Educating future leaders

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Meddlers in the middle

By John Gilmour, Executive Director

The most significant realization that I have had over the years is that we did a lot of work changing structures but the one thing that we still don’t understand is how learning really happens in a classroom.

Someone once asked me: “how much time have you spent in the classroom with your teachers, teaching them how to teach?” It was a moment of realisation that in our country, this notion is almost taboo. School leaders select teachers and then comment on their performance rather than getting into the classroom to understand how, and if, learning is happening.


The reality of our education framework is that it has been largely ‘expert-centered’. It is often that teachers have been operating in a highly hierarchical and patriarchal context – a system where teachers have an inflated idea of the value of their contribution. Here, the teacher is the ‘master’.  We need to rather see teachers as technicians – facilitators that learn to unlock, trigger and create the opportunity for self-learning. We must move towards learner-centeredness if we are to truly impact on learning. Teachers must stop being the ‘guide on the side’ and start being ‘meddlers in the middle’.

Both teachers and students are part of the learning taking place in a classroom – we are all learning, all the time and we teach each other in the process. This requires conscious and deliberate ‘meddling’; teachers getting stuck-in to the learning journey.


Then there’s the notion of appropriate differentiation – who do I teach to?

Most teachers teach to the middle but teaching tools must take a note of differentiation and look at the way people learn, their learning preferences, and to teach appropriately.

We make the assumption that children are generally audio learners, so we teach to them, but it is by doing that children learn most: writing, sharing, talking and engaging. The child that understands a concept or idea deepens their understanding by explaining it to the child that doesn’t. Often, this requires retraining and rethinking on the part of teachers and school leadership.


This is why one of our major areas of investment is in our teacher training programme – LEAP Future Leaders. You can walk into any LEAP classroom and recognize the ‘meddling’ tools and techniques that are being used to unlock self-learning in students with a diversity of learning preferences.

We are witnessing the start of systemic change in our education system and we believe that LEAP, through its work with teachers, can make a significant contribution to changing classroom practice.


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