Technology has significantly impacted the way students learn, and teachers teach, in the 21st century. Yet, despite the new tools and technologies, the foundational elements of instruction have not changed. So then, why has the overarching view of the role of teachers shifted?
In their book, Schooling by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe take on defining the role of today’s teacher, noting that:
“The word teach is unhelpfully ambiguous. It can refer to our all-encompassing job as educator in the broadest sense (we are all teachers). It can refer to different kinds of approaches (teach by questioning, teach by telling). And it can imply a range of purposes (inform, expand awareness, develop performance ability).”
Then, they go on to ask the question of how we should “best clarify the job of the teacher.” Later, they answer: “We teach to cause a result. Teaching is successful only if we cause learning related to a purpose.” Despite this straightforward answer that should seemingly be a resounding truth, there is still much debate over teachers’ changing roles in the classroom. The misconception surrounding teachers’ new roles comes in the form of a rhyming nickname: “guide on the side.”
Guide on the side is a phrase that’s frequently strewn about these days, but what is it really saying? Guide on the side may imply that teachers are merely there to coach students as they navigate their way through learning with newfound digital tools. From the perspective of the student, this is seen as a more personal and individualized learning experience. For teachers, on the other hand, it encourages a limiting and misleading interpretation. Although not referring directly to the guide on the side phrase, Wiggins and McTighe still act as witnesses to the importance of addressing this, among other misconceptions:
“To state the problem more dramatically, we contend that many hardworking teachers actually harbor misunderstandings about what their job requires, and that many educational leaders unintentionally abet these misunderstandings by not confronting them or providing clearer expectations. In sum, there needs to be far greater clarity about a teacher’s mission.”
Traditional lectures (the “sage on the stage”) still have a place in the classroom, but this method for sharing knowledge can now be increasingly augmented with a wide range of other methods for interacting with, and engaging, students. The outsider perspective that teachers have shifted from being a sage on the stage to a guide on the side fails to acknowledge the truth. In reality, for teachers to be successful, they must not only leverage these modalities, but also other responsibilities and tactics.
Instead of ever-changing roles, teachers have ever-increasing modalities within their most prominent role – facilitating learning. They are continuously expected to do more in different ways. They have to be willing and able to switch from a one to many approach, to a guide on the side, to a mediator of group work, in addition to fulfilling numerous other essential functions. In order to achieve each learning objective, they must start the conversation, arbitrate its progression, and guide students to their own understanding of the subject at hand. As librarian blogger, Amanda Hovious, points out in her blog, Designer Librarian:
“In reality, sage on the stage vs. guide on the side are political talking points. In reality, BOTH approaches to teaching are necessary. In reality, good teachers select the approach that works best for them and for the content they are teaching.”
Teachers have not switched from being “sages on the stage” to “guides on the side.” Both roles – and others – continue to be a part of effective instruction. The key lies in selecting the best combination of approaches based on the situation, the topic, the content, and the needs of your students.
“Reality Check: Sage on the Stage vs. Guide on the Side” Designer Librarian. July 23 2013.
“What Is the Teacher’s Job When Teaching?” Schooling by Design: Mission, Action, and Achievement. July 2007.