Redefining my role: Teacher as student

Do Teachers Need to Relearn How to Learn?

I guess I’m a “techy” teacher. I finally accepted the label – given to me by co-workers – sometime in the past year, but I’m still a little surprised by the fact. After all, I had never been on the Internet until after I received my undergraduate degree and it wasn’t until I started teaching (about 7 years ago) that I really began to learn about computers and technology.

How did I get to be here?

Now technology is completely integrated into my life, and more importantly, into my instruction. How did this happen? I never took any classes about how to use technology in class, I never read a book on the subject, nobody sat down with me and walked me through the steps of how to use a blog (or a wiki, Twitter, Facebook, etc.).  So how did I learn all of the technology I use in my instruction and in my online collaborations with teachers? I learned it on my own.

Well, kind of…

I have had minimal PD (professional development) on how to integrate technology into instruction, but much of that has been superficial, focusing on how to adapt old lessons into “new” ones using some specific web tool. However, one technology PD session did have a big impact on me. David Warlick spoke to the entire faculty a few years back and the main idea I got from his presentation was this: Students are using the internet to learn how to do anything they want to do. He was speaking primarily about middle school and high school students, but I figured the same would be true for me as well. So, I started using the internet to learn how to do what I wanted to do – blog, make videos, make podcasts, publish student work, etc. Of course it wasn’t easy, but I wanted to learn it so I did. (That is key – my learning was self-directed.)

I quickly realized that if I had a question about how to do something, chances were that thousands of other people had already had the same question, and perhaps a dozen or even hundreds had left tips and instructions that answered my specific question. I just had to use critical thinking skills to locate the information on the Internet. In that way, I wasn’t actually learning on my own, I was learning from hundreds of people that I had never met.


Now, after a few years of tinkering with technology, I’m involved with a few committees that are looking into ways to increase technology integration into instruction. The thing that occasionally surprises me about these meetings (and about tech integration in general) is how often everything comes back to PD. If we are talking about the possibility of using Edmodo (just as an example – it could be wikis, blogs, etc.), inevitably the response is, “Well, the teachers need PD first.” Why? I don’t get it.

Why can’t teachers transfer their learning?

I think it’s safe to say that all teachers, regardless of the state or district, have had PD in some web 2.0 tool. Maybe it was blogging, or wikis, or even just how to use the school’s email account. My feeling is, if a teacher can do a few basic computer skills (format in MS Word, copy and paste, attach a document to an email or upload a photo, and perhaps add a hyperlink) they should be able to transfer that knowledge across various internet programs.

Teachers sometimes express surprise when a student can’t write a response to a question that is virtually the same as one they answered the day before simply because it is worded differently. Yet teachers can’t apply what they know about Facebook (or shutterfly, gmail, youtube, etc.) to use edmodo or a wiki? I’m not saying they should be able to master a new program immediately – like anything new it takes time, but they should have the flexibility of thinking to apply what they already know. If teachers can’t transfer their knowledge, how are they going to teach students to do so?

I understand that time and countless other responsibilities are often the hurdles for teachers to integrate more technology into their instruction, but that’s a topic for another time (Kathleen Morris has a great post about overcoming obstacles to tech integration.) What I’m wondering is whether we teachers know how to transfer our technological knowledge and use the Internet to actively seek answers to questions on our own. In other words, are we independent learners?

Dependent on PD

I suspect that the main reason many teachers don’t transfer their knowledge and actively seek answers to their questions about tech is that they simply aren’t very interested in learning it. The key to David Warlick’s statement is that people can leverage the internet to learn anything they want to learn. But let’s put that aside for now and assume for the sake of argument that teachers need to learn how to use tech whether they want to or not. Why do they often profess helplessness and state that they can’t learn it without PD?

If we expect our students to use “critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making” (ISTE student nets 4) and “apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes” (ISTE student nets 1.a), shouldn’t we be able to do the same as teachers? If we can’t apply these skills in our own learning, how can we teach our students to use them?

Besides the lack of time and/or motivation, I’m beginning to wonder if teachers really know how to learn new skills independently. We come from a system of education where everything was fed to us. As a student (even through my master’s degree), if I was told I needed to learn something there was a clear process I had to go through to learn it; sign up (and pay) for the right course with the available expert, buy some textbooks, go to class, follow directions, and collect my credits to show that I had learned it. Most PD follows a similar process (although greatly abbreviated).

