8. Student Mentorship and Coaching
Changing the role of the teacher
With personalized learning solutions and a better methodology for measuring grades, we have all of a sudden encountered a very important problem. How will the content be taught?
The model of schools has always been a teacher with a bunch of students. This model was developed during a time when there was no written word. The lecturer would share their knowledge to the rest of the audience.
This model persisted through the era of the written word where much of the knowledge was available in books because much of the content couldn’t be understood through just words. It needed to be clarified and everybody understood different parts of it, so the only way to help someone else fully understand is for someone who does have full understanding to guide them through it.
This model continues to persist today, even with the internet and having everything available at your finger tips. So why are we still using lectures? And is there a better way to learn?
Personalized learning and the digital portfolio is designed for a world where there is a lot more teaching resources available. The traditional methodology is using the teacher, which is someone who is more learned that a student and is able to help pass on the knowledge to the student. But an effective teacher has the time to spend with each student to help them learn and every student would need a different approach because everyone learns differently. The resources needed to actually achieve this is impossibly prohibitive. That’s why only the very elite of schools have such a low student-teacher ratio.
If not traditional teachers, then what? It might very well come in the form of artificial intelligence, but we are still a couple years away from that. And AI does not help students develop inter-relational and communication skills that is part of the second Connect and critical to success in a world where artificial intelligence already plays a huge role.
So what is the alternative to traditional teachers and artificial intelligence?
The answer is student mentors. Mentors are role models and they help advise you in the direction that makes sense. Most mentor-mentee relationships are intimate and involve a close relationship of some kind. And they are the perfect teachers.
In the skill tree mentioned described in the Personalized Learning chapter, there are different parts of the curriculum course that can be chosen by students to study. Once they complete the program and finish all the testing and project requirements, they officially get 50% of the possible completion of the course. To get the rest of the 50%, they must help help another student finish the same course.
This is a win-win situation in every way possible. The student being mentored gets very personalized teaching because the student mentor won’t be teaching more than 2-3 students for each batch. The student mentor gets to really learn the content because they now have to help someone else understand it. It lowers the resource cost of the school, making education cheaper. And most incredibly, it gives students more opportunities to interact between each other, which become opportunities to develop problem solving skills, leadership abilities, and communication skills.
All of this gets tracked in the digital portfolio and student mentors will have their successes and failures recorded, incentivizing student mentors to give it their all.
This creates a system that leverages its own resources to further its growth, similar to a fire. The initial batch of wood that has started to burn will be able to help the next batch of wood burn. The key is have a successful initial ignition of the entire process!
With the inclusion of students as teachers, we open up the possibility of removing age segregation. Traditionally, students are paired with students their same age without much consideration for ability. If you were born in 1999, then your classmates that you will be studying in school with will most likely all be born in 1999.
But the truth is, schooling should not be about age. It should be about ability. Just like how in the real world, we don’t care that much about someone’s age, why not allow for students to intermingle between ages a little more?
The benefits of this is that classes and courses can be tailored for ability and students of any age can participate, assuming that they have all the pre-requisites completed. A series of simple tests and credit accumulation can be used for tracking pre-requisites, which can then be used to decide whether or not a student can move on to the next level. This provides an environment where students can learn at a more similar pace instead of restricting their pace or trying to teach them something new when they haven’t even understood the base knowledge necessary for them to understand the new content.
If students are not required to only study with people their same age, a bigger pool of students can be chosen from to take a certain course together. Because everyone’s learning pace is different, let us let like minded people hang out and learn together, regardless of age.
With the removal of the traditional teacher, do we still have a need for adults in the building? Why yes, we do.
One significant role that’s been missing in the education system is the coach. The difference between a teacher and a coach is that the teacher’s goal is to teach you the content, while the coach tries to understand you first before figuring out what you need to learn.
A very simple example will be the sport coach. Although their first task is often to build a winning team, the result of that task is to take their players and develop them. A coach needs to know how their players perform in different situations, their strengths and weaknesses, and what to prioritize in the limited amount of training time available.
In the real world, we have something we call a life coach, who are hired to help figure out the issues in life and also help you develop into the best version of yourself. After they understand what it is that you want and who you are as a person, they use all the tools in their arsenal to help you become who you want to be.
So why do we not have coaches in school? Why is there nobody assigned and incentivized to simply help students become the best version of themselves?
Teachers should not be spending all their time lecturing from a textbook and grading papers. Teachers should be coaches, inspiring students, guiding them, helping them explore and experience the world around them.
We also want teachers to be the adults in the school. They have more experience in life and their presence in school should be leverage to impart teachings that normally take time and experience to learn, especially in the form of emotional support.
For example, as adults, we have learned that everyone is different, that everyone is unique in their own way. We understand this after spending a significant amount of time watching the people around us. The more we expand our horizons, either by traveling or meeting people from different places and backgrounds, the better we understand this concept. But kids don’t understand this. Their method of learning is copying. They copy the people around them and if they find out that they are in the minority in anything, they feel burdened to perform because that’s what everyone is telling them.
In a TED Radio Hour podcast, titled: Teaching for Better Humans, the guest host, Manoush Zomorodi shares a personal story inspired by the writer, Jacqueline Woodson. Zomorodi’s daughter was a slow reader and felt pressure to read faster and it was stressing her out. One day, when Woodson came to present at Zomorodi’s daughter’s class, Woodson said that it is okay to read slowly. Reading slowly allows you to appreciate the content that you were reading. After hearing that, Zomorodi’s daughter would basically skip when walking because she was so happy that someone confirmed that it was okay for her to be herself. She had confidence to be herself because she received affirmation and understood that it was okay.
How many times have we looked for acknowledgement growing up? That it was okay to be who we were? That it was okay to be weird or slower at something or not good at something? That we didn’t have to be perfect and be number 1 at everything?
All we needed was for someone to tell us: “It is okay”. And I want adults in school to be looking for opportunities to tell kids that “it is okay” rather than being encumbered by textbooks or grading.
Coaches will be there to help students grow emotional intelligence, something that is never specifically handled in school and something that actually requires older people to help younger students develop. In addition, having coaches will help students better understand themselves, thus decreasing the number of incidents of self-harm and bullying. Most importantly, coaches will have the time to look out for the well-being of their students without having the burden of preparing all the content that they would traditionally have to teach.
The traditional teacher is an outdated feature of the education system. The teaching of content can be replaced with technology and student mentors. Instead of spending all the resources on having adult teachers and not having the resources for other roles, there would be immensely more value for students and the adults if traditional teachers have the opportunity to become coaches, where they can be impactful to the growth of the students they are in charge of.
The impact of student mentors will be immense. Homo sapiens are successful because there are the radicalists that explore new ideas. Often, schools call these radicalists students with learning disability, problem children, or delinquents. We need a way to support these students just as much as other students. Personalized learning + digital portfolio + student mentorship will give us that.
In the next section, we explore teaching methodologies. The curriculum is important, but possibly even more important is the learning methodology because that’s how the knowledge will be transferred. As we have outlined in this section, a large proponent of the learning will be self-learning and the school will have systems in place to allow for more flexible options for schooling. This set up opens many new opportunities that will be explored in the next section.