This post is in response to Ontario Extend’s Metacognition Extend Activity, ” What is your metaphor for teaching and learning? Find a photo or draw a picture. Narrate why this image represents you and your approach as a teacher.”

When prompted with this question, I considered the typical cliché metaphors for teaching:

  • teacher as a gardener – tending to their garden, feeding/watering the flowers so they grow and bloom, planting seeds of wisdom, etc.
  • teacher as a tour guide – guiding students through the content and curriculum, showing them the ‘sights’, highlighting the best things to see while on tour, leading students on a journey, teacher creates the itinerary, knows the lay of the land and shows it to students, etc.
  • teacher as a coach – the classroom is a team, the teacher is the coach, the teacher shows students how to practice for the big game, etc.

The more I researched teaching metaphors, the more turned off I was by the references until I read Mary Ellen Weimer’s article in Faculty Focus entitled “Metaphor for Teaching: The Teacher as Midwife“. I loved how Dr. Wiemer referenced a metaphor that entwined the teacher experience, the student experience, and the learning. Many metaphors for teaching depict the teacher as a supreme holder of power and knowledge, guiding students to the learning but this isn’t the case.

I wanted to find a metaphor for teaching that showed the symbiotic relationship between teacher and student and the learning done in the classroom. I decided to use the mutual/symbiotic relationship between a crocodile and a plover bird. Merriam-Webster defines mutualism as an equally beneficial association between different kinds of organisms.

Here’s a little song about the crocodile and the plover (hey – I have young kids and this was catchy!)

Crocodiles eat birds, but not the plover. They don’t eat the plover because the plover will fly into a crocodile’s mouth and pick out all of the food scraps stuck in its teeth. The crocodile’s teeth remain healthy because the plover cleans them, and the plover gets an easy meal (and not eaten by the crocodile).

If we picture teachers as the crocodile and students as the plover, we can see a mutually beneficial relationship between teachers and students, too. Teachers share knowledge and support students in their learning, while students bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experiences that aid in the class’s learning. This knowledge and experience may teach the teacher something they didn’t know or hadn’t considered before. If there is not symbiotic relationship between the teacher and the student, we can picture the teacher just delivering content and ‘eating the plover alive’!

You could even envision this metaphor flipped – the students are the crocodile and the teacher is the plover. If the crocodile isn’t getting what it needs from the plover, it will eat it! Students can eat teachers alive when they are disengaged and not actively involved in their learning – and we don’t want that!

I see students as partners in the learning environment. I trust them to teach each other content through active learning strategies because they do have the ability and knowledge to learn without me giving them every single piece of the curriculum and content. Students teaching each other allows them to retain content and learn content in new ways from their peers. I allow students to give feedback on assessments and we adjust them as needed. Our classroom is built on mutual respect, too.

We need to see students as partners in teaching and learning – a symbiotic relationship between crocodile and the plover.


Mutualism. (2018). In Retrieved from

Weimer, Mary Ellen. (2010 April 1). Metaphor for Teaching: The Teacher as Midwife. Retrieved from


One thought on “Mutualism at its Finest

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