So that is the paradigm that teachers have for their own learning – they feel that they need to be taught something in order to learn it. I’m not sure that they know there is now another way to learn, especially where learning about technology is concerned. But how would they know this new way of learning if it’s rarely been modeled for them? And if this is how they view their own learning, can we really expect them to teach students how to be independent learners?

A different kind of PD?

So perhaps instead of endless PD sessions for each “new” technology or different web application, teachers need PD on how to be self-directed learners. I’m not exactly sure what this would entail, but it could start with learning how to do an efficient web search – not just Google, but YouTube and other video sites for tutorials. I think it is also vital that the similarity between applications is emphasized so that teachers begin to understand that they can transfer their learning. I think specific skills such as these are necessary to help teachers begin to become more self-directed learners, but ultimately it is a shift in thinking.

Learners are no longer dependent on learning directly from an expert, the information is literally at their fingertips, they just need to know how to access it. And most important, learners of all ages need to be the drivers of their learning. Just like our students, teachers need to seek answers through active exploration. Again, if we are not independent learners, how can we expect our students to be?


  1. Mhudek says:

    Mr. Salsich,

    Yes! I enjoyed reading your post. I agree with you. I have learned so much myself via the internet. I seek out learning, love reading blog posts, twitter, pinterest, etc. Often, I can’t understand why others I teach with don’t do the same. I especially liked your comment about teachers being able to use Facebook, but can’t or won’t apply these skills to other online learning.
    What a great first blog post! I can’t wait to read more.

    Mary Beth

  2. Dear Jonah,

    I love your new blog and look forward to following and participating in your journey of learning.

    A few years ago, Alan November came to speak to our entire district. He shared a wide range of projects that were happening on the Internet, many I’d never heard of. He talked about this new company called Skype and that teachers could use it to connect with classes and experts all over the world. He also talked about all the learning opportunities that were being created and collected on YouTube. I was fascinated with what he shared and went home excited to investigate some of his ideas for my students as well as for myself. My district didn’t pay me to investigate or use any of this new knowledge…I was interested in learning and expanding myself.

    The traditional model for professional development has to change if we are going to make any real progress. I’d love to see more active PD sessions. In your Edmodo example, I’d send an email invitation to teachers that included a link to sign up to Edmodo and maybe a link to Edmodo’s FAQ page or an introductory video. The email would state that the PD sessions will be hands-on and that the laptop the district provided should be brought to the wifi session. Wifi is ubiquitous in my little PD vignette!

    The expectation is that teachers come to the PD session having already created an account and the time is spent learning with others. Perhaps teachers could pair by grade level or by ability. Maybe mix people who are novices with others who have a bit more experience. Working and then stopping and sharing…that is what would be useful to me.

    Having teachers sit in a room and watch someone walk through Edmodo or any other program is a an exercise in futility. The time spent needs to be enough to get the teacher in a program and have supported practice.

    I’ll be curious to hear how other people view the new ways of learning. How do we change old learning patterns?

    Thanks for a fabulous first post!

    ~Linda Yollis

    1. Mr. Salsich says:

      Thanks for the comment Linda. I like your ideas about a more hands-on form of PD, with expectations that teachers do some active exploration before, during, and after the session. Just as it is understood that students become better readers by reading, and better writers by writing, teachers will become better at tech by doing it.

      Maybe it’s as simple as applying what we know to be good instruction for our students into PD for teachers. Because when we are in PD, we are students, so shouldn’t we get good instruction?

      I also think your statement about how you went home after the Alan November PD and actively set about learning the things he had mentioned because you were interested in them is very, very important. This is a topic I plan on posting about soon. We all make time to pursue the things that intrinsically interest us, whether it’s ed tech, cooking, exercising, antique cars – whatever. I think it is very important that we proponents of ed tech realize that we might adopt it easier than others (and carve out more time for it) because it is interesting to us. As Kathleen said in her comment below, for many of us it is almost a hobby. I know I get enjoyment from it. But just as I wouldn’t want an antique car enthusiast to judge me negatively because I have no interest in them, I need to remind myself not to judge teachers that may not find ed tech interesting.

