Developing Teachers and Learners Together



** The above image, created by Siyeong Kim is her artistic rendition of teacher/learner professional development. The light shines down on the learner as the teachers learn with the learner. This was not comfortable for all of the teachers involved, but it was an enlightening experience!

Teacher professional development needs to include its greatest stakeholders, learners. Our idea is professional development in which teachers learn from and about their students and their  students learn from and about their teachers. This IDEO entry was created with learner-collaborators Siyeong Kim, Vida Garza, and Trey Williams. They have contributed their recollections from their participation in teacher/learner professional development as well as their visualizations of their experiences through their artwork.

 Both teachers and learners will empower and enlighten each other and walk away with inspiration and a desire to continue learning. A continuation of learning would imply that teachers and students are both learners. This type of teacher professional development can be used to develop skills beyond the scope of traditional teacher professional development.

Learner-collaborators suggested that teachers could facilitate increased learning in the classroom environment by engaging in the following:

  • Teacher patience for learner questions

  • Teacher checks for attention, not just merely acquisition of content knowledge

  • A teacher emphasis on learning rather than grades so learning does not get left behind

  • Facilitating peer teaching where learners can impart their understandings

Learner-collaborators reasoned that the above often does not happen in classrooms, due to the following:

  • Lack of time

  • Too much content to “get through”  with no time to spare, concern with “getting everything done”

  • Lack of teaching style of letting learners ask questions

When discussing empowerment of learners, learner-collaborators brought up the following considerations:

  • “Students” should be known as “learners”. This would be a beginning strategy to break down boundaries of traditional teaching that places “students” as mere recipients of “knowledge” from “teachers”.

  • Empowerment is defined by a feeling of confidence and that a learner can achieve at a higher level than she/he achieved before the class

  • Teachers can develop empowerment in learners by explaining that the teacher’s agenda is not the center of the class, but the learners and their learning

  • Words and how they are used may communicate subtle messages of dis-empowerment such as “children”

  • There is a direct connection between experiencing empowerment at home and school

  • Complex or long-term assignments may lead to dis-empowerment

Expected Impact

Accountable Talk in the Science Classroom:

Another example of this type of teacher professional development is when my learners and I led two professional development sessions at our local university on accountable talk in the science classroom. This was a much needed session as much of traditional education is teacher-delivered, not student centered. Learners demonstrated this using NSRF’s Save the Last Word discussion protocol. They also answered methodology and engagement questions from the teachers.

Learners experienced empowerment, leadership, and intellectual growth. At a recent science teachers’ conference, learners demonstrated and engaged science teachers in developing critical discussions. They were able to offer suggestions of inclusion to the attending science teachers. One of the science teachers asked my learners what they should do if there was a student who absolutely refused to participate. My learner immediately answered, “Well, you have to work with that person and know how to talk to that person.”

Both were opportunities for learners to participate in what is usually a one-sided story with the teacher telling and the students listening. In addition to an enjoyable experience, both learners and teachers exercised authentic communication skills, those of listening, considering, and responding with respect. Shortly thereafter, I witnessed one of my learner-participants interacting with another student in the same manner in which he engaged with the adult teachers– as a patient, nurturing leader.

 ** This is Vida Garza’s artistic rendition of learning with teachers and learners.

What is the Purpose of Gifted Education?

The first professional learning that teachers and learners engaged in centered around misconceptions about gifted learning and gifted learners. In this gifted program, there were widespread misconceptions about the nature of gifted education, its purpose, who its learners were, and what they cared about. The learners did not imagine that they could or would ever have a voice in their own gifted education.

This was impactful for both teachers and learners. Teachers reflected on their misconceptions about their students and realized that they underestimated their desire to learn. For example, one teacher assumed that her students did not have any insecurities about academics because they were gifted learners. When she was able to have a meaningful dialogue with them, she was able to understand them more clearly.

Adopt & Adapt

This solution requires will and the sharing of power between teachers and learners. It was found in both situations above that teachers who take this risk often come to understand that their discomfort was worth it. Change in both teachers and learners who participate in professional development together happens immediately,  over time, and in the future. This type of professional development aligns with existing standards of listening and speaking across the curriculum. It is also an antidote to boring, irrelevant teacher professional development.


The Process of Learner/Teacher PD:

  1. Planning:

    1. Decide the topic/need for teachers, learners, or both

    2. Dialogue with teachers and learners to understand the need

    3. Pick an activity that teachers and learners can (any one or combination of the following):

      1. Do together

      2. Demonstrate for one another

      3. Dialogue about

    4. Select a tool of equity that can be used to analyze the process (It is recommended that an equity discussion tool from NSRF such as Save the Last Word be used. After teachers and learners have experience in this type of professional development, they may desire to develop equity tools that more closely address their needs.)

  2. During the professional development:

    1. Teacher and learner planners take notes and pictures of interactions

  3. Immediately after the professional development:

    1.  Teachers and learners reflect on new understandings they may have about:

      1. Communication

      2. Pedagogy

      3. Empowerment

      4. Critical thinking

  4. Continue to strive to develop the learner in the teacher and the teacher in the student. 

** This process should be customized to the needs of the learners and the teachers at each school.

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