Who does the following tasks in your classroom:

  • Plans daily lessons
  • Teaches or facilitates each lesson
  • Designs projects
  • Troubleshoots technology hiccups
  • Assesses student work
  • Communicates with parents about student progress

If the answer to most of these questions is you, the teacher, then you’ve already realized you are doing the lion’s share of the work in your classroom. I think this is fairly normal. Teachers have classically done all of these things to keep a classroom operating smoothly. It’s no wonder most teachers are exhausted.

I’d argue that students should be doing the majority of the work in the classroom. Of course, the teacher’s role in designing curriculum and establishing norms is key, especially at the beginning of the year. But I think teachers, in general, try to do too much and don’t expect their students to do enough.

In the last three years, I’ve made a conscious decision to pass many of these responsibilities onto my students. My decision was not motivated by laziness or my inability to do these tasks, but rather I wanted my students to take more ownership over their learning. They are incredibly creative human beings with myriad talents. Why not tap into them as resources and make them do some of the planning, teaching, troubleshooting, assessing, and communicating with parents?

My students plan lessons and units, teach their peers about complex topics in station rotation lessons, design their own projects rooted in their passions, provide each other with tech support as needed, assess their own work on a weekly basis and articulate what grades they believe they deserve in our class. My students have even designed and led parent technology trainings to help their parents get up to speed on some of the technology tools we are using.

The more I let go and allow my students to drive the learning, the more rewarding and less exhausting my job is. My students are more motivated to learn because they play an active role in defining what that learning looks like.

So, for those teachers who feel disillusioned and exhausted by this challenging profession, how can you shift the work from you to them?

14 Responses

  1. How would you level this for students who may not be as mentally/emotionally mature as your high school students? I’m trying to picture how I could do some of this with my 7th graders – some of whom can barely remember to bring their stuff to school..

    • Give them EVERYTHING you think they can handle. Tell them you believe they can do it! Encourage them when they struggle. Make sure they actually DO IT! As they bask in the glory of their accomplishments, celebrate their maturity and intellectual accomplishment!
      Next time give them a little bit more responsibility!

    • I am in the same boat Mike. I agree with Catlin. I started out the year “assuming” my 5ths were going to be able to handle a lot of independent/student lead work. I realized QUICKLY that nothing was getting accomplished. I alternate lessons between me “lecturing/modeling” and them exploring and discussing. If I can get them on at least 1 thing a week or every other week, by the end I can have a lot of them in independent mode. I think my class needs that balance. Some classes can handle more I am sure. Great way to differentiate as well.

  2. Great post! I agree that students should have an active part in their education. This teaches responsibility, helps them become accountable and affords them the opportunity to broaden the horizons of not just themselves but their peers. I believe each student has something to contribute and should be afforded the opportunity to do so in a non-threatening environment.

  3. This sounds great. I tried this with my 2nd graders and it worked perfectly. I didn’t shift responsibilities on then but encouraged then to think on any aspect of learning engagement and I warmly worked with suggestions that they produce hence the duty of a facilitator.

    • Hi Rosyln,

      There is research to suggest that children as young as 3 years old can begin to develop (and benefit) from metacognitive skills. Obviously, with young learners, any release over the learning has to be highly scaffolded. I’d suggest starting small with some simple goal setting activities, self-assessment of skills or behavior with an emoji rubric, asking them to try correcting a practice activity using a key. They are small moves over time that help students feel capable of doing some of the work usually reserved for the teacher.


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