Enacting AfL means changing the roles of educators and students (Part 1)

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. From my first days as a child in Kindergarten I was enamoured with the idea. I wish I could remember clearly why I loved the idea of teaching. What was it about what I observed my teachers saying and doing that made me want to be in their shoes?

I definitely had altruistic motives. I remember, while ‘playing school’ with younger neighbourhood children, feeling a great satisfaction when I noticed their progress in grasping something they had not understood. Their ‘aha’ moments were the reward for my efforts.

I suppose, although I don’t like to admit it, that I also enjoyed ‘being in charge’. There was, in my mind, a great deal of power being in the teacher role. And I also imagine, there was very little power in the student role, which may explain why often, after a few minutes of role playing, my ‘students’ left for more interesting, and perhaps more engaging, pursuits!

By the time I started teaching many years later, the desire for power had clearly given way to a desire to have students learn. However, in my mind, in order for students to be able to learn, they needed a ‘controlled’ environment – controlled by me.

It took some time for me to realize that while learners need structure, they could have that and have a voice in the classroom community.  I can’t say I remember a ‘pivotal moment’ in time when I came to this understanding; rather it grew slowly, as I put myself more and more into their shoes. I would plan a learning activity, only to discover that my students had valuable ideas and suggestions to contribute, or that sometimes they were advocating for their learning needs. “Miss, can we do it this way?” “Can I sit with Sarah?” “Could we keep working on our math problem, and then do the art activity during reading time?” I have always believed in explaining the rationale for my decisions to both my students and my own children. As they respectfully challenged my thinking, I became more and more open to hearing their suggestions and ideas, realizing that they had valuable contributions to make.

running-297154_1280 One last thought – and a call to action: Why am I sharing this story? Because we need to transform our assessment and instructional practices, and that means that we need to be open to considering our role in the classroom differently. In the next few posts in this series, I’ll share what these different roles might look like, and what the research tells us about why a shift is necessary.

In the meantime, you might do a little reflecting in preparation. Why did you become an educator? What were the motivations that brought you to the classroom? How do these motivations influence how your see your role, and your students’ roles, in the classroom environment and in the processes of assessment and instruction?



  1. I just spent time with year 2 Teacher Education students and told them to be open to the “experts in the room.” Our students can be very insightful and if you are open, you can definitely learn from them. Allowing students to have voice and choice will ensure everyone in the classroom is valued and in an open learning stance.


    1. Hopefully when they have the opportunity to be in a classroom, they will remember your advice. Early in my teaching career, a colleague’s advice was “tell them the rules, and don’t smile until September”. I didn’t feel that was in line with my view of teaching, so thankfully didn’t follow it!


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