Teachers as Learners

I have seen this posted more than once:

My job is to teach. Your job is to learn.

I understand the main message. Students need to buckle down and get to work. This allows teachers the time and space to guide their students toward becoming independent learners.

But at second glance, what is also being implied? That a teacher is not a learner, nor a student a teacher?


photo credit: Ian Boyd via photopin cc

I am currently rereading Improving Schools From Within by Roland Barth (Jossey-Bass, 1990). This is the resource that got me interested in the principalship. One part I read this morning is still rattling around in my head:

Implicit in many of the lists of school reforms is a vision of school as a place where students learn and adults teach, where the role of educators is to serve, not be served. Because schools and those who work in them are accountable for pupils’ achievement and because no amount of pupil achievement is sufficient to place every student in the top half of the class, pupil learning usually preempts adult learning. Yet only a school that is hospitable to adult learning can be a good place for students to learn (46).

As I read, I am continually amazed at how prescient this book is, considering it was written a quarter century ago. I agree with Barth that the best educators are learners: Learners of best practice, learners of child development, learners of their own students, learners of their colleagues’ strengths. The best educators also guide students to be teachers and resources for one another.

When schools are able to bridge these collective attitudes into one coherent set of beliefs, that is when true improvement can take place. This is not reform, where something needs to be fixed. Rather, it is a transformation into something better than it once was.

Adult learning is not only a means toward the end of student learning, but also an important objective in its own right (47).

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

2 thoughts on “Teachers as Learners”

  1. The importance of a “learning organization” calls back to Senge’s work around the same time period- I have a feeling that all sorts of writers in the ed & business realm were onto something in that time period. Thanks for the shout-out toward this resource- looking to reviewing it as well!


    1. Yes, there are common threads between the two thinkers. What I appreciate about Barth’s approach is his suggestions are so down-to-earth and pragmatic. It is probably because he was a principal and a teacher for several years prior to writing this text.


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