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Teaching vs Learning

It has seemed to me as I have attended training on PLC’s and have listened and tried to understand how to apply the principles, that understanding the distinction between teaching and learning is crucial.  If I plan a professional development event and teachers attend to learn teaching strategies, are they learning to teach better or are they learning to help their students learn better?  I have slowly understood the difference, but can’t say I can grasp it totally.  At first I thought it was a state of mind, but now I realize that is more than that.  It seems to be how we approach our students.  Do we react to them and change our methods and processes based on how they are learning, or do we boldly and continually teach the same concepts in the same way and get similar results every time.  I believe I am a good teacher.  Does that mean I can ever be satisfied with my performance?  I say nay.  A good teacher is more concerned about student outcomes than his or her performance.  Are the students learning?  A good teacher is also open to hear what other teachers are doing.  It is only the arrogant who think they have all the answers no matter how good they are.

Richard Dufour in 2004 stated:

“To create a professional learning community, focus on learning rather than on teaching, work collaboratively, and hold yourself accountable for results.” (Richard Dufour, 2004)

He has also said:

In Hot Pursuit of the Wrong Questions

Eventually, after years as a principal, I realized that even though my efforts had been well intentioned—and even though I had devoted countless hours each school year to those efforts—I had been focusing on the wrong questions. I had focused on the questions, What are the teachers teaching? and How can I help them to teach it more effectively? Instead, my efforts should have been driven by the questions, To what extent are the students learning the intended outcomes of each course? and What steps can I take to give both students and teachers the additional time and support they need to improve learning?

This shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning is more than semantics. When learning becomes the preoccupation of the school, when all the school’s educators examine the efforts and initiatives of the school through the lens of their impact on learning, the structure and culture of the school begin to change in substantive ways. … teachers and students benefit when principals function as learning leaders rather than instructional leaders.

Richard Dufour (2002)

Let’s take the words of Dufour and apply them to our classes for a moment.

When learning becomes the preoccupation of the class, when the teacher examines the curriculum through the lens of its impact on learning, the structure and culture of the class begins to change in substantive ways. Teachers and students benefit when they function as learning leaders rather than instructional leaders.

Below is a chart I created that might help us see the difference between a teacher who is focusing on teaching and one who is focusing on learning.

Teaching Approach

Learning Approach


  •   Start with the objective:   What do we want students to know?
  •   Teach – focusing   on good established techniques and methodology with the intent of getting   though the curriculum on time.

  •   Start with the objective:   What do we want students to be able to do?
  •   Teach – focusing   on what students learn based on evidence from what they are ultimately able   to do.

  • The instructor makes sure students take full   responsibility for learning while maintaining a consistent instructional   delivery.
  • Student outcomes reflect how well the teacher gets   across the information and how willing students were to internalize it.

  •   The instructor   shares the responsibility for student outcomes with the students by adjusting   and changing the instructional approach to teaching based on student   performance (learner-centered Instruction).
  •   Student   outcomes reflect how well students internalize the information based on the   ability of the instructor to tap into student needs, schema, past experience   and personal learning modalities or styles.
Instructional   Presentations and Practice

  • Mostly lecture with student questions and answers.
  •   Mechanical   practice – memorize data, make lists, prove through exercises and activities   that the Information (knowledge)is understood.
  •   Activities are   mostly fill-in and multiple choice with a high percentage correct used to   identify comprehension.


Instructional   Presentations and Practice

  • Interactive presentations where context, student   schema, real-life application, and student learning styles are taken into   account.
  • Activities go from mechanical, to meaningful and   communicative leading to application and personalization to stimulate   learning.
  • Activities are varied and include multiple choice,   fill-in, role-plays, focused listening, critical thinking, etc. with observation   and teacher evaluation including the use of rubrics to identify students’   ability to communicate
What   Students Do with New Information

  • Take multiple choice standardized tests and prove   they can use the new information in controlled and mostly writing   environments.


Student   Learning

  • Perform in multiple environments (multiple measures)   including standardized tests and impromptu circumstances etc.

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