Teachers as Learners: Moving from Unintentional to Engaged to Empowered

Don’t want to wait ’til tomorrow

So which type of teacher learner are you? If we’re honest, we have all been unintentional and engaged during our careers. In the very beginning, we soak up every scrap of professional development thrown at us. Inexperienced educators are hungry to know more in order to gain a sense of mastery in the classroom. As that begins to occur, the shift from educationally starving to sated develops, and that is perhaps the most dangerous moment in our educational careers.

Why Put It Off Another Day?

Consider the irony of the high school teacher facing teens who think they know it all, pointing out they in fact do not, while at the same time that very teacher hasn’t truly learned anything of significance toward his or her craft in five to ten years or more. I went through that period before rediscovering my hunger for learning to become an engaged learner again, and I’m sure I’m not alone. And thanks to Empower: What Happens When Student Own Their Learning by John Spencer and AJ Juliani, I’ve realized that the goal of every educator, however, should be to move from engaged learner to become an empowered one, just like our goal for every student.

One By One, Little Problems

It isn’t enough that we know our own content. It isn’t. Not any more, and the sooner we let that soak in the better. We must know how to help students learn. Teachers must be experts in their content and experts in learning. Seems obvious, but to become so complacent that we stop learning while daily expecting our students to find their passion for learning, or at the very least, to be compliant in minimal learning, jeopardizes not only tomorrow for our students, but we risk today as well.

Build Up, And Stand In Our Way. Oh

Here’s a rough break down of how I see these three types of educators when it comes to their own professional growth:

Unintentional Learners:


Doesn’t read professional blogs or educational books.

Attends district provided PD but does not look hard to find value if not readily apparent.

Does not attend conferences, workshops, or anything not provided by the district during the school year.

Engaged Learners

Still on the Island but dips toe in the water. May have a Twitter account but only tweets about self or class and doesn’t realize that there are other educators out there behind the other tweets.

Reads the occasional professional blog, journal or educational book.

Tolerates district PD and occasionally finds a nugget of value.

Attends one workshop or two during the school year, and may have presented at a workshop or conference.

Empowered Learners

Connected educator. Connected learners.

Reads blogs, educational books, tweets/posts, and has a tribe of like minded educators as part of their ever growing professional learning network (PLN). Listens to educational podcasts.

Attends district professional development with the attitude that all learning is beneficial and something can be applied to his or her work.

Drives his or her own professional development and sees to own needs. Attends as many conferences and workshops as possible including EdCamps, presents at all or most of those or is planning to begin presenting.

Has his or her blog and uses it to reflect, share out the good happening in the classroom, and inspires others to strive toward personal growth.

Hey! It’s Your Tomorrow

Admittedly, there are often times we are a mix of any two of these. This is just a list as I see it based on the journey I’ve made and the journey or lack of one by other educators in schools everywhere. The thing is, our world continues to spin and change, therefore it is our job to continue to adapt, anticipate, try, fail, and continue taking risks.

(Right Now) Come On, It’s Everything

Failure is a part of learning, so in order to become an empowered educator, we must take risks ourselves. We must push ourselves out of our comfort zones and model that for students. One year I was told by my district that I would be teaching 5th and 6th grade gifted students for the upcoming school year. I was sent to a differentiated national conference, and I remember one presenter telling us that we can’t expect our students to do things they aren’t comfortable with if we teachers never challenge ourselves to break out of our zones occasionally. So, I made it tangible. I started with fashion. If I perused a rack of shirts and saw one that was totally not my style, I bought it and wore it. I shared the journey with my students and challenged them to find one area where they could break out of their comfort zones. We held each other accountable daily, and by the end of the year, we had all continued to expand our comfort zones. Funny thing, my fashion sense improved immensely. I still go against my natural instinct when it comes to choosing school clothes, and I continue to get compliments on my choices.

(Right Now) Catch Your Magic Moment

I don’t have a magic formula that automatically makes you an empowered educator. There isn’t one. Your empowered educator self will likely not look exactly like my version. The fact that you are reading this indicates you are at least engaged as an educator and may indeed be evolving and growing toward empowerment. The thing is, nobody can move you completely there except yourself. It starts with a decision and ends with that magic moment where you come alive and see the greater purpose of what we do every day and the absolute importance of it.

Do it right here and now

Beat back complacency and continue to stoke the fires of your professional hunger and refine your educational menu. Start small, but start. Find your tribe, your passion, and strive to do more and be more for your students and staff. Don’t just soak up the wisdom, experience, and expertise of those you meet in person and through social media. Fully empowered educators do not wait for someone to start up a CoffeEDU, they start it. Fully empowered educators do not wait to be asked to present, they submit proposals. Fully empowered educators do not wait for others to rock the boat of complacency in their district. They do it. Right here. Right now. Start something.

Adobe Spark (91).jpg
Partial lyrics from Right Now by Van Halen

2 thoughts on “Teachers as Learners: Moving from Unintentional to Engaged to Empowered

  1. Laura, I just have to share that I, too, have broken out of my button-down collared shirts because a school colleague said I should not purchase any more. That was the nudge I had to change my clothing and break out of my comfort zone! My comfort zone has now changed, and it’s totally easy for me to buy other blouses – and a dress now and then! 😉 Thanks for sharing your post – I love seeing the progression of learners, and I’m aware that sometimes we slip into other types depending on the year and who surrounds us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Joy! It’s easy to buy a blouse now for sure, because I look for the one I absolutely wouldn’t wear, then buy it! Definitely got me out of my rut in fashion AND education. I’m intentionally monitoring myself now, and that is so true that it can depend on our year and those around us.


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