Trading Places

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of trading places between the teacher and student role. Building trusting and meaningful relationships with our students is one of the most important things we can do. An important part of this is showing students our vulnerable sides.

I want to reflect on the value of becoming the student and allowing students to become our teachers. I think there are three things that happen when we do this.

1. We show students that we are still learning, and making mistakes, too

2. We empower students to take on an expert role

3. We remind ourselves what it’s like to be a student

When we put ourselves in the position of the student and ask our students to teach us something, we are completely flipping the hierarchal system of the traditional classroom (for example, “I am the teacher, therefore I am the only person with right answers”). Most teachers these days are doing this in some ways already. The inquiry classroom model is one great example of teachers challenging the traditional role and learning alongside their students. Learning from them, is a whole other thing.

Students that are offered an opportunity to teach something they care and know about to an adult are empowered students. Whether it be a skill such as drawing, knowledge about their favourite animal or sharing aspects of their culture and heritage, every child has something that they are an expert in. Asking them to teach us what they know and care about builds confidence and empowers. Feeling like an expert is important.

It can be easy for teachers to forget what it’s like to be a student. It’s frustrating to want to learn something or master a new skill and struggle. It’s frustrating for us as adults (have you ever participated in a Paint Nite?), and it’s frustrating for our kids too. Trading teacher-student roles can be a refreshing reminder that understanding a concept does not always come easy.

There are many ways to become the student in your own classroom. I’ve seen colleagues implement things like “Teacher For a Day” projects, or include teaching as part of the culmination of independent inquiry learning. These are great ways to do it, but I think there’s a lot more value in allowing it to come up organically. A while ago, some of my students were writing in Arabic during their free time. I could have walked over and said, “great work!” but an opportunity would have been lost. Instead, I decided to ask them to teach me to write. It ended up being a wonderful bonding experience. I showed interest in their personal knowledge and skills, they felt empowered as experts, and most importantly, I showed them that learning is lifelong. I think that’s a powerful thing for kids to know.

Plus, you can learn some pretty cool things from the grade one and two kids of today. How do you trade places with the students in your classroom?


Updated: April 1, 2019 — 12:08 am

The Author

Laura Bottrell

Laura is a Grade 3/4 teacher with HWDSB. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Youth & Children's Studies and is a Registered Early Childhood Educator. She believes in the power of play and inquiry-based learning, no matter the grade. With a passion for the arts, Laura is an advocate for the arts in education and is currently the director of a theatre performance program for Kindergarten aged students!

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