Teachers Are Ultimately Responsible for Student Learning

Student learning. Whose responsibility is it anyway? Unfortunately, this question can cause a lot of finger pointing. Read on for three reasons that explain why teachers are responsible.

Ms. Sneed Takes Responsibility for Student Learning

Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at her desk, deep in thought. Unfortunately, her students were struggling. Why couldn’t they convert customary measures? She’d shown them how to do it every day for a week! Why weren’t their parents helping at home?

Ms. Sneed put her head in her hands and sighed deeply. Why was she struggling with teaching?

Oh well. No time to think of it this morning. Once again, it was time for early morning PD at her school. Ms. Sneed grabbed a pad of paper and a pen. Then she headed down to the library for the meeting.

Why Teachers Are Responsible for Student Learning

“Staff, today we’ll watch a video,” said the principal. “The topic is why teachers are responsible for student learning.”

A few teachers groaned. “Why does it always fall back on us?” complained one colleague.

Ms. Sneed grimaced. Unbelievable. Then she dutifully picked up her pen and began to take notes.

At the end of the video, the principal asked the staff to explain what they learned. He typed their takeaways, which appeared on the large screen. Then he took a few minutes to recap each point.

Great teachers,” he began, “take responsibility for:

  • Planning and Delivering Instruction – Whether educators use direct instruction or inquiry, successful planning and delivery are necessary for student learning.
  • Engaging Students – When educators employ student engagement techniques, learning increases
  • Communication with Students and Parents – Yes, students and parents actually share responsibility for learning. However, in many cases, the educator needs to tell parents how to help.”

Suddenly, Ms. Sneed had an ah-ha moment. Maybe she was the reason her kids were struggling with measurement.

Teachers are responsible for student learning because they're in charge of planning, engaging students, and communicating.
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Planning Instruction

The next morning, during her reflection time, Ms. Sneed thought about customary conversions. As she pondered it, she reminded herself to stay positive about teaching.

Maybe she needed to try some new strategies. Wait. Maybe her kids weren’t even ready!

Ms. Sneed thought about prerequisite skills her students needed. Sure, they needed to multiply and divide. They could do that. But converting inches and feet required multiplying and dividing by 12. No, they couldn’t do that. And converting ounces and pounds required multiplying and dividing by 16. Oh no!

So how could she move student learning from Point A to Point B? They only possessed rudimentary computation skills.

Ms. Sneed still had a few minutes before leaving for work. She ran to her computer and googled the standard for her grade level:

4.MD.1 -Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec. Within a single system of measurement, express measurements in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Record measurement equivalents in a two-column table. For example, know that 1 ft is 12 times as long as 1 in. Express the length of a 4 ft snake as 48 in. Generate a conversion table for feet and inches listing the number pairs (1, 12), (2, 24), (3, 36), …

What? That’s not the way her math series taught it! What on earth was a conversion table? She googled that too and found a unit on TPT. After quickly downloading it and printing it, she headed for school.

Support Student Learning

When Ms. Sneed arrived in her classroom, she flipped through the customary conversion unit. Her eyes fell on a two-column table, and she shook her head. “Of course. Patterning. This way the kids don’t need to know how to multiply or divide by two-digit numbers. And they won’t mix the two up either.” Evidently, the folks who wrote the CCSS understood the need for support. Evidently, the folks who wrote her textbook did not.

She headed to the copy machine with pages of customary conversion for length. Today, they would try two-column tables.

Student learning can only occur when they're ready. When you plan instruction, consider how you will scaffold instruction to meet kids' needs.

Try, Try Again

As the kids got ready for math class, Ms. Sneed announced, “We haven’t had a lot of luck converting inches and feet. So we’re going to try something new.”

She paused for a minute as she distributed the papers. Then she continued: “First, you’ll fill in the table on the left. You can use it to complete most of the problems. Some numbers are larger than what you will write in the table. Therefore, you’ll need to use a different strategy for those. Let’s work with seat partners today. That way, you can support one another.”

As the kids set to work, Ms. Sneed was surprised that no one had their hand up. She walked around and listened.

“Hey look, you just keep adding twelve.”

“This is lots easier than what we were doing yesterday.”

“Have you gotten to the bigger numbers yet?”

“Yeah, but you can just add the numbers from the table together to find the answer.”

Mrs. Sneed closed her eyes, shrugged up her shoulders, and smiled. Thank goodness.

Engaging Students

After school, Ms. Sneed pulled out the list of reasons teachers are responsible for student learning. The second point on the list involved engagement. Hmm. How could she better engage her students in measurements?

Just then, an idea popped into her head.

Years ago, her teaching mentor had shared estimation station with her. “This fun little activity helps kids conceptualize units of measurement,” Mrs. Brown had said. At the time, Ms. Sneed thought it was frivolous. Indeed, she thought it was something her students should already know. Not any more. Tomorrow, her kids would start this activity. This teacher was taking responsibility for student learning!

Teachers are responsible for engagement because it affects student learning. Short bursts of activity like this estimation station activity get kids excited about school subjects.

Communicating with Parents

Within a few days, most kids mastered the two-column table. A few still struggled, however. Ms. Sneed decided to send a note to their parents. Hopefully, they could provide a little support at home.

Want parents on board with student learning? Communicate with them! This letter provides an example.

What You Can Do to Improve Student Learning in Your Classroom

As usual, the principal sent an email about that week’s professional development. Each teacher was required to answer this question: What can you do to improve student learning in your classroom?

For Ms. Sneed, the answer was easy. After all, she’d just lived it! She quickly typed her response:

  • Reflect on student struggles. Strive to understand the root of the problem.
  • Consider readiness, including skills and background knowledge.
  • Know your standards (or at least look them up).
  • Provide adequate support for learning.
  • Engage students in meaningful activities.
  • Consider how you can enlist parent support.

She sat back with a satisfied sigh. Surprisingly, taking ownership made her enjoy teaching much more.

The Buck Stops Here – Teachers Are Responsible for Student Learning

Sure, to a certain degree students are in charge of their own learning. Parents are also accountable. But ultimately, teachers are responsible for student learning. It’s up to us to make it happen.

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