Don’t be a sage on the stage be a meddler in the middle of your classroom

You know how sometimes you sit and listen to speakers and your eyes glaze over and you start to daydream or worse struggle to stay awake? Well I have just been in a staff PD session run by Erica McWilliams. And it was fabulous. She was passionate, inspiring, amusing and academically rigorous in her presentation. I took a few notes during the session and to the best of my recollections here they are.

In the future world of work, knowledge creators will the only people whose jobs will not be outsourced. What does this mean for our students ?

  • They must learn to take risks and try new things
  • They must become producers not consumers of knowledge.
  • They must take risks, try new things,
  • They must be self starting, self managing, self critical and self evaluating

What does this mean for us as teachers?

  • We must ask better questions not just expect better answers
  • We must ensure that their learning is not comfortable, that it is risky and confronting.
  • We must say things like ‘We are in design mode it’s okay to make mistakes now’
  • We must have clear learning goals and explicit learning intentions
  • We must help them to develop complexity in their thinking. By asking them to do things such as design their own homework and their own tests.
  • We must get them to design a one star, two star and three star questions.
  • We must ensure that they are always working harder than we are.

But above all we must make sure that they know what to do when they don’t know what to do. As this is rapidly becoming an essential and fundamental 21st century skill.

Food for thought indeed. And ones which align so closely with my own views on teaching and learning. As well as those of The Habits of Mind which I am also learning about this week.

Another post about Erica McWilliams

Leave a Reply


  1. Cameron

    I’m a big fan of Erica’s. Her book The Creative Workforce is excellent: http://www.amazon.com/The-Creative-Workforce-High-Flying-Futures/dp/1921410221

    She also has a paper called ‘Unlearning How to Teach’ which is easily available online.

    I presented a workshop on her ideas at the 2010 HTA conference and spoke on a panel with her. She is doing some work at my school in 2013. She is someone who truly gets it.

  2. Fiona Jostsons

    I loved the idea that there is a time to be Sage on the Stage and a Guide on the Side and then there is also a time to be Meddler in the Middle.

    Meddler in the middle might be the most important and powerful time but don’t throw out times when you do need to be the Sage and the Guide. Just like for students there is a time when they have to take risks and try things out, but there’s also a time (like in Naplan tests or HSC tests) when accuracy and answers are required.

    I liked her points about creating Low Threat, High Challenge tasks. I also thought it was a good point about keeping the intention of the learning very clear in our minds as teachers. I loved the talk this afternoon.

  3. Thank you so much for adding to this Fiona, I missed to start of the presentation and your notes have added greatly to my musings.

  4. Thank you Cam, I will definitely download and read that article and find the book. I was so impressed with her and would love to learn more.