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Teachers as Learners: an Enriching Empathy

With gratitude to our thesis director, Barbara Noel PhD

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn”, said John Cotton Dana. Is around this topic that we share our experience as students of a Masters program offered in our school through State University of New York. The following paragraphs are reflections we drew upon our recent graduation in November 2018. We are all learning and language support teachers, we are all women, we are all believers that empathy is a big part of what makes support systems effective. As you will read, the program elicited broad learning professionally and personally. Hopefully, it resonates with others who can connect their own experience as learners with their practice in the classrooms, finding clues on the Do’s and Don’ts, finding meaning and encouragement.

Laura Rock. Leader of Learning Support program across school.

As the high school learning coach, this program gave me a daily reminder of what it is like to be one of my students. One way was using strategies to effectively organize my time and chunk up assignments. In order to be successful with this, as a full-time working mom of small children I had to ask for the help of my spouse on several occasions as assignments took longer than originally planned or life events forced a Plan B. I had to conscientiously be an effective and accountable group member, negotiating responsibilities in order to demonstrate our combined excellence. I had to receive and respond to peer and professor feedback, and this was more challenging and stressful than I thought it would be. The empathy I learned as I waited for feedback to come, or didn’t get what I expected, has really helped my work with adolescents. Adding to that, the positive and negative emotions I experienced along the way at times mirrored that of my students’. All these experiences gave me fresh insight into the daily lives of my students, creating a new sense of empathy for their personal experiences and allowing us time to discuss ways to problem solve. I find I am much better able to pinpoint how students are failing in their group assignments, how they can better break apart assignments, and how to discern the varying emotions that my students are struggling with. Finally, my experience as a learner while being a teacher has guided me to be a better decision maker when it comes to meeting student’s needs.

Naomi Barbour. High School language specialist.

Picture the scene: you are a hard-working language or learning support teacher. You want to collaborate with your colleagues to ensure all students have equal access to the curriculum. Your school offers various related professional development opportunities. Each time you go to a session, or present one yourself, it seems you are surrounded by the same people: your support teaching colleagues, administrators and a few teachers that you are probably already successfully collaborating with. The teachers that you really want to target have other priorities. Of course, that’s fair enough. However, this sense of preaching to the choir became a running joke for our tight-knit group of five Support teachers on our Master’s program. Over the four and a half years of the course, as we got to know each other better and developed strong bonds based on those shared frustrations, but also on shared values and aspirations for our students, we have come to realize what a wonderful resource we are for each other.

Although we may come from different countries, have different first languages, different professional experiences, and work in different sectors of the school, it soon became clear that our learning experience on the Master’s program was creating a team who spoke the same language when it came to the importance of collaboration. As we go about our work at Lincoln, we strive towards the same goals and share advice, ideas, and strategies. What’s more, we are all locally-hired teachers with a strong commitment to the school. As well as being a resource for each other, we also remain a resource for other teachers who come and go through our doors, welcoming all opportunities for collaboration.

Belén Rivero y Hornos. High School Language and Learning Center.

When the Master’s program was offered, I jumped onboard. I already had a graduate degree but was eager to learn more. Writing a thesis wasn’t easy. My study focused on resilience and how being more aware of that particular learning disposition might be helpful for students. I’ll spare the details of my findings and go straight to my ah-ha moment: While I was focused on helping our students develop resilience, I too became more resilient! Like my students, I came to the conclusion that goals can be accomplished through practice and persistence and that success is a result of effort. These beliefs helped both my students and myself build a greater sense of self efficacy, motivating us to persevere.

I wrote this entry while on vacation, as I enjoyed time with my family and even took time for myself (gasp!). I’m cognizant, however, of the fact that many of our students weren’t afforded the same luxury over break. Many of them had to spend a considerable amount of vacation time researching for their IB extended essays or reading political fiction books in a language they find difficult. Being a student allowed me to appreciate just how challenging school can be for some of our students and better connect with them. In the end, the empathy I gained for our students and the insight I have on how to lead them to resilience has strengthened my practice. This outcome is more than I could have hoped for when I signed up to be a student.

Cristina Erazo. Middle School Learning Support.

The Master’s program was a fulfilling experience. My thesis focused on providing language scaffolding for students to ask ‘good questions’ in the inquiry-based class. It may sound simple, but it involved a large theoretical research and the use of numerous techniques of personalized instruction and data analysis. It was rewarding though. The results showed that students had outstanding questions that could take any class to the highest level of inquiry. Yet, it was also evident that there could be a vast loss if they were not given choices, time, and language scaffolding to grasp -with precision- what they were really interested on. The process somewhat reflected my own circumstances as a student in this program. Assignments taking longer since I was studying in a second language, some exams that not fully showed everything I knew and its concomitant frustration, the relief when there was a well-deconstructed model to refer to, and precise feedback to re-frame work well. Just like my colleagues, being a student myself, with everything that it takes, made me raise a whole new level of empathy for my students. Mentoring teenagers, this helps me be more aware of the roller coaster of emotions that can accompany learning, the tools that can be easily offered to make learning less stressing and more engaging, and more importantly, a renewed feeling of partnership with my students. Undoubtedly, being a student can revitalize the sense of understanding and connection to teach and learn with joy.

Ana Moyano. Middle School Learning Support.

After having completed my Master’s program, I can affirm that not only have my capacity and skills become refined, but also my teaching practice has been empowered. I now feel I can promote better services, which will truly benefit my students. Throughout my many years of teaching, I have experienced different roles, both in Argentina and in the USA. In all different levels, from elementary to university, I have always performed with passion and dedication with one goal in mind: student growth. This program helped me to capitalize on my professional expertise, by systematizing and acquiring new knowledge. It also provided me with the tools and strategies that I probably applied intuitively, but now I master and know the rationale behind their use. Additionally, it provided me with the opportunity to amplify the field in which I can teach knowing with certainty that I can be a positive collaborator with other teachers. Being able to co-teach with the Math teacher and witness how effective collaboration can impact on our students positively was definitely my takeaway of this enriching experience.

To conclude, through the Master’s program we have built a strong team that make us feel empowered and motivated to continue collaborating. We also found ourselves celebrating our graduation with a deep feeling of empathy for our students and therefore, we modestly share these reflection as a way toinvite teachers to use opportunities of professional development or even better, personal learning situations, to place yourselves in the seat of the student. We believe there is no best place to embrace a deep understanding of all that is in our hands to create an environment for boundless learning based on empathy and enjoyment.


Asociacion Escuelas Lincoln, Buenos Aires – Argentina

Laura Rock. Leader of Learning Support program across school and High School Learning Support Teacher. (

Naomi Barbour. High School language specialist.


Belén Rivero y Hornos. High School Language and Learning Center.


Cristina Erazo. Middle School Learning Support Teacher.


Ana Moyano. Middle School Learning Support Teacher.



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