Encourage Autonomy in the Classroom | Student-Centered Learning

How can you promote autonomy in your classroom? First, put kids in the driver’s seat. Establish student-centered learning. Instead of the “sage on the stage,” be the “guide on the side.” Coach your students to success.

Ms. Sneed and Mr. Grow Discuss Autonomy

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sat at the side table with her student teacher, Mr. Grow. “Yesterday,” she said, “we discussed my philosophy of ‘lift, don’t push.’ In other words, don’t push kids through the curriculum. Instead, scaffold them to greatness.”

“That made a lot of sense to me,” said Mr. Grow. “But how did you make that change?”

“I shifted the emphasis from teaching to learning. To improve teaching, I had to change my thinking. At that time, the terms ‘sage on the stage’ and ‘guide on the side’ were educational buzzwords. They resonated with me – and my teaching struggle. I realized that there was only one way to become a better teacher: get off the stage and let kids do the learning. In other words, I needed to put my students in the driver’s seat.”

To improve your teaching, encourage autonomy in your classroom. It's time to put kids in the driver's seat.

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Quit Being the Sage on the Stage

“About that ‘sage on the stage’ thing,” Mr. Grow began.

Quit being the "sage on the stage." To encourage autonomy, become a coach instead.

Ms. Sneed grinned. “I know what you’re going to say. Sure, I still get up there and teach. But instead of a sage, I like to think of myself as a coach.”

“Hmm, I like that analogy,” said Mr. Grow.

Learn to Be the Guide on the Side

“Sure,” said Ms. Sneed, “a coach spends hours planning and teaching. But when it’s time to practice, the players carry out the drills on their own. And when it’s time for the big game, the coach stands on the sidelines and lets the players do it themselves. That verb – DO – is what it’s all about. The kids must be doing something. They can’t just sit passively while you teach.”

When teaching, learn to be a "guide on the side." In other words, coach your students. Don't just lecture them.

Mr. Grow’s eyes lit up. “I get it. Teach so kids can do.”

Autonomy Comes from Student-Centered Learning

Ms. Sneed smiled. “Exactly. Kids should be doing all the time. I believe in student-centered learning. Students do the work, not the teacher. Otherwise, they can’t grow.”

“At my college,” Mr. Grow responded, “they used that term all the time: student-centered. Until now, I didn’t really get it.”

“So important,” said his mentor. “I’ll send you a link with some ideas for active learning. Why don’t you try one of them in your next lesson? Tomorrow we’ll continue our discussion with ways to maximize teaching.”

Encourage autonomy. Take a student-centered approach to teaching.

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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