      Now, the argument that they may need to learn it whether it’s interesting or not is another story – for another post :)

      1. Jonah,

        Thanks for your thoughtful response.

        I do get a lot of satisfaction working with tech. However, a large part of the satisfaction comes from knowing that I am staying current with what is happening in the world. I’m bettering my skills for myself and for my students. I often hear teachers say, “Well, I’m not interested in technology,” or “I have no use for any of that tech stuff.” I’d have to say…there’s a lot of I going on in those statements. :-) What about the students? What about what might benefit them? I think we have to consider the students and the world we are preparing them for.

        I’m not saying everyone has to be at the same level, but we are living in a technological world. Families have smart phones, they play interactive games, we Skype with people all over the world, people are contributing/collaborating/creating via YouTube and other online sites… but it all stops at the classroom door? The place where we want to teach children about thinking and adapting and becoming a learner for life is not modeled by a teacher? That doesn’t seem right.

        Yes, active PD sounds a lot better. Having a presenter stand up and talk about learning clearly isn’t the way!

        I look forward to reading, discussing, and learning more here on your new blog!

        Your friend,
        Linda Yollis

  3. Kathryn says:

    I dropped in off Twitter because I have long admired your professional work in your class through your blog. My first reaction was, oh great now his own blog, this I must read.

    Your story rings bells as I have come to integrate technology in my teaching in exactly the same way as you, it is good to hear you verbalise my own wonderings. I have never learned any of it from PD in the traditional sense. I have asked questions online, watched what others do – you included- and tried things out. I believe I am self directed. There is something within me that calls to me and I respond. I WANT to do it.

    We want children to be self directed, independent learners. So teachers need to be the same. I am a product of my time, yes I was spoon fed my education and could protest I am too old for new things being in my early sixties. However neither seem to matter much.

    I agree with you that teachers need to realise they can transfer their skills. However that is not what I see among the staff I work alongside. That is why every day I can access the internet and learn alongside fantastic teacher/learners like yourself and so many others.

    Another thing I also have found useful is the sharing that can take place in places like Blackboard Collaborate I think its called. My heart beat a little faster as I tried logging in live the first time, but I was willing to give it a go. Not to mention the value of Twitter chats. Personally I believe it comes down to a passion for teaching and learning.

    With a heart full of gratitude for technology

    1. Mr. Salsich says:

      Thanks for the comment and the compliments about my class blog.

      I really like your lines, “I have asked questions online, watched what others do and tried things out. I believe I am self directed. There is something within me that calls to me and I respond. I WANT to do it.”

      It is so important for me to remember that I also WANT to learn new things – not just ed tech, but history, different cultures, how to paint watercolors, etc. When I want to learn something I’ll make time for the explorations and inevitable “failures” that come along with the learning process. However, I don’t make the same time or effort to learn things that don’t call out to me – like knitting, golf, or how the economy works for example. I don’t have an interest in those things so I’m not going to put time into learning about them. Perhaps that is simply the case with many teachers and technology – it may not call out to them. However, as educators I think it is still crucial that we are self-directed learners, even if that learning is not centered around technology.

      I also like your comments about Twitter and Backboard Collaborate. I was quite hesitant at first to use Twitter, but it has changed the way I think about teaching and learning. I purposely didn’t mention these types of social learning media because; my post was long enough already, these topics could be a separate post altogether, and I feel that many teachers tune out when they hear things about Twitter and PLN’s because they either have preconceived notions about them (as I did) or just feel like it is too much of a learning curve. But I totally agree, Twitter chats are an amazing way to learn so much about the topics that interest you.

  4. Mrs Judy Mckenzie says:

    Dear Jonah
    Well done on a thought-provoking first post.
    I agree with your idea that the reason teachers don’t ‘ transfer their knowledge and actively seek answers to their questions about tech is that they simply aren’t very interested in learning it.’

    On a personal level I had many opportunities for ICT PD over a number of years but it wasn’t until the end of 2009 that I saw a classroom blog and thought ‘I could do that!’.
    At last the PD had become relevant and I could see how teaching and learning could be enhanced.
    Like you, I taught myself how to use the tools, using a lot of personal time to do so, and my students and I have reaped the benefits of doing so.

