1 KEY for Creating ACTIVE Learners


 “It was a whole other level of awareness. And I had to think, you know, there was something fundamentally profound about this. He was describing what great coaches do, and what they do is they are your external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of your reality. They’re recognizing the fundamentals. They’re breaking your actions downand then helping you build them back up again.”

– Atul Gawande

I have been thinking A LOT about improving classroom practice lately. As you know, I spend a lot of time talking to teachers who have been in the classroom for several years and those who are new to the profession. One thing that I have found is common with both is that they are working to move students from being passive learners in class to active participants in their own education. You may have had the same experience. I just talked to a #teacherfriend about this issue recently and she framed it this way. She worked very hard to design learning experiences that would be engaging and even immersive. Her goal was for students to take her instruction and use it to dive deeply into the topics she presented. What she found instead was that her students wanted her to guide them each step of the way. They read the things she assigned but wanted her to tell them what to think about them. They appreciated the videos she added to class but wanted her to review their responses to be sure they said the right thing. They studied for her tests but did not internalize concepts so much as they repeated back to her the notes that she had written down. She was frustrated and I could definitely see why.

As teachers, sometimes we believe that we have to have all of the answers. When my friend’s students came to her, instead of pushing the learning back onto them, she answered their questions. When I asked her about it, she said that she didn’t want her students to feel that she wasn’t there for them or did not support them as learners. She was struggling with a classic dilemma for those in our profession. How to help without providing too much support. I get it. In my own practice and in particular before I learned how to better design my lessons and differentiate instruction I routinely gave students the answers that I had planned for them to reach themselves. I remember being so upset and wondering if my instruction was hitting the mark at all or if I was just designing lessons with myself and not my students in mind. Now that I have moved from the classroom to both coaching and designing learning experiences for teachers, I realize that the key was in front of my face the entire time! I needed to STOP seeing myself as a teacher and START seeing myself as a coach. If I had viewed myself as a “coach in the classroom” I could have pushed my students further and saved myself a lot of unnecessary worry. As it was, I did improve my classroom practice and student learning but I think as an intentional coach, I could have gone much further.

Coaches provide support but do not play the game. I needed to help my students think about what they were thinking about without jumping in and mentally completing the assignment for them. Listen to this Ted Talk by Atul Gawande about how coaching changed his professional life. What happened to him can happen for your students too!

Coaches break down counterproductive mindsets but don’t own them. I spent too much time feeling responsible for my students’ perceptions instead of helping them to challenge them. Read this Harvard Business Review article about tackling mindsets just replace manager with teacher and you have the right idea!

Coaches ask the right questions to push student thinking. I did not ask questions in my classroom so much as I sought to answer them. The result was my students not learning (until later when I learned) how to ask themselves the questions they needed to truly engage in learning for themselves.

Listen to this week’s podcast on asking the right questions in the classroom below:



If you are reading this blog it is because you are the kind of teacher that I was, dedicated to your students and looking for resources to improve your practice. Be sure to subscribe to the blog and podcast. I have a few new things coming for subscribers very soon! Until then, keep your professional fire burning bright as you do the work  and remember why you joined this profession! We are partners in this work and we will make a difference together.

– Dr. Kia

Email me at kia@heydrkia.com if you want me to come out and see the work you are doing! You can also DM me on Twitter @firedup_teacher