The Changing role of Teachers #CCK11

The Demand for Change [Context]

This posting definitely comes from the perspective of K-12 education and presents the view that the traditional role of teacher as the purveyor of all knowledge and the judge of all learning is antiquated at best and at worst harmful.  K-12 educators (in most developed countries) have been charged with the enormous, and sometimes unrealistic, task of preparing students for work or to enter some sort of post-secondary path in a rapidly shrinking, knowledge rich, increasingly complex, very connected and sometimes complicated world. How will we respond?

A cacophony of voices can be heard calling for educational reform. The voices are sometimes at odds but in the end the one common message is that something (this is where the debate begins) has to change. Faced with an environment that: demands increased achievement for all students, expects increased levels of accountability for teachers and school administrators, creates a narrowed focus on literacy and numeracy (Leithwood et al, 2006), requires significant pedagogical shifts, presents new or renewed curriculum, includes new budgetary pressures and presents increased levels of diversity teachers are left the task of sorting this all out in the context of their classroom.  All of these pressures exist within or because of the impact of globalization and an explosion in the amount of information available to students. According to Darling-Hammond et al (2008):

These new demands cannot be met through passive, rote-oriented learning focused on basic skills and memorization of disconnected facts.  Higher-order goals demand what some analysts have called “meaningful learning” (Good & Brophy, 1986) that is, learning that enables critical thinking, flexible problem solving, and transfer of skills and use of knowledge in new situations. (p. 2)

Jeff Jarvis sums things up nicely [albeit sometimes crudely] in his presentation at TEDxNYED and provided on YouTube

The past emphasis on memorization and regurgitation is being replaced by a constructivist, inquiry based, experiential, reflective and meta-cognitive approach to learning.  This “new” learning is based on the achievement of significant overall learning outcomes rather than specific objectives and where success is measured in terms of individual growth rather than the bell curve.  Despite the fact that most of the ideas encompassed in this movement for change are not new, the emergence of an information economy supported by a participatory and connected culture (Darling-Hammond et al, 2008) have hastened its call once again.  The British Columbia Premier’s Technology Council’s report on 21st century learning says it best.  The report states that the very fabric of a knowledge-based society is built around individuals with the ability to use information and continuously adapt to a rapidly changing globe (PTC, 2010).  The report goes on to say that the vision of a 21st century K-12 education system is rooted in personalised learning and focuses on providing students the skills they need to participate in a knowledge-based society. Both the demands for personalized learning and the reality of a knowledge-based society tend to dictate that technology becomes a centerpiece of learning.

Appropriate Response to Change

The teachers role in all of this needs to become what I am calling a Personal Learning Manager (PLM).  The role as I see it is very well described by George Siemens in his posting in Teaching in Social and Technological Networks (Siemens, 2010) in which he refers to one of the new roles of teachers as “curatorial teaching”. This particular description brings together, in a succinct way, the many hats that a teacher must wear: guide, facilitator, nurturer, lecturer, expert, etc.   In the same posting Siemens describes the role networks play in learning and provides a list of specific roles played by teachers as network administrators [manager]:

  • Amplifying
  • Curating
  • Wayfinding and socially-driven sensemaking
  • Aggregating
  • Filtering
  • Modelling
  • Persistent presence

The specific roles provided by Siemens in relation to networks and his description of curatorial teaching provide the means for us to describe what teachers have to do and be like.  And these characteristics required by teachers, the skills they need, the attitudes, the awareness and understandings can be encompassed by the Personal Learning Manager. According to Siemens (2010) “The joint model of network administrator and curator form the foundation of what education should be.” I agree. Teachers need to help students develop their learning networks and ultimately their own functional personal learning environment. The degree to which educators exhibit these discrete roles (network manager and curator) depends on the age or developmental level of the students being taught.  The learning environment looks different for primary students as compared to middle years students.  It changes again for high school students and then of course for post-secondary students. From the teachers perspective their role reflects a “gradual release of responsibility” (Pearson and Gallagher 1993) to the learner. The goal in the end is to have grade 12 students that are self-motivated, as autonomous as possible, self-directed and can take advantage of the possibilities presented by their own personal learning network.  In the end they become their own personal learning manager.

(Graphic from PTC, 2010)

Impediments to Change

I think there are more than a few impediments to the significant change required to see the actualization of teachers as personal learning managers.  In my view the most significant impediment is that of school or teaching culture. In the context of globalization and increased corporate competition Anthony MuHammad in his book Transforming School Culture (2009) looked at the characteristics of schools that create a positive school culture and those that create a toxic school culture. Having described the most significant characteristics or beliefs that determine the culture of any specific school he first highlights the difference between technical and cultural change.  In his view most of what has happened with respect to education reform lies in the realm of technical change.  From what I have seen during 21 years of teaching and working with teachers I agree.  Examples of technical change include the number of periods in the day, class size, block scheduling, renewed curriculum or resource materials.  These changes are relatively easy to make and according to MuHammad (2010) have not had a significant impact on overall school and student success.  Cultural change, those things that impact on how we view students, their potential to learn, how they might learn and how teachers create learning opportunities is a much more difficult change to make and is what ultimately leads to significant school improvement.

Challenging the belief system of teachers and creating a culture of reflective work will, in MuHammads’s view, help schools develop as a place where all students have the ability to succeed.  This cultural change will surely allow for a learning environment described by the notion of a personal learning manager.  Of course,  we then have to take a long look at what or where a “school” is and position that place or that space for this new teaching role.

BC Premiere’s Technology Council (PTC) Report (2010).  A Vision for 21st Century Education.

Leithwood, K., McAdie, P., Bascia, N., & Rodrigue, R. (2006). Teaching for deep understanding: What every educator should know. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Darling-Hammon, L. et al (2008). Powerful learning: What we know about teaching for understanding. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass|

Siemens, G. (2010). Teaching in Social and Technological Networks.

Pearson, P.D., & Gallagher, M.C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.

MuHammad, A., (2009). Transforming school culture: How to overcome staff division. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press

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One Response to The Changing role of Teachers #CCK11

  1. DTRSmith says:

    Hi Stu,

    I am glad to get some K-12 perspective from you. It is challenging to understand the situation from the outside. I meet the learners once they are out of the K-12 system, and if my experience over the last 12 years is any indication. nothing that is happening in K-12 for the learners I work with is accomplishing any set goal or goals (literacy, information literacy, computer literacy or whatever you want to call these things) in any consistent fashion. I encounter a broad range of students entering university with no significant technical skills or needing almost no assistance. I also often hear from students they used the tools we use in my lab (pro-sumer camcorders, pro video software) in their K-12 education, yet use is the word, since most of them need help from “square 1” despite all this exposure to tech. I have no idea how tech is used in K-12; but I get the impression it is mostly the “technical” use you speak of, with no deep integration or attempt to make it integrate into a whole naturalistic body of connected information. It seems from my removed perspective like technology is just one more “fact” that is “taught”, and used because it is “current” or “cool”. It is hard to avoid the trap of doing this type of teaching, it is easy to plan and executing, but it seldom seems to result in learning and is something I struggle against in my environment, too.

    Thanks again, lots of good resources to follow up on, too.


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