📚 Always be a Learner 📚

By Drew B | Thursday, February 2, 2023

Tutoring platforms traditionally have two types of users: learners and tutors. The learners are typically students, while the tutors are adults or professionals. If you’re a user of one of these platforms, you’re one or the other. Simple enough.

Schoolhouse.world is not a traditional tutoring platform. For one thing, everyone who signs up for an account, no matter your age or experience, is automatically registered as a learner. At first glance, this may seem odd. If everyone’s a learner, then who are the tutors on Schoolhouse?

The key is to understand that tutors are just like everyone else. They start out as learners and often attend tutoring sessions just like any learner would. Perhaps they feel comfortable with math up through calculus, but want to learn more about chemistry, so they start attending chemistry sessions.

At some point—and some more quickly than others—these users may choose to tutor on the platform in addition to continuing their learner journeys. At this point, they may start considering themselves as tutors. But first and foremost, they remain learners at heart. That’s because everyone at Schoolhouse is a learner.

Very quickly, the usual demarcations of tutors=adults and learners=students go away. With everyone being a learner, and everyone having the potential to become a tutor, the lines blur. High schoolers tutor high schoolers. Adults tutor kids. And in some cases, kids even tutor adults.

But what’s fascinating about this idea of everyone being a learner is that it’s embedded throughout the Schoolhouse community in ways that go beyond simply tutoring. It’s an ethos, a core value, a mindset that represents the growth potential in each and every one of us.

And to find out more about this value of 📚 Always Be a Learner 📚, I turned to an unlikely place and spoke with one of the most experienced members of the Schoolhouse community: David R.

David’s tutor bio on Schoolhouse (“I’m a rock climber, teacher and business person living in Portland, OR”) understates his decades of experience as a Nike team member and business school faculty member. Now retired, he lives in Portland, Oregon with his family.

If there’s one person who you might expect to be the stereotypical “professional tutor”—full of knowledge and more inclined to spew information than to listen—it would be David, given his resume.

Yet David considers himself a learner just like the rest of the Schoolhouse community. Indeed, he embodies this better than almost anyone.

How come? To better understand this, I chatted with David last week and learned more about his story.

“It feels so natural to me that I don’t particularly think about it,” David tells me when I ask him what ‘Always be a learner’ means to him.

“You don’t finish school and you’re through developing. Every day you can be learning something, experimenting with something, trying something, and reflecting on it.”

It’s in this spirit that David joined the Schoolhouse community over two years ago.

David signed up with the intention of becoming a tutor shortly after reading about the platform in an op-ed from Sal Khan in the New York Times. The pandemic was beginning to surge, and many people were looking for ways to help out. Becoming a tutor over Zoom seemed like one good way, so David’s interest was piqued.

Yet, those first few months as a Schoolhouse.world tutor were “rather painful,” as David remembers it. Everything was a learning experience, from figuring out how to record himself in a certification video to brushing up on his Algebra 1 units to navigating the Zoom whiteboard.

David may have been an experienced educator, but he was new to online teaching (and for what it’s worth, almost everyone was at this point).

He stuck with it, and slowly began to get more involved with the volunteer operations of the Schoolhouse community. He joined the tutor development team and started running tutor learning circles to support other tutors—many of them high schoolers—in the journey he had just been through.

“The feeling has been since the beginning,” remarks David, “that Schoolhouse has been welcoming me without credentials.” And it’s true: although David has decades of experience, he’s a somewhat unlikely K-12 tutor given that his years of experience came from teaching graduate students.

The high school students who serve as tutors at Schoolhouse would likely say something similar. Credentials are not what make you a success at Schoolhouse.

While the bar to get started as a tutor at Schoolhouse may be low, the flip side of this is an obligation to always be learning and growing—in other words, improving as a tutor. It would be naive to think that we naturally start out as great tutors. We don’t.

Yet, with the proper growth mindset, we can get there.

It starts with a certain sense of humility. “On one level, I’m receiving feedback every time I do anything,” David tells me. As he makes an effort to help learners or other volunteers, he’s always trying to calibrate what works and what will ultimately make a difference. And just as importantly, if something doesn’t work, he sees that as a learning opportunity.

This growth mindset also involves curiosity. For instance, David shares with me his newfound interest in ChatGPT. While such a technology can spark fear and uncertainty in many’s minds—and for good reason—it’s also precisely the type of learning opportunity that David seeks out.

“How can we use this technology at Schoolhouse?” he asks. To try and figure this out, David has been experimenting with using it to answer the occasional question in the Slack tutor community.

For him, it’s a conversation starter as he attempts to answer others’ questions. The beginning of a lesson. What can we learn from such a technology—both through its potential and its pitfalls? David approaches the question with curiosity and invites others to join him in that exploration.

Curiosity, humility, growth mindset, learning — these are several of the foundational components that make up Schoolhouse. They’re why we want to remind every new member of the community, whether tutor or learner, to 📚 Always Be a Learner 📚.

This value serves as the glue that holds together the community. Our learners and tutors vary in age, sometimes by many decades. They come from over 150 countries, with different cultures and teaching styles. Yet, every single one, in some way or another, comes with a desire to learn.

Even David.

It’s 2023, and David now serves as co-lead of Schoolhouse’s mentor team. He helps thousands of tutors grow and develop their tutoring abilities.

But just today, I saw David digging through a professor’s lecture on the differences between passive and active learning, pondering its implications for Schoolhouse.

David is still learning, and he’s bringing the rest of us along for the journey.

This is Part 4 in a four-part series on Schoolhouse values. See Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Thank you to David R, Maya B, and Sharon V for providing feedback on this post.

Written by Drew Bent, Co-Founder of Schoolhouse.world. [email protected]

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