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A New Definition for Teaching

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The following is a guest post from David N. Cook, Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education.

"Hi, my name is John, and I teach math." Sound familiar? This is a typical introduction we hear when we go to a meeting attended by teachers, especially secondary level teachers. So...what's the problem? It is 2014 and John misunderstands his role. John should say, "Hi, my name is John, and I help facilitate kids' ability to learn. I do this by engaging students in meaningful, real world projects that engage students in the application of mathematics." I realize it's a longer introduction, but it's much closer to what the teacher's role must become.

John can't be faulted for his response. Even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that a teacher is "a person or thing that teaches something; especially: a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects."

That simply can't be the role of the educator in today's classroom. Teachers are no longer the keepers of content knowledge. Their role should not be limited to "teach students about certain subjects." The fact is that students have the ability to access content for themselves. They are the owners of the content knowledge. (They are also ferocious fact checkers, so if you think you are the sole subject matter expert on a topic, please be certain!)

What students often don't have are skills to analyze the information they find, connect it to standards and competencies we want them to know, and apply the knowledge to real world situations. That is the new role of the educator - teaching students to learn.

In other words, our system cannot be about teaching and learning, as is often suggested. It must be about learning- period. Bottom line, LEARNING is what should be occurring in our schools:

· Student learning

· The facilitation of that student learning

· The professional learning of educators

That means that first, we need to contact someone at Merriam-Webster and get the definition changed. Then we have to sit down with our Colleges of Education and help them understand this new role of facilitator of learning. This role requires an entirely new set of skills - a set of skills very different and more challenging than traditional teaching. Our colleges of education must become selective programs in the same vein as medical, law and engineering programs. Candidates should have to demonstrate aptitudes and dispositions related to facilitation to be accepted.

A good superintendent friend of mine has a great way of looking at this shift to the facilitator of learning. He says, "No longer will we base the effectiveness of the teacher solely on whether the kids in the classroom can memorize and regurgitate content in order to do well on traditional summative assessments. The facilitator of learning is the one who knows how to help their students identify quality content, assist students in gaining the skills needed to use the information they discover and then apply it." The effectiveness of a facilitator of learning should be based on how well the student does after they leave that classroom - and on a student's growth rather than simply whether or not they reach proficiency on some vendor's test that is allegedly aligned with standards.

Teachers can't make this shift alone. School and school district leadership must embrace this 21st Century approach. Policy makers must forever put away their desire to measure success based on test scores. And, colleges of education must dramatically change the way teachers are prepared.

My hope is that someday soon I will hear an educator introduce himself by saying, "Hi, my name is John and I help kids learn."

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