    There is no easy answer to encouraging teachers to become reflective and self-directed learners themselves, but some of the steps our school has taken include modeling, mentoring/buddies and Teaching as Inquiry. Being a small school is a bonus as we can easily share our small steps, and staff can see how learning outcomes are being improved for students.

    Just like our students, teachers need to be 21st century learners.

    Judy McKenzie

  5. K. Lirenman says:

    I’ve just stumbled onto your blog via twitter and this blog post really reasonates with me. Why do you think that some of us are self motivated enough to truly put ourselves out there and take risks to learn new things while others are so afraid to make a change? I don’t believe that the professional development we have with people talking to us works. We all come in with are own agendas of things we want to learn. For me Twitter has been the best professional development I’ve discovered. I often feel as though I am learning from truly brilliant people. But I am a self motivated learner and I thrive on learning new things so for me it’s been a no brainer. What we really need to do is find a way to make others self motivated too, both our students and our staff. I feel I do a lot to make my students thrive on intrinsic motivation but it’s a lot tougher with my colleagues. You’ve certainly got me thinking and I thank you for that.

  6. Audrey says:

    Your post hit so many nails on the head for me. I have been frustrated with some friends’ apparent lack of interest/respect for edtech, and I have attributed it to many things – fear. exhaustion, inflexibility…etc but this never occurred to me. Maybe those of us who have embraced it all are the outliers of our generation. I think the best pd I ever got was the day I joined twitter. What I learn, how I learn, how and where I share it has evolved and continues to evolve even as I type this.

  7. Great post Jonah! Your words resonate so closely with my tech experiences. In college, computers were the size of rooms and in my first classroom, I had an Apple 2e and thought I was using some fancy machinery. I didn’t grow up as a techie, but I pushed myself to learn as much as I could. It wasn’t okay to me to sit back and say tech is for the younger generation like so many other teachers I know. I keep trying to urge them along, and the eye rolls are often pretty painful to endure, not because of hurt feelings , but rather because their students are missing out. Then there are the ones who say unless there is a PD class they will be paid for to take, they won’t bother learning the tech. It’s frustrating. I agree with Karen, it’s hard to motivate colleagues.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jonah! I’ll be looking forward to your next post!

  8. Mrs Kathleen Morris says:

    Dear Jonah,

    Wow! What a start to your new blog! I love this post for so many reasons and I think I could write an essay in response but I will try to refrain myself.

    You and I did have a good discussion about some of these issues back when I wrote that post about obstacles (thanks for the link back by the way).

    Over the last couple of years, I have had many opportunities to present about blogging and some of the other ‘tech’ things I do in my classrooms. I think people are often surprised when I say I didn’t do a course or PD on blogging/ICT and I don’t have a background in computer science or anything like that. I’ve always enjoyed computers somewhat, but not enough to take any computer subjects in high school or uni. My ICT background is very similar to yours.

    Like Judy pointed out, learning takes a lot of personal time. Lucky for us, learning (and teaching) is not just a job, but a hobby. It can be fun and fulfilling!

    I couldn’t agree more with what you said about what PDs need to look like and I love Linda’s ideas too. This is something I want to talk to our ICT co-ordinator at school about. In 2012, we do not have an ICT specialist class (for the first time). Students will not be sent off to the computer lab once a week with a specialist teacher. Instead, the onus is going to come back on the classroom teacher. I’m pleased about this as I think it is the opportunity for some real pressure and change.

    You are so right about the number of teachers who rely on PD. Your description of PD as something that is done to you where someone tells you “when you’ve learnt enough” is just laughable. This model is just no longer relevant or sustainable.

    As you know, I write a fortnightly newsletter once a fortnight called Tech Tools for Teachers ( This newsletter gives step by step instructions on how to use web 2.0 tools and it has been quite popular.

    Over two years we have heard from many readers who want hands-on workshops on how to use the tools. This inspired us to plan a PD day for the start of the 2012 school year. Just to illustrate your point about how teachers jump on the chance for PD, it took us less than 2 weeks to get nearly 100 people signed up (we can only cater for 60). The amazing thing about that is the majority of people are travelling for hours to come to the PD! While there will be some ‘hand holding’ and guiding people through processes, there is definitely going to be time to play around, connect and explore. The most important message I want to give is that the learning does not stop at the end of the day – they need to keep going!

