most of the decisions about how and when to deliver that content to learners, is a foundational element wherein the teacher controls so much of the process. 

However, as we change to student-centric learning systems, there will be a major shift in that balance of power. Whether this was previously withheld because of a lack of trust, or fear that students couldn’t handle the responsibility, we’ve never fully placed the ability to make significant decisions in the hands of the learner. As teachers, we just never seemed comfortable with the idea that the student could actually decide what, when or how much each day. So, we followed our scope and sequence, prescribed to our district’s plan, or independently divided the material ourselves into our two semester year and faithfully doled out the content to those in our charge. We were the empowered ones. We were the teachers, the smartest ones in the room. And we knew best. 
In the coming systemic tranformation, so much will change. How the content is delivered, the accessibility of learning opportunities, measurements and tools. Yet, even as we consider the tremendous changes that will occur once we have transformed to full student-centric learning systems, most likely the greatest shift will be seen in the idea of empowerment. This transfer of decision-making will be difficult but necessary for teachers. Why? Simply put, in a transformed learning system, there will be three primary equations that must be addressed……..

1. The amount of structure versus freedom required for each student.

2. The blend of technology versus teacher for the learning environment.

3. The engagement altitude required of the teacher for each student.

These are not problems. They’re equations. For each student in a learning system, where the goal and focus is on meeting the BIG FOUR, there’s no question that delivery, measurement, location and time will define the classroom. But the equations listed above will become much of what administrators and teachers will do for each learner. And we will spend time looking at each of these equations. 

For now, though, it’s important to zero in on one very significant element for 21st century learning systems………..teachers will be just as important, in fact more important, as they’ve ever been. What they will do will be much different than what they did in the industrialized teaching system, though.
As we’ve stated before, the tired argument gets made that the emergence of increasing digital technology threatens the very existence of the human teacher. This just isn’t true. Teachers are needed. Teachers will be needed. The problem comes, though, when educators are singlarly focused on the one-dimensional definition of “teacher”. 

We won’t experience a wide-scale replacement of teachers with technology. We won’t be getting rid of teachers, except for those who should have never been in a classroom in the first place. The rising tide of technology, and the transformation of education, though, will require something from us that the old teaching system never asked of us. Handing off the decision-making power, in strategic ways, to our students. In other words, empowering our students.

Now, I understand there will be those among us who will quickly state that they’ve always empowered students. However, look closely. Have we ever given up the control of decision-making in our classroom? Sure, we let them choose from the options we give. We let them make some “decisions” that we “decided” they could make. Yet, even within those “decisions”, have we really empowered learners?

In new learning systems, empowerment will be important. And, as the system becomes the way education looks, acts and feels nationally, empowerment in the hands of learners will become natural and expected. Much more about empowerment will have to be understood and accepted on our campuses and in our classrooms. 

So, once again, will we replace teachers? No. However, those who cannot move to learning systems may have to step aside. In a transformed platform of learning, one thing will be understood…….”irreplaceable teachers will demand empowered learners.” The very definition of a teacher may one day be “one who knows how to engage with students in a way that empowers the learner”. Those educators who know this will demand it. And those who demand it will never be replaced.