My Response to the Teacher as Learning Designer

In the article below, Andrew Miller makes a case for rethinking the role of the teacher. His description would fit nicely in the sort of future-building school envisioned by thinkers like Keri Facer, but are our schools and school communities ready for this transition? Below Miller’s post, I add the response I shared with my faculty.


Teacher as Learning Designer

–reblogged from the Huffington Post

 The term “teaching” holds cultural images and schema that many us quickly tap into. I encourage anyone to google “teaching” or “teacher” and see the majority of images that pop up. You will most like see an individual at the front of the room, pointing to something on a board while talking to students. We know it isn’t like that all the time, and we also know this doesn’t work for our students. Many teachers have been pushed into a role where they are not being utilized for their expertise and skills. Through highly standardized curricula and pacing guides, teachers are told exactly how to teach, rather than being empowered to differentiate instruction and create engaging learning environments to meet the needs of their students. How do we not only clarify what teachers can and should do in the classroom and re-frame this conversation on the role and expertise of a teacher?

We use many terms to describe the work of teachers. From curriculum designer to facilitator of classroom work, there are many roles that teachers take on in the class. I believe there is one term that encapsulates and re-frames the work teachers do in the classroom:

Learning Designer. You might notice the clear parallel to the role of game designer. Just as game designers have a unique skills set and aptitude for designing games, teachers have specific skills and knowledge for designing learning. This term also reframes the role and expertise of teachers.

Teachers must intentionally think about the “big picture.” The objectives of the instructional unit are set and teachers must guide students to those objectives with creative, research-based strategies. Good teachers constantly reflect on their practice and use formative assessment to inform instruction. Through this, they use their creative skills and their instructional tool belt to try and innovate in the classroom, all with the focus of engagement and student achievement. Teachers use their knowledge of best practices and of their students to create instructional environments and assessments that meet their needs. Great teachers are allowing for voice and choice in performance assessments and projects, as well as games and technology. Teachers view the classroom, whether virtual or physical, as a place for possibilities to engage all students.

If you are teacher and you are trying to explain what you do, say, “I am a learning designer!” Teachers need to be empowered with a variety of instructional designers to meet the needs of all students. They need to be honored for their expertise to create creative and engaging learning environments. We can re-frame the concept of “teaching” to truly encapsulate all that teachers can and should do!

Follow Andrew K. Miller on Twitter:


 Response to Miller’s article: 

Tread softly toward the future, and don’t forget the carrots.  

As someone who is experimenting with non-traditional models of learning design, I would caution everyone else who wants to explore to be ready to experience what parents experience when they pry the bottle away from their baby for the first time. Not all students take to assuming responsibility for their learning as well as others and we should all be ready to coach students carefully as we leave the front of the room empty and the gates unkept. My experience with the early stage of “teacher withdrawal” shows that students react most strongly to: 

  1. Having nowhere to hide in an anonymous herd of faces. Coaching and individualized instruction make all students immediately accountable. Teachers and education thinkers may be unanimous in concluding that increased interaction and “facetime” benefits students, but teenagers aren’t. 
  2. Mastery-learning. Some students can’t understand why you don’t just let them fail and move on. It takes getting used to. 
  3. Ultimately, it’s all about accountability. Some students become frustrated when they realize that they must do their work in order to proceed in the course. Hybridization and flipping involve much less in terms of multiple classroom activities (that for many teachers are damage control measures meant to compensate for the lack of reading done by their students) and far more in terms of mastering the content in order to fully function in a smaller set of richer activities and assessments. Students must do the reading and must pass their assessments in order to function within the group or as an individual, and there is far more direct supervision and personal formative assessment. 

Of course, some students tend to take to the new design like fish to water, and most students love and cherish peer instruction, but for some the transition is painful. The truth is, just like any other instructional strategy, you will be better served by the carrot than the stick, and you will better served still by deploying a diverse bunch of carrots with flavors to appeal to each individual learner. –And by recognizing that no matter how you well you season them and no matter how enthusiastically you roar the engines and prompt your students to open the hangar door for the airplane, some kids just don’t like carrots.  This pragmatic, differentiated and informed approach, to me, embodies what Keri Facer calls “non-stupid optimism.”

What do you get in return? More responsible students, higher retention rates, more critical thinkers, compassionate cohorts and praxis-based democratically-minded young citizens. 




Author: williamjtolley

IB Coordinator, IBEN Workshop Leader, Examiner, and DP/MYP Teacher | Inquiry, Mastery & Culturally Responsive-Learning Advocate

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