When a classroom has been transformed into one where students are self-directed, teachers often feel guilty because they feel as though they aren’t working hard and are instead enjoying themselves and their students. In practice, both they and their students are experiencing “hard fun” and it hardly feels like work at all even though they are achieving more than ever.
For educators to transform this way, they need autonomy to teach to where their students are, using agentic approaches. They need personal communities of learning and rigorous improvement processes to continually hone their craft. They need the opportunity to serve the mission that drives them: helping children.
These are difficult things to provide teachers in an atmosphere of rigid accountability. Even when they can be offered, it is often difficult for teachers, who have been conditioned to compliance by extrinsic rewards, to make the shift to ownership and intrinsically motivated work.
To make this shift, there needs to be leadership that shelters teachers from counterproductive expectations even as more and more is expected of them. There needs to be support for teachers to be comfortable taking risks and acting in the best interest of kids without fear of losing their jobs. There needs to be coaching for teachers to learn how to use a process improvement mechanism to genuinely develop their mastery of teaching.
All of these mean that district and school leadership need to take their work to the next level to provide that freedom and safety to classroom teachers.