Just Learning



“We have to change our schools, but if that is not preceded or accompanied by a change in our thinking, in our preconceptions, in how we regard what and where children are, in our imaginativeness and boldness — absent these changes we will again confirm the maxim that the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
 -Seymour Sarason

In the rush to update education, we often confuse new for innovative and conflate old with outdated. We look at what is trendy to guide our decisions. Trapped in the tyranny of the urgent, we don’t have the time or energy to consider the complexity of the problems we are trying to challenge. Instead, we throw around terms such as inquiry, agency, and learner-focused with the same effort entailed in putting a slipcover over an old couch.


The terms in of themselves, do not change the learning. Do not change the learning environment. Do not change our roles. Do not change how we view the curriculum. The “slipcover” hides the real work to be done. we need to strip bare our language and reveal what we really mean. What we are really talking about. Get out from under terms that are the right mix of ambiguous and politically correct.

I don’t know EXACTLY what you are talking about but it sounds about right…and I have heard that term a lot lately… I’m in!

From there, you know how it goes.

New templates and organizers. more sessions. new books. And of course, new stuff. Cause that really proves if we are doing something different.

I sure like what you’ve done to your classroom! I should do that, too! Like I can just order all this stuff from Amazon? Cool.

Bada-boom-bada-bing, you are in business. The business of keeping up with the Jones. The business of being cutting edge. The business of catching up with the bandwagon before it leaves town.

Don’t get me wrong. I love books. I love new stuff. We need items for classrooms. New materials and books can be a catalyst for the change process. But it’s just not that simple.

simplevs complex

A slipcover alone is a simple solution to a complex problem. We might have to save for a new couch. We might have to learn how to recover the old couch. Both will take time. Both will take patience.  Both will take unwavering focus on what really matters.

…but I really wanted a quick fix. I wanted to just get on with it. Like let’s get it done. NOW. 

This world moves fast. Every answer is just a couple of clicks away. It’s understandable that we want educational change to feel exactly the same.

What if we stopped “slip covering” and were really brave. Really brave like Greta or like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Standing up for what they believe. knowing what they believe in.

What if we were brave enough to start from our beliefs? To speak of our beliefs. First. To stop and stand in our beliefs. Brave enough to ignore the siren call of sameness.

what_really_really matters

What if we started with clear and straightforward conversations about what we believe about learning? No fancy terms. No new books. No new templates. Just learning.

What if we stubbornly and patiently stuck with just that? Just that.

“The phrase ‘what matters’ is shorthand for our capacity to dream, to reclaim our freedom, to be idealistic, and to give our lives to those things which are vague, hard to measure, and invisible.”       -Peter Block









Quality Follows Passion and Purpose


Neurologically speaking, it is literally impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care deeply about.  -M. H. Immordino-Yang

Have you ever tried to force yourself to care about something that you really don’t care about? How did that go for you?

As a child, I struggled to care about grammar and spelling. From my grade 3 perspective, writing consisted of grammar, spelling, and handwriting, (mine was always messy). These activities seemed like a huge waste of time. I mean, I had books to read, plays to create, and movies to make. So funny (not funny) that I didn’t connect these activities to writing! How does that happen? It wasn’t till later in my life that I discovered that I love to write.

“If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.”                                                     -Linda Darling-Hammond

When I realized that there were ideas that I wanted to write about, spelling and grammar became relevant. And full disclosure, I am not an early learning literacy expert, so I can’t speak to the intricacies of how a person should learn how to write. What I know from my lived experience is writing because I had to write, crushed my interest in it, and also my desire to improve.

“If you’re going to do something, I believe, you should do it well.  You should sweat over it and make sure it’s strong and accurate and beautiful and you should be proud of it.”                                               -Ron Berger

A decade or so ago, blogging and tweeting precipitated a reinvigorated view of writing. Finally, I wanted to look at other examples of writing and explore what quality writing looked like. The process of learning to blog, engendered me to want to learn more about writing. I felt a purpose, which developed into a passion, and a desire to understand quality. I wanted to get better at writing, not because I was asked to, or was given a rubric on writing, but because it felt good. Striving for quality felt good when I cared.

“Productive learning is where the process engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more…”                      -Seymour Sarason

My journey as a non-writer to casual blogger led me to wonder about how we inspire quality and how we define success in education. As a student, the narrative was that if I worked hard and become excellent at spelling, grammar, and everything else, then I would be successful, and finally happy. I tried to be excellent in those areas, but I didn’t find purpose or meaning in them. For me, quality followed behind finding purpose and meaning, and not the other around. I felt successful not because I had A’s (or extending) but when I discovered what gave purpose and meaning to my life.

The old narrative tells us to work towards excellence and fulfillment will follow. But I wonder (so check my thinking here) if we have the story backward? As we transition from letter grades to proficiency scales are we changing how we ask our learners to explore quality and define success? How might learners discover what gives them purpose?  How might they get to experience that striving for quality feels good when they care?

What are your thoughts? Would love to hear them!