Shifting inner mindset to show up differently for children in the classroom

Traditionally, a teacher has always been someone who disseminates knowledge to a group of students. This concept has sustained itself over generations, with teachers being the main point of access for information for children. However, we have now been entering a new age in our education system.

This is coined as the digital age or the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” This has resulted in new online learning environments, with an increase in usage of technological tools. As children have more access to information than ever before, the definition of a teacher is evolving. So the question is — what is a teacher’s new role in the classroom?

Throughout my experience as a middle school math teacher, this question came up for me frequently. Over a span of five years, I went from managing a classroom from the front to leading from behind, allowing students to take ownership of their learning.

A true teacher is one who allows the children to find the answers for themselves. It’s someone who does not disseminate information, but guides the child to become a curious learner on their own.

As Dan Jones, a thought leader for teachers, mentions, “We cannot carry our students through the curriculum that we are teaching; we must allow them to experience it for themselves” (Jones 2015).

However, the idea of becoming a guide for children is easier said than done. In order for teachers to truly see themselves as “not solely as masters of a subject matter…but inspiring a love of learning” (Laniar 1997) it starts with a mindset shift.

When we reflect on our inner selves, we break down unconscious barriers that may prevent us from intentionally showing up in the classroom. This way, we can embrace this new role of a guide whole-heartedly.

So how do we shift inner mindset to evolve from a teacher to a guide?

Reflect on your own experience with teachers growing up.

We’ve all had teachers that led us down this path. The teachers we encountered were foundational in who we are now and how we show up for our children in the classroom.

Ask yourself these questions to end unconscious patterns that may be standing in your way as you shift your role as a teacher in this new era. 1) “What teachers did I resonate with growing up?” 2) “What skillsets did they bring that were inspiring?” 3) “Was I used to teachers taking the lead in the classroom?” 4) “How may my own experience of teachers evolve over time?”

Cultivate validation from within, not from your students.

This is a difficult lesson, but a needed one. As a teacher, I realized that so much of what I wanted my students to do was to see me as their “favorite” or the “best.” I kept seeking out this validation from them, aspiring to be their role model. This unconsciously led me to be in the front and center of the classroom at all times because it guaranteed all eyes on me. However, when I began to validate my inner self with love and kindness, I saw a shift in my teaching. I cared less about “likability” and cared more about supporting all children in their learning.

Create inner trust to be able to relinquish control.

Growing up, I always encountered teachers who were punitive and controlled their classrooms by instilling fear in their students. However, I saw this lead to diminished intrinsic motivation. When we build trust with ourselves and children through authenticity and love, control slowly gets relinquished. When we build a space of trust, there is less need to try to control children who are ready to take ownership of their own learning.

Develop a mindset of mutual listening.

Children are not only here to listen to us, but we are also here to listen to them. They can teach us as much as we can teach them. When we become intentional active listeners, we create mutual understanding.

A way to know if this is a growth area is to ask yourself, “When is the last time I intentionally asked for feedback from my students?” “Did I take up more or less space today?” When we see children as equals, we are able to create a mutual learning environment filled with love and understanding.

Become comfortable leading from behind.

This is a slow process, but a highly rewarding one. When we are comfortable leading from behind, children become leaders on their own. This goes hand-in-hand with relinquishing control, and developing inner validation.

So how do you lead from behind? It’s by truly seeing yourself as a learning guide, not a provider of knowledge. Any child can be a leader, and they are ready to take on that responsibility when given the opportunity to do so.

To evolve from a teacher to a guide takes time and reflection. It is a constant process. When we shift our inner mindset, we begin to create an authentic space for autonomy and empowerment. The right guidance will lead our children to be capable of guiding themselves.

Click here to receive a free reflection tracker including additional questions to support you on your guided journey!


Clinton Golding (2013) The Teacher as Guide: A conception of the inquiry teacher, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 45:1, 91–110, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2012.715387

Jones, Dan. “Guide on the Side(Lines).” Edutopia. 2015 May 22.

Laniar, Judith Taack. “Redefining the Role of the Teacher: It’s a Multifaceted Profession.” Edutopia. 1997 July 1.

Wilson, Ryan. “Teachers as ‘guides’: inside the UK’s first Montessori secondary school.” The Guardian. 2017 15 July.