Friday, November 6, 2015

3 Tips to Shift your Focus from Teaching to Learning

The bell rings, and that means one of two things. It's time to get to work or its time to move to the next class. But what happens between the bell that starts class and the bell that ends the same class? Even if you don't have bells, you have a definite time when each class begins and when it ends.

Think about the phrase, "Teaching Bell to Bell".  If you have said it or heard it, you know that the focus can only be on one thing, the work done by the teacher. Here's the problem with that phrase.  It is in direct conflict with the whole purpose of education, student learning.  If the focus is mostly on what the teacher does, I can assure you that the variable will always be what students are learning.  Sure, teaching impacts learning, but teaching from bell to bell prevents both teachers and leaders from focusing on learning.  To keep the focus on learning, we must shift our primary and traditional focus from teaching to learning.

3 Tips to Shift your Focus from Teaching to Learning

1.  Less Talk = More Action
The longer that we talk, the less likely kids will listen.  With every minute that we speak, student engagement fades into oblivion because it is much more difficult for kids to actively and cognitively engage in learning; therefore, it is critical to remember that if we truly want the focus to be on learning, then we must always be cognizant of how much our talking or lecturing prevents kids from getting to real work of making meaning of their learning instead of our teaching.

2. Student Work Exceeds Teacher Work
If the focus is on Teaching Bell to Bell, the teacher will always work harder than the students, but if the focus shifts to Learning Bell to Bell, the role of the teacher will transition into more of a facilitator.  When teachers structure time so that students work every minute of the period, it will provide a great opportunity for students to work more and hopefully harder than the teacher.

3. The Responsibility for Learning must be Mutual.
In a Teaching Bell to Bell class, the teacher must always be responsible for leading the learning.  Conversely, in a class with a focus on Learning Bell to Bell, both the teacher and the students share the responsibility for learning and the kids own the responsibility for becoming more proficient in their mastery of the content being taught.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
If your focus has been more on teaching than learning, it can be hard to make the shift, but when our focus successfully and consistently zeroes in on learning, we will eventually see the improvements in learning that we desire.  Initially, it can be a challenge because our natural need for control will force us to believe that rigorous learning can't occur unless we're teaching each student. But if we can create meaningful learning opportunities that kids will gravitate toward, there will be a natural transition from students serving as followers of teaching to leaders of their own learning. If we can shift our talk to action, create relevant learning environments that require meaningful student work and require the responsibility for learning to become a collective responsibility, there will be no reason why teaching would be anyone's focal point.  That would be because teaching would successfully transform itself into the primary purpose, facilitation of learning. 


  1. Hey Pal,

    I dig this post -- particularly the semantic shift from "teaching bell to bell" to "learning bell to bell."

    Long ago, Russ Goerend made the point that our language means everything. It represents our core beliefs -- particularly when we aren't thinking about what we are saying.

    So simple changes like focusing on SAYING "learning bell to bell" over and over again can reinforce the notion that schools should be about learning, not teaching.

    Anyway -- hope you are well and happy.

  2. Learning bell to bell sound appropriate