Schools in which everyone is a teacher and a learner…

Dennis Sparks

A good school is one in which everyone is a teacher and a learner.

Teachers in these schools believe that they can learn from their students. They enjoy sharing with colleagues the insights they gain from them.

Students in such schools learn from one another as well as from their teachers. Within-grade and cross-age tutoring would be common. Students would regularly work in small groups on projects to solve meaningful problems.

Teachers would also learn from one another in both formal and informal settings. Faculty and team meetings would be formed around deep conversations about important issues, the analysis of various forms of evidence about student learning, and the exchange of practical strategies.

Principals would learn from their teachers and students, and students and teachers would learn from their principals. Much of that learning would be informal as principals regularly visited classrooms, attended team meetings, and engaged in dialogue with members of the school community on a variety of subjects.

In addition, every member of the school community would feel supported in fulfilling his or her unique role. Parents, students, teachers, principals, and other staff members would feel engaged, committed, and skillful.

Everyone in the school community would have experienced first hand the benefits of well-designed professional learning and teamwork.

In a good school learning flows in every direction all the time. And strong relationships support and enable that learning.

What have I missed?


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6 Responses to “Schools in which everyone is a teacher and a learner…”

  1. 1 Linda Gross February 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Before retiring, I was principal of a k-5 school which adopted as our motto Roland Barth’ s statement that we were “a community of learners and leaders.” Because we expected everyone from the youngest student to the most veteran educator to take on both roles, we had an amazing school culture! Students nominated other students to be recognized for their helpfulness, led school visitors on tours, and even created and presented a concert to raise money for a local homeless shelter where several of our students lived. Teachers developed PLCs long before that concept became popular, often voluntarily stayed until after 7 PM to develop cross grade and cross content units of study, and looked forward to visiting colleague’s classes to learn new strategies and share ideas.
    When our school decided to apply for (and succeeded) National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence status, a poll of our 125 fifth graders revealed that every single one of these students thought that their devoted teachers was the single most important part of our school.
    Not only did our school become a Blue Ribbon School, we were twice named one of the ten best public schools in the state – all within five years and moved from being the worst achieving elementary school in the district on state tests to being the highest achieving school, even though we had the highest number of non- English speaking families, the highest free and reduced lunch rate, and the most mobile children in the district.
    Most importantly, visitors to our school always commented on how friendly and peaceful the school was and we never wasted instructional time on “test prep” activities.
    I know this response is long yet I could not pass up the opportunity to emphasize how important expecting all members of our school community to be both leaders and learners was to our successful academic achievement and character development of all.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks February 20, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Thank you, Linda, for that rich, real-world example of what schools can become to the benefit of everyone in the school community.

  2. 3 Bob Carter February 20, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    As the principal of an elementary school serving students from age 3 through grade 5, we saw a major change in our school when I challenged the staff to re-examine our long-held campus motto, “Children first, now and always…” At first they were reluctant to change it, but after deep dialogue they realized we were focusing on the wrong thing. Our new motto became, “Learning first, now and always…” This change in our focus yielded exceptional results. We moved much closer to the school you describe in this article, because we were focused on everyone operating as a learner. By the way, student scores on the state test improved significantly.

    • 4 Dennis Sparks February 20, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      A wonderful story, Bob, about the power of the words we use to affect the outcomes we most desire. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. 5 davidfifevp February 20, 2013 at 6:10 pm


    I can’t really think of anything you missed other than the location of this school, because I want to work there! I say that with tongue-in-cheek because I know there are elements of what you describe in many schools. But to put them all together in one school community would be a powerful and motivating place to learn. Thanks again for writing such thought provoking and motivating posts. They are always a great read.

  4. 6 David Baker February 20, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Your post spoke to me in my role as a coach of teachers and Clinical Professor. I work with teachers as they begin their careers in teaching and as they begin their master’s programs. While we are in different schools we continually share learning together and strive to learn and refine our practices. Last night at our seminar we had a first year teacher and our director of professional development share instruction on close reading strategies. This was purposeful and practical for our teachers at all levels and content areas. Our seminar participants followed this by sharing their classroom work on providing students formative feedback with each other. Not only did they demonstrate growth as teachers, they provided evidence of their students learning. I left this time energized with new tools for helping other teachers and a profound gratitude for the dedication of “my” teachers to refining their craft.

    We may not share the same building but are building a learning community or network that extends to many parts of our district. Thank you for your thoughts and insights. I saw the excellence last night. You helped me frame why the night was so powerful.


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