Geri Parscale

Geri Parscale spent 28 years in education and has worked as a classroom teacher, principal, professional development director, and finally deputy superintendent of Fort Leavenworth Schools, USD 207. Her mode of operation was always the same: learning for all kids.

Are you a tutor or teacher?

In one of the schools where I work, the principal once commented that it makes a difference if you believe yourself to be a tutor or a teacher. We discussed it further, and she shared her belief that living as a PLC helped pave the way for many of her teachers to make the shift.

I thought about that comment for some time after, and as I processed it, I began to understand just how living as a professional learning community could change a teacher and a school’s focus from just teaching to true learning.

A tutor is someone who helps another with a skill or a task, possibly imparting information to another who needs help. No doubt, tutoring helps others who may need it at certain times throughout a school year or for a particular subject. Being a tutor to someone can be valuable to both of those involved.

Being a teacher in a PLC, however, is so much more. When you are living as a PLC, you have a focus on learning (big idea number one), making a change from just covering the material. Data (big idea number three) guides your decisions regarding the needs for the student.

However, in thinking of the importance of teaching versus tutoring, the second big idea is a game changer. Living in a collaborative culture, being able to discuss the data, share ideas when you see what strategies are meeting the needs of kids, and digging into untried strategies when your collaborative team is stuck is the true mean, and magic, of collaboration.

The importance of working as a team cannot be overstated. The trust that you have for your teammates, the knowledge that students are the focus, and being able to turn to one another as you work toward the mission of learning for all at high levels helps you to work through the obstacles that may be presented. Questions asked in collaboration—such as “what is the goal for these students?” and “how have we changed our focus in grading to mastery so that we have agreed all will achieve?”—allow a team to transform teaching and learning into something far beyond just tutoring.

We’ve all been presented with tasks that, for one reason or another, seem insurmountable as we work alone. Projects that have just one person looking at completion can seem daunting and painful. Now think about the times when you have others around you, all with the same goal, working in the same direction, being able to ask and answer questions and focus on strengths that each of you may have. The task no longer seems ridiculously hard and, in fact, is accomplished with ease and satisfaction.

When we work together, when we have a team of professionals around us, guiding each other and having a laser sharp focus on learning for all students, collaboration seems not just ‘another thing to do’ but something that we could not live without.

Yep, I’d say there is a profound difference between tutoring and teaching. What a pleasure it is that we, in professional learning communities, have the tools together make learning happen.

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