Changing Role of Teachers and Learners

Perhaps the greatest change in schools today is not the integration of technology, not the way classrooms are being built, not even the changes in curriculum and assessment, but that the role of the teacher in the classroom is being transformed in ways that we're not fully aware of or ready for. There's an old saying, «children are not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit.

Teachers face the challenge of helping to guide students through individualized learning pathways, identifying relevant learning resources, creating collaborative learning opportunities, and providing insight and support both during formal class time and outside of the designated 40 minute instruction period.

Examples and links

We are being challenged to consider how we foster creativity within a system designed to establish conformity, and to encourage diversity, where once there was a single pathway.

Some examples of innovations where the traditional role of the teacher has changed include:

  • The emergence of student voice in planning, implementation and assessment cycles.
  • Reverse mentoring – for example, students as tutors in programmes such as the Tech Angels.
  • Increasing use by schools of student assistance in learning through their own leadership and contribution.
  • Enabling multiple sources of knowledge for learners, including use of MLEs and social networking which includes access to expertise outside the classroom.

This shift is easier said than done and ultimately the success or failure of innovative approaches in the classroom hinge on the human factor and the willingness of a teacher to step into uncharted territory.

There are lots of new terms and phrases being bandied around to describe the new role of teachers – coach, mentor, facilitator, guide… My personal favourite is «experienced learner» - in other words, one who can participate as a learner with the students, but who has experience the student doesn't have and so can provide appropriate interventions, suggest more appropriate routes, and generally share from the wisdom of having 'been there before'.

Another concept that is gaining currency is the notion of 'instructional coherence', emphasising the role of teachers in providing the 'glue' in the student learning experience, through amplifying key ideas and concepts, curating the essential skills and knowledge, wayfinding and socially-driven sensemaking, aggregating the multiple sources of knowledge and information and filtering the same, modelling effective learning practices and being the persistent presence alongside the learner.

To be effective in the midst of such change teachers need to be come more critically reflective, being open to examining the deeper assumptions they have about what they are doing and why they are doing it.


  • Social and technological networks subvert the classroom-based role of the teacher - How can we achieve clear outcomes through distributed means?
  • In what ways do we regard teachers and students as learners in a dynamic system?
  • Is school reform possible without a change in the role of teachers?
  • What sort of continuing professional development is most effective for teachers to adapt?