To stop, please start

Ten things we as teachers can START, so that we STOP being teachers

Aditi Mathur and Ratnesh Mathur

We can start asking children to teach, so that we stop teaching children. Any topic, concept, skill, procedure can be taught by some child or children to others. Come to think of it, that is precisely why there are so many children in a class. When we start harnessing diversity, we are using the full potential of the group. When they teach, they learn.

Start asking children to organize their learning, so that we stop checking or assessing their learning. Remember, our responsibility is not to ensure that all children learn everything. That is not even possible. Organizing their learning by using visual tools helps children know where they are (just like, while driving we use visual signs to know where we’ve reached). Let each child use organizing as a way to assimilate what he or she has learned.

Start by creating self-appreciation and self-assessment tools, so that we stop praising them. More importantly, they stop believing that adults and others need to appreciate them, rather they start believing in their own ability to evaluate and start living from the inside-out. The simplest tool is to ask them, “What do you think about your performance, your work, etc? Rate yourself.”

How will it be if we were to start valuing their motivation to do something, even before they did it? Obviously here we stop motivating them. Rather we realize that all children will not be motivated in the same way about learning something. Some are more motivated to learn history, while others are motivated to learn science and some sports and so on. When they’re aware of their motivations, they can align their efforts accordingly and we can align our expectations of them.

What if we stop telling them the subject or topic or skill is important and start telling them that they are important. We start giving more importance to their thinking, their way of looking at it, even their desire to not learn is more important. Remember any child can learn any concept or skill at any age, when they need it. What is more important is that they learn that they can learn what they want to learn. Once they start believing in themselves, we have started doing our job.

Start honouring mistakes to stop correcting them. We think it is our responsibility to point out their mistakes. Invariably children also pickup this trait and put-down others the moment someone makes a mistake. But mistakes are the building blocks of learning. So we consciously create such conditions in our classroom that would invite children to make, celebrate and learn from mistakes (and failures).

Here are some suggestions of what you can do: 1) Verbally encourage children to make mistakes and stop others from putting them down. 2) When somebody makes a mistake, call it W.I.P – Work in Progress indicating that all of us and our learning and life is a work in progress. 3) Invite children to purposefully make mistakes just to discover something new in themselves and in the world around them. The scientific world calls it experimentation, so many discoveries and inventions happened because of mistakes. 4) Get the whole class to share one mistake each and get everybody to laugh at it. No wonder YouTube is full of blooper videos. Get children to laugh at your mistakes too.

We can start democratic practices in our classroom to stop it from being an autocracy. Funny we teach children democracy when the least democratic space is the classroom or school itself. On top of that many homes and families are also not democratic. Invite children to experience boss-less life with social responsibility and community learning and group thinking for the good of the whole class. Not majority, but consensus. Not equality, but equity. Not leading, but caring.

We can start getting children to value and focus on their learning style rather than following the teacher’s teaching style. We know how we all operate in diverse ways and that no one way is by itself better than the other. Children then do not get caught up in the procedures of learning, rather are able to use their own creative energy to discover a concept more deeply – be it mathematics or history. To stop emphasis on one style, start discovering and celebrating multiple styles.

To stop the craze about getting a great job or becoming someone, let’s start the craze about discovering and developing the self. Perhaps education and curriculum and exams have paved too harsh a way which reaches nowhere and gets the child to run the rat race all the time (sometimes her/his whole life). Maybe education is to give them the tools for life and not confuse careers for life.

Here are some ideas: Let’s start conversations about millions of things one can do in life (and earn from them if required); let’s make children meet as many people who are working in all kinds of interesting professions, some not even earning, but living joyfully. Let’s opt for projects which are not to learn something, but to discover the beauty inside and around us – like treks in mountains, making and giving gifts to random people or doing flash mob dance on the streets (surely your children can come up with more ideas).

Start giving children responsibilities that you usually take on, to simply stop having so many responsibilities on your own head. You see the teacher who is free is the teacher who can see. And an observing teacher can catch subtle details of the children, can connect with them emotionally and socially, and can be a support in many small but significant ways. Our job is not to teach or preach but to reach.

Start by asking them to design the lesson plans, create projects and homeworks, check assignments and tests and support their peers who need help and mentoring. When they take up responsibilities, they learn to be responsible, and develop a whole lot of skills and abilities along the way.

If I want you to stop thinking about elephants, I could try and stop you from thinking about elephants.

Or I could start making you think about whales.

I hope you get the idea. It’s much easier (and perhaps effective) to get started on something that will then automatically replace what we wanted to stop in the first place.

In a way, endings happen when we begin something.

The ending of teaching is the beginning of learning.

The authors run Aarohi, an Open Learning Community for learners of all ages, open to all kinds of interests, abilities, styles and content areas. Learning by doing what one wants, how one wants, and self reflection. It is a community to co-live, learn and support each other. Aarohi’s campus is in a village near Hosur in Tamil Nadu (55 km from Bangalore). To know more about Aarohi visit

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