The West Wing Model: A Reflection on Teaching and the Role of the Teacher in the Classroom

Below is an adapted response to a question from my PLP (Powerful Learning Practices) coach on the question “What did you learn this week?”.

We had vacation last week and I spent a great deal of time watching the hit television show The West Wing. In the classroom, I feel that we should be more like President Bartlet – setting the agenda and allowing our students (his staff) to take the reins. Today, in class I was more Bartlet in this West Wing Model (a term that I have coined for this reflection) with my junior World History classes. After a warm up (designed to review prior material and shed light onto new topic),  students, in groups, were given a task to make a presentation on a small aspect of China and their resistance to outside influence. With guiding questions and primary documents and the knowledge that they were responsible for making a multi-media presentation the following day, students began to prepare. My role was to clarify and cheerlead (and occasionally, gently guide them through the primary document).

Events such as these challenge me to reflect upon my role as a teacher. Forcing me to question the proper balance between my inner Bartlet (big picture focused) and inner Leo (Bartlet’s Chief of Staff – focused on details, lecturer). Should  the competing roles be varied throughout the year? Or should they stay stagnant? If you are all Leo, are the students really learning skills or just memorizing facts they will, likely soon, forget? If you are all Bartlet, can you do this from home?

I created this poorly-drawn graph (on the iPad app Educreations, the quality issue is my own, not the app which offers a pleasant experience) to demonstrate how I believe a year should progress using this West Wing Model. It is designed to show how the teacher’s direct instruction role should diminish over time. I’ve also based this graph off of my interpretation of Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II (which I utilized when I led AmeriCorps teams). I imagine that some teachers, particularly those who are involved in a problem-based learning would disagree with that graph. What would your graph look like?

And what about my students? Some of them are self-starters…Josh Lyman-like. While others are in need of more guidance…Donna from Seasons 1-4. Donna, in my opinion, is the ideal student. While she started off relatively light on experience, she developed into a great leader (becoming the First Lady’s Chief of Staff). I could go on here about how inspirational her growth was and how I yearn for my students to have similar growth. But I will stop and revisit this another time.

About Michael K. Milton

I teach students Social Studies at Burlington High School. When I became a teacher, I believed that students would frequently give me apples. This has not happened (not even a Red Delicious ~ a name which is a misnomer). However, my school has given me a MacBook Pro and an iPad in an effort to right this wrong (I assume). I'm very lucky to work in a 1:1 school.
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2 Responses to The West Wing Model: A Reflection on Teaching and the Role of the Teacher in the Classroom

  1. Pingback: Klout, Parenting, and Expectations: The Four Stages of an Unwarranted +K-ing | Michael K. Milton ~ @42ThinkDeep

  2. Pingback: Going Meta: Cataloguing My Past Two Years of Blogging | Michael K. Milton ~ @42ThinkDeep

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