Both educators strongly believed in the value of the student in the educational process. Neither one favored a model of the teacher's role as an all-knowing, all-powerful influencer who imparts knowledge into ready, empty vessels. Instead, they both attribute great learning to an active role of the student and to the relationship between the teacher and the student.
Dewey proposed that the learning experience is actually more important than the information being taught. The context the teacher provides and the environment he creates for his students will shape their ability to learn and the depth of information they acquire. Therefore, learning should provide hands-on, kinesthetic experiences with a great and meaningful learning outcome. Opportunities like internships, field trips, and service learning are therefore crucial to student learning. Students see how the information applies in real-world contexts and interact with the knowledge and learning in an authentic environment, with their learning guided by a knowledgeable teacher. The teacher's role is to cultivate authentic interest alongside applicable content knowledge. The teacher's role is thus flexible and ever-changing, depending on the interests and needs of the students.
Freire agreed with the idea of innate interest being part of the learning experience. He believed that teachers who saw themselves as the final source of knowledge and answers in a classroom could never lead students to a deep understanding of material. Instead, he proposed that educational experiences be structured with teacher and students learning alongside each other, which is the same interactive type of relationship that Dewey envisioned. Freire encouraged teachers to begin teaching with a problematic issue to address or study. Students should learn to view the problems of their educational experience much the same as the common problems of life—sometimes there are no "right" or simple answers. Thus, teachers lead students through examining evidence and considering multiple perspectives as they create meaning. Teachers, therefore, become part of a democratic process of learning alongside their students, and students should become more comfortable in thinking outside the realms of accepted thought and even what is currently possible. Students are therefore not taught that some people have all of the power or knowledge and others, by default, do not.
Both men believe that teachers have powerful roles to influence their students, but not in the way that traditional classrooms have been structured. Both Dewey and Freire believed that teachers should step away from the podium and bring more authentic experiences to their students through a shift in the power dynamics of traditional classrooms.