    I really believe that the model of lifelong learning for teachers needs to be spelled out as soon as they enrol in a teaching course. In Nov/Dec, I was lucky enough to teach a unit at our local university for post-grad students who were just starting their teaching course. This is a message I was able to deliver over and over again: build a PLN, don’t rely on school PD, instigate your own learning, have a go…etc. Hopefully I could influence 75 new teachers in that department but how do we spread this message further?

    On Christmas day, I was telling some family members about the work I do with my students and how we connect with people like you. Many of them said “schools in the US would be ahead with that sort of thing, wouldn’t they?” Well it seems that, sadly, the same challenges are being faced at schools everywhere!

    Thanks again, Jonah. And to answer your question on Twitter, no, your post definitely isn’t too long. Is my comment? :lol:


  9. Stephanie says:

    Hi Jonah,
    I found your blog via @Kathleen_morris. I am a first year teacher so haven’t had much in the way of PD. But it did worry me that when I was studying for my Teaching Diploma that the course the pedagogy and assessment didn’t seem to have changed that much since I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree a decade ago. So like you I have been feeling my way around trying to work out how to implement this new digital world into the classroom.

    I would actually add to your post that although content and independent learning is important perhaps the most important thing for ‘techy type’ PD is that teachers need how to use social networking to build up a large PLN. I don’t think I would have got through my course last year if it weren’t for the global network of educators out there supporting my learning.

    Good luck with your blogging journey. I’ve just subscribed to your feed and hope to learn more from you soon.


  10. Stefanie says:

    Hi Jonah,

    First off, what a great post. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a similar conversation with my Assistant Principal (also our ICT specialist teacher) about the perceived lack of motivation from non-’tech proficient’ members of staff. We’ve both been trying to encourage others to have a go, and the first response we get every time is “But I need PD on how to use ‘x’.”

    PD, as you mentioned (and others throughout comments) isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to using technology, and a lot of it comes through play and exploration – which takes time. As both Judy and Kathleen mentioned, that takes time – most of it a teacher’s personal time – to explore, and I know that is the most common reason why it’s hard to engage others in this type of learning. For those of us eager to learn and find new tools, new ways of approaching how to teach a topic or tool, or to connect with other like-minded individuals, that’s fine – because we don’t see it as a ‘waste of time’ – we know we get something from the experience.

    I think the trick is finding ways to explain/show/provide experiences for the more reluctant to become involved. And you’re right – that’s probably the hardest part.

    I look forward to continuing to read your posts.

    Stef Galvin

  11. Thanks so much for your insights Jonah!
    You have vocalized so well the thoughts and ideas that have been rumbling through my brain. I was introduced to this fabulous world of blogging, PLN’s and Twitter during the last part of a graduate diploma program last summer. As Kathleen stated, I decided to give it a go, I thought I can do this! I created a class blog, enrolled in a Technology dinner series hosted by my district’s ITC department and booked/borrowed as much of my district’s loaner equipment that I could get my hands on. I didn’t know much but I asked a lot of questions and was willing to learn alongside my grade 3 students.
    I believe that the willingness to make mistakes with my students and become a student myself has allowed me to provide a positive learning environment for my students.
    I can also relate to many of the comments above!
    I am looking forward to your next post.


  12. James Salsich says:

    Loved it! Very well said. You have raised a question that has plagued me for years: How do I get my colleagues to learn the way that I do? As a teacher of eighth graders I see the effects of exclusively teacher-directed instruction: kids that don’t know how to direct their own learning. Scary to think that I am more of a twenty-first Century learner than some of my students. We certainly do need to think this through.

  13. Mr. Salsich

    I could not agree more and believe we, as educators, must continuously rethink the way we learn. As a result, we will begin to become comfortable with uncomfortable. It’s this mindset that produces lifelong learners. I love this quote by Stephen Downes:

    “Change how you learn first. Once you change, you won’t be able to go back to teaching the same old way.”

    The following is a post that I wrote challenging educators to rethink “How Do You Learn?” Great educators take on the responsibility of professional development and do not wait for PD to come to them!

