“Guide” Vs. “Sage”: Is It As Easy As That?

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about some edu-jargon:

  • Guide On The Side vs. Sage On The Stage.

I’m going to admit that these terms often make me laugh. I think that we’ve all become so immersed in terminology in our schools that we can’t help but use the words. I definitely I do. I wish though that I spent more time thinking about these terms instead of just using them. This particular example of edu-jargon seems to come with this sense of the “right approach” versus the “wrong approach”: we need to avoid being the sage, and instead, be the guide. While in theory, I embrace this philosophy, I wonder if in practice, it’s a lot more difficult than that. 

I think of the classroom.

  • Every time that we meet with the full class, are we being the sage? Do we ever have to meet with the full class? How do we decide? How do we get more student talk, and less teacher talk, even during full class meetings?
  • If we just meet with a small group, are we being the guide? What if we’re still directing the conversation? How do we again get kids talking more?
  • What if we’re observing? Does being a guide count as watching, thinking, and planning ahead for future learning? Can we guide learning even without talking?
  • How do we ensure that we actually guide and not just stay on the side? Are there times when it’s okay to be off at a desk or doing planning? Is it too easy to fall into this habit if we’re not “teaching” in the typical sense? Does everybody know what he/she can be doing if not teaching at the front of the room? I wonder if certain grades and/or individuals are more comfortable with this guide on the side approach than others, and if so, how can we change this? Should we?

I have a secret to share. For the past couple of years especially, my administrators have visited my classroom regularly. They visit all classrooms. They might not come in every day, but usually at least once a week. Their visit may just be for a minute, but it happens. After they come in, I always think, what was I doing when they were there? What were my students doing? Is there a better way that we could have been spending our time? Maybe the timing was such that they always came in when we were sitting on the carpet, but if so, I can’t help but wonder, are we spending too much time doing this?

Here’s what I want my administrators, and other visitors, to see and hear when they come into our classroom:

  • Students talking.
  • Students working together.
  • Students working independently.
  • Students creating.
  • Students solving problems.
  • Students demonstrating skills in meaningful and purposeful ways.
  • Students sharing their thinking, learning, and future goals in ways that work for them.
  • Students doing different things and in different ways.
  • Students persevering through challenging tasks.
  • Students having choices, and students making these choices.
  • Students thinking … and being willing to share their thinking.
  • And me observing, documenting, playing, and interacting with small groups and individual students.

If I always kept these thoughts in mind, I wonder if they would change the classroom dynamic. Seeing the ideas in this list, I think that I more often hope to be a “guide.” I wonder how often I actually am. As I work on “listening” more this year, I really hope to watch more, think more, question better, and talk less. Maybe my new teaching experiences will also help me figure out some answers to my many guide/sage questions. What do you think?


2 thoughts on ““Guide” Vs. “Sage”: Is It As Easy As That?

  1. Aviva,

    Well I just spent a half hour composing a fantastic reply and then my computer closed the screen and I lost everything. So I am now going to attempt to recompose my thoughts, which I am sure will not nearly be as good as the first go round.

    I have always thought about the “sage” as being the type of teacher you would see in a university lecture hall. One person talking endlessly while students listen and take notes. No time or encouragement of questions or independent thought about the subject matter. Here is the important things just learn them. The “guide” concept for me is what I see in classrooms where I teach. It includes a balance of teacher transfer of knowledge, student questioning, guided conversations, student thinking and making connections etc. I don’t feel that we as teachers ever have all the answers (more often then not we don’t) and that our job is to “guide” our students to the learning that they need. This can be done in many ways and will look different depending on the teacher’s comfort level with releasing responsibility to the students.

    I have had many of the same thoughts as my admin of completed walk throughs in my classroom! What is the right balance? How can we be the guide and still ensure that our students are gaining the knowledge base they need as they move forward in their education? Not wanting to be the “sage” but also wanting to be sure to transfer the necessary knowledge as we “guide” the learning – as I thought about this last night and again this morning what kept coming to my mind is that we need to focus on the BALANCE.

    Looking at the questions you pose: Yes there are times where whole class meetings are needed – this not only makes teaching larger concepts easier, but also allows for our students to be “guided” by other voices as they learn from their peers. Smaller group meetings allows for students to share in more comfortable setting. We can guide the process in order to meet each student’s needs and model interactions and ask deeper questions to encourage thinking and making connections. We have to make observations and record student learning or we will have no idea what the next steps will be and how we are to continue guiding the learning.

    I think that the challenge of “sage” vs “guide” are perhaps greater in early years and primary. Our students do not often have the background knowledge to make deeper connections. Teachers need to provide more directed teaching in order to help develop these fundamentals – this may look more like the “sage” role at times. It is also important that while we are doing this we are “guiding” our students to do their own thinking. We can do this by making sure we are adjusting our questions, encouraging student conversations and promoting exploration and students asking questions of their own. As children develop their basis of knowledge, their ability to make connections and ask questions, and develop ways to communicate their thinking, the “guide” role can become less about transfer of knowledge.

    Ultimately in order to guide we must feel comfortable with observing the learning from the sidelines and not being the only one with the answers. The success of the process depends on the teacher in the room and the culture that is created in the classroom. Relationships and balance……


    • Thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful reply, Sarah! You’ve given me a lot to think about, but also many additional questions to ask.

      1) Why do we need to meet together as a full group? Are all students taking in all of the information shared with the class? Can students still learn from each other, but in small groups? What options better? Maybe it depends on the individual needs of the students, and possibly even, the size of the class.

      2) Why do teachers need to “provide directed teaching in order to help develop these fundamentals?” Do students need to be told this information, or could they uncover it? How? Might it sometimes be a combination of both? Maybe the answer isn’t the same for all students, which again makes me think about full-class versus small group teaching.

      For the last month or so of school last year, I did almost no full-class activities. I probably sat down with the full-class for less than ten minutes in the entire day, and if anything, we usually just enjoyed a song or dance together. Sharing of work, discussions about concepts, and even read alouds were done in small groups based on students’ interests, skills, and needs. This was VERY different for me. At the end of June, my co-teacher and I spoke about this option for SK next year. We questioned, “do we ever need everybody on the carpet together? Why?” I’m still not totally sure about this, but I do think that small group teaching allows us to really hone in on students’ interests, skills, and needs. This seems right to me! Now I guess that we need to figure out how to guide best from the sidelines.


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