Are We Creating Dependence or Independence?

I’ve been thinking about the idea of independent learners vs dependent learners over and over during the last few months. Really over the last few years.

When I first started as an SBTS (tech coach), I thought the biggest role I played was resource provider. I spent so much time remaking resources, translating them for my teachers (so they could be easier to digest/use) and having EVERY answer for every question. It started to shift a few years ago when I changed roles. I realized that I created dependent learners…and then I left them. I walked away for another opportunity and they were so used to “margaret-ized” documents that it created a HUGE gap.

Zoretta Hammond talks about this in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.  This chapter helped me figure out what is going on in my feelings about independent learners vs dependent learners… and my learners are teachers.  Instead of solving everything and always having the answers, what can I change that will help my learners search for their own answers (especially the ones that are only a google search away)?  How can I support them in productive struggle, rather than rescuing them from it?  AND how do I know when a struggle is productive vs unproductive? 

Another book I read recently, The Advice Trap, by Michael Bungay Stanier solidified this even further. The idea that the message I’m communicating when I have advice for every situation is that I can do this better or that their solutions aren’t enough. That is NEVER the message I want to send and yet it’s often what I feel when people tell me what to do when I’m not asking for advice.

This has changed my work in a lot of ways.  I ask questions, I coach, I share where to find resources.  I am still unlearning this role of resource provider and catch myself some times but it’s a HUGE change. 

One example is a big change this year… teaching others to update the A-Z index (endless list of links and documents that our whole staff references) instead of doing it for them!  In the past I’ve said “send it to me, I’ll post it” and done it (sometimes happy to… sometimes resentfully).  But it’s a good shift this year. 

Another example recently came up. Our county has instituted a new policy that has raised a lot of questions. Staff have completed an asynchronous training surrounding what work can and can’t be done on Religious and Cultural Observance Days, have calendar appointments with the PDF of the policy and teacher guide docs attached and yet there are many questions. There is a slide deck and handouts. It’s almost that we’ve over communicated the message…and in doing so turned off people’s understanding of the policy.

How do we find the balance between buffering for those we serve AND creating opportunities for them to construct meaning and genuine deep understanding of the purpose and logistics of this policy?

A team I work on spent some time going back into the materials that were created and having conversation with each other, and within a short time came up with our answers. They were all right there… we just needed time and space and structure to process them.

How might we intentionally create these opportunities for the educators we work with every day?

When we constantly translate, simplify or do the work for those we lead, we remove the productive struggle and connection to the work or material or policies and it becomes another top-down directive. We also run the risk of translating it through our own lenses. When we simplify, we often lose the details… and we choose what is is important based on what we value. Those lenses and values aren’t the same for all of us – so what is the group losing out when everything is translated through my values and my lenses?

I’m not sure I have the answer. I said in conversation yesterday about this that it’s not an either or (either we create meaning/explain and translate everything OR we leave people to fend on their own with what the district gives us) but rather a space somewhere in the middle.

Finding that middle is important and hard and messy. But it’s the right work.

Remember when I said when I became an SBTS I felt like my role was a resource provider – now I think about my role as more of a teacher and an empower-er. I am here to create opportunities and guide people throw those opportunities to LEARN. Not to do it for them. Not to be the go-to. But to be there to support their learning.

Coming soon – another post about how shifting how I define my worth and value is connected to this shift in defining my role 🙂


2 thoughts on “Are We Creating Dependence or Independence?

  1. Thanks so much for this post! I have been having these same thoughts, but around students. Making students dependent on the adults might be doing them a real disservice! I will definitely check out the resources you mentioned. There is certainly value in learning how to help people learn to help themselves; especially if the answer is readily accessible (IE: a Google search)!


    1. Katie! I’m so happy to hear from you. It’s very much the same concern.. whether we talk about adults or students! Would love to hear how your thinking evolves on this as well.


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