When I started my teaching career, I was focused on embodying expertise and operating from a position of authority in my classes and lesson designs.

No more.

Many days – like today – my students become teachers themselves.

In this case, there’s a clear rationale for it, but I incorporate this strategy in all my classes, albeit modified as my other courses are not directly focused on generating excitement for a career in education.

For a few years now I teach a semester-long elective course called Exploring Teaching As A Profession, and it is an introduction to both the teaching profession as well as American education and schooling, with a focus on public schooling.

One of the endeavors of the course is to write and teach a brief lesson (5-10 minutes) to a small group of peers in the class. We do this twice, and today was the second round of lessons.

We begin by talking about the nature of teaching, and the fact that everyone in most every profession or walk of life, will at some point be in a position to teach someone something. Usually, that “something” represents a passion or interest or even something the individual is learning themselves. Students can – of course – understand this. They can relate. They admit to teaching each other about their families and cultures, their relationships with bosses and friends, and their discoveries and adventures.

I also introduce them to the concept of Edcamps, where folks in a profession – education – come together and determine what they know which might be of interest to others, and that the conference experience develops from organic needs and talents, much like the idea of supply meeting demand.

So I call these rounds of lessons, “Edcamps,” because students will teach each other something they know / are passionate about and/or are learning about as it represents an interest of theirs.

Edcamp #1 is a true passion project. Students identify something – anything – they know and are interested in or are passionate about or participate in that they could teach someone about. I’ve had students do lessons on wild things, and they’re always a blast. It amazes me how the room comes alive the moment I say “go,” especially if they’ve been relatively mellow up to that point.

My students have developed and taught lessons on:

  • making balloon animals;
  • greetings in Korean;
  • how to take a foul shot in basketball;
  • how to draw eyes in a face;
  • the causes of World War II (obviously a much-abridged version);
  • how to make friendship bracelets;
  • what great babysitters do;
  • the basics of the base instrument;
  • how to hold a violin;
  • apps they can use to make money online;
  • the components of a nutritious meal;
  • an introduction to art history;
  • black holes;
  • irrational numbers;
  • an introduction to Broadway musicals;
  • an explanation of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and movement;
  • how to hold a socratic seminar.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The world is their oyster for this one, and it is a blast.

My process from start to finish on this includes these steps:

  • giving students 2 minutes to rapidly write down as many of their interests and activities and passions as they can;
  • asking each student to share one out with the whole class to stimulate further thinking;
  • giving students 60 seconds to highlight that list with things that represent what they’d identify as “skills” they have – knowledge / understanding / interest / or an actual affirmed skill;
  • placing students in support groups I rename “teacher prep rooms” so they have folks to bounce ideas off of, brainstorm, get advice, and help one another from idea generation to the final lesson outline;
  • conferencing with groups at various stages of their idea development and lesson outline writing – they often use visual tools to support their plans as they talk about teachers using slide decks, props, handouts, games, and manipulatives to generate student engagement;
  • helping students name the parts of their lesson that can be identified as the core components of a general lesson (we’ve already identified these prior to conducting in-house observations of other teachers aside from me). They must name the objective, the activities and steps they’ll undergo and use to bring students from not knowing to knowing, how they’ll generate engagement in their “students,” and how they will assess that learning has taken place;
  • new groups to teach their lessons to;
  • instructions on how to give feedback, which includes using a sticky note to write something specific and positive their “teacher” has done in the design and/or execution of the lesson;
  • them reading their sticky notes aloud and the “teacher” collecting them for cataloguing in their lesson reflection.

Once all teachers have taught in all groups (this all happens inside one 40-minute class period by using the small group model), I give students time to write up a reflection on their lesson that includes both the feedback they got from their students as well as space to identify what went well and what they might enhance / change / improve if they were to teach this lesson again.

This endeavor is generally one of their favorites from the course, and it’s easy to see why. They have complete freedom to identify something they’re good at / interested in, design a way to share it, and listen to accolades and praise when they’re done.

When we get to the second round, they develop lessons that could be something they might teach in the area of education they’re interested in; aside from that the process is the same until the final question of the reflection. Whereas in the first round I asked them whether they’d change and if so how/why, this time I tell them they MUST identify ways to enhance / deepen / revise / improve their lesson because by now, we’ve talked about the core values of great teachers they’ve had, and aside from noting those teacher were incredibly passionate, they realize those teachers must have evolved in their practice over time.

So, today was our second round. While it’s generally not as raucous as the first since these lessons are more tied to “school” topics and are further out of their comfort zones, they’re nonetheless fun, especially as sixteen and seventeen year-olds are often placed in the position of being elementary students for the lessons.

From here we move on to crafting a mini Reform agenda. They already know educational systems are in a state of flux, but I want them to see themselves agents of that change, too, not just cogs in a system.

Students can be teachers. They have ideas, and they come alive when they are positioned to develop and share them. I learned this lesson myself long ago when I started stepping off the stage of my classroom as the expert-in-charge. While it can be messy, seeing them work on rising to an authentic occasion is well worth the clean-up.

They get so much more out of me being their support staff rather than their boss.