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.


Kelsey Rippe

Geri, thank you for your valuable post. I couldn't agree more! I heard on a podcast once that "Community is not just found. It is forged and fought for." Working on my own can often be overwhelming, but how thankful I am to have a team that supports and shares the work with me. I often go to my team to ask questions, get feedback on data, and collaborate with them on new strategies that will help meet ALL the diverse learning needs of my students.

As a newer teacher, I found the title of your article convicting. What a great way to look at teaching and a good reminder of my purpose as an educator. Others often think I just present information all day as a teacher, but I am so much more than that. I engage students by helping them find meaning in their learning, I collect and interpret data, I find best practices to meet the unique needs of my students, and so much more. I challenge students to inquire, discover, and ask questions about the world around them. I take part in creating life-long learners.

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Carey Girardi

I found what you said very interesting. I have been teaching for 15 years now, the past 6 in private school where I have been feeling very secluded, because of a lack of collaboration. I had no knowledge of using blogs to collaborate with other teachers until now because I am working on my master's degree. It has not been discussed or suggested as a source of self-learning or collaboration. I left public school after 9 years because my family and I moved to a new state where I found it challenging to get my foot back in the door. I left a system that had grade teams meet every week and plan. Even though we often found this task daunting, we were able to plan together and use each others' ideas. A team of five, we were all different and helped each other step out of our comfort zones.
In private schools, it appears, because of small numbers, there are no more grade teams. You may have a team of different sorts, but you are not required to meet and plan. I have also found that if teachers are not required to meet as a team, they won't.
I have also discovered that there are two different types of teachers. Those who have a very fixed mindset. They teach how they have always taught. They use the same materials, ideas, and styles, never adapting or wavering. When students do not make progress, it is inevitably the student's fault. There is no self-reflection and willingness to think outside the box to help this student. Then there are the teachers that have a growth mindset and do nothing but search for solutions and ideas that will help that student. They are consistently self-reflecting and adapting to their students so that they can be the best teacher they can be. While the fixed mindsets are acting more as a tutor, in my opinion.
After 6 years in private school, I am headed back to public schools. I have already talked to my new grade team, and the collaboration process has already begun. We are a school systems which uses standards-based grades and personalized learning plans. I think my school system is making great strides to be teachers and not tutors.
My questions are these: I have found using blogs for online collaboration to be uncommon. Even though collaboration at the school level is standard, using blogs and wikis to collaborate with other teachers across the state or country is not typical. For obvious reasons, it should be, especially when our physical team is "stuck" and out of ideas, we can use these unlimited resources to attempt an "untried" strategy, as you said. So, how do we make this practice more common? How do you imagine that I walk into my new grade team this year and begin or encourage them to use blogs to collaborate with amazing teachers outside of their norm? How do I inspire some of those teachers, with a fixed mindset to step outside of their comfort zone so we can all become a group of outstanding teachers that adapt, reflect, and adjust to meet the needs of their students? This would influence that shift that we need from tutors to teachers.

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