    Thanks for a terrific post! Shawn

  14. Anne says:

    Thank you for such a terrific post. You have spoken aloud what needs to be said. Learning has significantly changed in the past few years, due to the advances in our technology. It is unfortunate that many educators don’t “get it” however. “Learning” is now the heart of our profession, not “teaching”.

    Your words will be shared.


  15. Kris McGuire says:

    I, too, stumbled upon your blog via Twitter, which I might add, I learned myself by reading blogs that talk about how to tweet and watching tutorials. Tutorials are made for anything that I ever needed. If someone really wants to learn, he/she will find the way. When I started teaching in the 1980′s (I know, I’m old), my first job was in a corner of Iowa where the largest city was an hour away. The resources I had were textbooks and my head; in addition, I had five preps per day. I guess that’s how I learned to be a self-directed learner. Plus, I like to learn and love it when my students teach me.

    Your post was true and I’m basically tired of hearing some of our teachers claim they don’t have time…blahblah…if they want to learn, they’ll find the time.

    For me the most important point that connected with me is if we want students to problem solve, be critical thinkers, etc., then don’t we as teachers need to demonstrate those skills as well???

    Sorry if I sound bombastic; I’m just passionate about doing the best job I can with my students in today’s world.

  16. Scott McLeod says:

    “Why do they often profess helplessness and state that they can’t learn it without PD?”

    Our schools are premised on the idea that students are helpless learners without the direction intervention/instruction of a teacher. Why should we be surprised when those same teachers flip that around for their own learning? Either you NEED a teacher to learn or you don’t. Right now most teachers believe that of course you do, whether it’s them teaching or them learning.

  17. Laura Knight says:

    Thank you, Mr Salsich, for your refreshing and insightful post. I too am faced on a daily basis with colleagues who see new learning as an imposition on their practice. I find your reflection about self-directed learning hugely helpful in explaining their behaviours. It isn’t about just about resistance to change.

    I hope I can find a way of sharing your post with colleagues in a way which doesn’t turn them off technology even further…!

  18. Thanks for such an insightful post. I have been working with a few colleagues this year to implement new technology and we have made outstanding strides with very little traditional PD. While we have enjoyed great success, we frequently find ourselves asking the question, why are teachers so resistent to learning about edmodo, google docs, twitter etc.? I think that you have answered that so eloquently by describing how teachers have be taught how to learn. Using the process you described, it must seem extremely daunting for a teacher to learn a new technology because that process is very labour (I’m from Canada) intensive and time consuming (finding the course, signing up, finding the money, buying the text etc.). I think that in addition to offering PD in how to be self directed learners, teachers may be less resistent if they saw how easy it really is to learn something new and how much support there is on the internet for virtually every ‘new’ technology. Instead of the title of the PD being “Learn how to use Edmodo”, it could be “Learn how to learn something new”. Again thanks for sharing such an insightful post.

  19. [...] they?” Good question. Salsich takes a beautiful stab at the answer in his post, “Do Teachers Need to Relearn How to Learn?” His conclusion: teachers don’t know tech because they don’t know how to learn in [...]

  20. GREAT post! I am forwarding on to district administrators. It is certainly food for thought!

  21. [...] Jonah Salsich raises a similar question regarding critical thinking and problem solving: [...]

  22. Angelita says:

    I enjoyed the reading and like you I learnt by myself. I understand that unless one wants to, learning cannot take place. Yet, despite technology been developed to same us time, the opposite occurs. We have to do more today than those on the past. Interestingly enough, our minds are running faster thus we are doing more. However, learning by self takes time, sometimes a lot of time.

    Unfortunatelly, takes time to learn new ways of doing something… considering that there are more expectation of teaching, it becomes difficult for teachers to rethink how to learn, hence how to teach…


  23. fi says:

    I am a pre-service teacher in Queensland, Australia. The journey you have undertaken is truly inspiring. I considered myself fairly ‘ok’ with ICTs, however was not interested in blogging or twitter for fear of making a fool of myself – who would want to follow my boring life? I think my problem was that I didn’t think of these outlets as a tool for learning and sharing. After reading your blog (admittedly, as part of my course material) I am awakened to the almost endless possibilities for ICTs integration into teaching and learning.
    Thank you

Leave a Reply