07.Supportive learners/children as teachers

Developing supportive learners: delving into the depths of your classroom ethos

The secret to encouraging children to be supportive learners lies in the ethos of a classroom. I think it is something that is quite hard to teach explicitly and lies in the subtleties of classroom practice. In the Learning Power Approach, Guy Claxton depicts this in a diagram of a river, showing the different layers of learning within a classroom:

This diagram shows different levels on learning going on in the classroom.
This diagram shows different levels on learning going on in the classroom.

The layer we are interested in here is “attitudes and dispositions”. The way you act and interact with others, the way you organise the tables, where children sit (and whether this changes regularly), the language you use, all contribute to sending a message to children about “what we do around here”. In order to create supportive learners, you need to send the message, explicitly and implicitly, that “we are in this together”. The children need to build an understanding that the classroom works best when everyone is happy and everyone is learning and challenging themselves.

From teacher to learning coach

The infographic below, drawn by @bryanmmathers, nicely encompasses how I envisage a Learning Powered classroom. There is a shift from the left diagram, where the teacher is passing on information to the class, to the second diagram, where the students collaborate with one another to learn and you, as a teacher, become part of that network. In this sense, the role of the teacher shifts, taking on more of a role of a coach. In “The Learning Power Approach”, a couple of people describe the role of coaches:

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, and has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you can be.”

Tom Landry, U.S. football coach

“Probably my best quality as a coach is to ask a lot of challenging questions, and let the person come up with the answers.” 

Phil Dixon, British Olympic mountain bike coach.

I have heard Guy Claxton suggest the thought process of, “What is the least amount I could do as a teacher to get this student back on track?” – not due to laziness! Due to ensuring children learn how to become unstuck independently and don’t rely on the teacher to “spoon feed” information, answers or strategies.

This diagram, by Bryan Mathers, shows the changing role of a teacher in a learning powered classroom,
This diagram, by Bryan Mathers, shows the changing role of a teacher in a learning powered classroom,
The true strength in a classroom liers in the collaboration of learners ...

I often say to my class that we have 32 teachers in our classroom, not just 2. This quote nicely summarises this idea:

Enabling children to become their own teachers.

In order to truly achieve a classroom ethos which enables and encourages children to teach and help one another, you might need to do a bit of “tweaking” as to how you approach and plan lessons. I specifically plan to allow children space to collaborate with and learn from one another. One way I might do this is through encouraging the children to learn with new partners or purposefully putting them in “mixed attainment” pairs. Both ways of pairing have their advantages – it might be worthing pondering what the advantages and disadvantages of each might be. Pairing children carefully encourages discussion, clarification and peer feedback and also enables the children to practise being supportive learners or teachers (or both at the same time). A useful infographic can be found on the collaboration page, created by @voice21oracy, which shows different ways of structuring paired learning.

Building a language and ethos of supportive learning.

Language and the classroom environment can also help with the sending the message to children that supporting one another is a good idea (not only is it good for you to consolidate your learning, but also to be a kind and helpful friend). We have a display saying “What Superpower Learners say. One example is:

…” I wonder how I can help my friends …

We refer back to and discuss why this is important to our class. The children understand and buy into the idea that we want a happy classroom, full of engaged learners. I take the time to notice when children are being supportive learners. For example, by helping someone who is stuck, or going out of their way to include someone. This is reinforced through interactive classroom displays, like “Kind Hands” and through certificates and rewards in celebration assembly at the end of the week.

The children look out for one another if they are stuck and know to rely on each other for help. If children come to ask me the answer to something (which happens less and less as the year goes on), I send them away to see if they can find a way to solve it themselves. There are different classroom routines, like “Try three before me” that can develop independence in children. These are explained in more detailing in “The Learning Power Approach“. Through constant use of andreferrall to being supportive learners, the children understand we are all learning different things and are all better at some things than others. They celebrate each other’s achievements, no matter how small they seem.

Hand holding book - Powering Up Children


You can now order Powering Up Children from amazon. A comprehensive guide to learning power with real teaching examples, and action steps to gently incorporate these principles into your own classroom.