A Moment in a Day of The Learning Project

Here is a glimpse of what a moment in The Learning Project looks like during part of my day. Always interesting.

From Teacher to Learner and Learner to Teacher


In the first year of exploring student-initiated, interest-based learning, one student in particular stood out. He was a student who struggled to make it to grade 10. He was bored silly in school and did not have very good decoding skills. He hated school and was ready to drop out. Living on a dairy farm, he had determined that he was going to be a dairy farmer, something his older brothers weren’t interested in. I created the space for this young man to learn what he wanted to learn about insects, seeds, pesticides, fertilizer, crop rotation, farm management, cow health and milk production. He persisted and read long, technical documents. He kept a notebook for vocabulary and spelling. We found an agronomist for some mentoring. He thrived. He became an energized, curious and productive worker at home. His parents even had to tell him to take some time off. He was working every day. The system of traditional school was in his way of learning what he wanted and felt he needed to learn. And the only thing I did, was to get out of his way. As a teacher of 20 years, I had to learn how to learn, by assisting and empowering individual learning. The teacher became the student. The student became my teacher. Continue reading

Building Innovation Capacity

We need a culture where “Why am I learning this?” and “When am I ever going to use this?” are seldom heard. Instead, we should be hearing, “I wonder if I could…?” and “What would happen if I…?” and “Let’s try and figure out…”

[The] biggest obstacle to innovation is not the scarcity of ideas—rather, it is the lack of capabilities to engage far-flung and unusual sources of perspective on a regular and ongoing basis. source

We need to create more platforms where innovators and developers can create their own learning programs as part of the ecosystem of learning. We need to find multiple ways to connect knowledge makers and creators with each other.

We cannot look to change by replacing one system with another. Change is about embracing opportunity. What are our innovation capabilities? How do we create a culture of innovation? How do we communicate with each other? How can members contribute to the system?

Adopt an explorer’s mindset. We need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable if we want to get to where we’d like to be.

Lasting Impressions

(I’ve joined Digital Writing Month and intend to create a text for each day of November. I’ll start with written words only…)

When students start complaining about another teacher I ask them what they are going to do about their grievances. Alexis Wiggins‘ article about being a student for two days showed some teachers use “a good deal of sarcasm and snark” interacting with students; students rightly feel disempowered and at the mercy of each teacher’s rules. This isn’t about students versus teachers though. It should be about meaningful learning.

So I’m wondering how we can get students and teachers to work together. From what I’m hearing from students, there is a lack of dialogue. It may be because of the power imbalance. And it may be for a host of other reasons that need to be interrogated. Let’s deconstruct the roles that we feel we are supposed to be fulfilling.


Let’s balance assessment. Ask your students to assess you. Feel vulnerable? That’s how the kids feel. It is personal.

What goes on your rubric? Consider your own learning goals as an educator. Let the students help you to achieve your professional learning goals.


Assess yourself. Did you ask for clarification of expectations? Can you provide evidence that you met the expectations? What does “I tried really hard” look like? How would you grade yourself?

What do you want to learn? What do you want to achieve? What are you doing to get there? How can you constructively communicate your learning concerns to your teacher?

The daily interactions and comments made by teachers in classrooms lasts a lifetime. School constructs notions of identity, of “smart” and “dumb,” of “normal” and “fringe.” As teachers, we have a powerful responsibility that extends way beyond the time that students are in our classrooms. The formative time of identity development that occurs in school should not be lost in the rush to meet outcomes and standards.

After almost 26 years in education, I’ve grown very sensitive to the hidden curriculum of schooling and its potential for long term damage to students’ self identity. Can we make the cultural expectations, values, and perspectives transparent? Why am I giving that particular assignment? Why that form of assessment? If you’re “trying to make a point” with students, are you articulating it? Can you defend it pedagogically or is it part of the hidden curriculum?

Education is not a subtle battle of student vs teacher, teacher vs student. As educators, let’s provide a formalized space for students to present their concerns about their learning in our classes. Let’s move from what’s not working (perspectively) to what we are collectively going to do about it.

And those seemingly innocuous comments made in frustration? Made from a position of power, they are powerful. The academically “weak” students are most prone to being at the receiving end of the sarcasm and snark. You told them and told them and told them and they still didn’t do it. Time to interrogate the approach and the reasons for the students’ responses.

If actions speak louder than words, let’s create structures and systems for students to openly respond to the assignments and assessments we create. Let’s make the hidden visible as we empower student learning and our own learning as educators. Let us seek to create positive, lasting, identities of self.


Change me?

Even when I’m all by myself, my mind is keeping me company, constantly chattering away about one thing or another, a constant stream of positive and negative chatter. It is hard to be alone. Even when silent in a crowd or while I’m talking to someone, I hear my mind’s voice, “Should I have said that? I should really thank…I messed up there…Wow, I’m enjoying what I’m doing now…I wonder what they will think?”

Much mind chatter is they-based.

As a teacher, they lurks over my shoulder. It’s students, parents, the principal, other teachers, the curriculum, the media and more. The expectations of they may come from specific comments or directives, or a general feeling of I should.

I could meet they, confront and demand, “Hey, what do you really want? I’m kind of swamped with all the expectations here. Yeah, I’m getting defensive.”

How many of us teachers stick with what we know because we at least have a pretty good idea of how they will respond to what we are doing? We know the storyline, the assignments, the lates, the frustrations, the what-I’m-supposed-to-do, the parent-teacher dialogue. Doing something new and different without seeing what it is supposed to look like, brings crowds of they into imagination. I’m busy enough with me, thanks.

But what if me (the chattering mind) is part of they? Maybe it’s my own self-doubt that scares me.


The singing Bowie in my head says, “Turn and face the strange.” Time may indeed change me.

ICT: The potential to transform learning

Technology such as a “smart phone” has transformed our access to information and the ways we communicate with others. Smart phones are simply a part of our lives, for better and worse.

Technology has necessitated new language, but the constantly changing technology means that new words lose their meaning as the context changes.

In a recent divisional meeting of lead technology teachers, we seemed to agree that the language of “digital citizenship” did not resonate as well with our students. We are more likely to talk about being good, responsible humans, people, and neighbours. “Citizens” is a word less commonly used.


The “digital” distinction is also unnecessary. Digital technology is ubiquitous. If the technology is “just a tool” then what’s the big deal? So is the library (though it’s mostly turned into a “learning commons”). What’s different now? (Read George Couros on seeing beyond the tool.)

Technology affords approaches to learning, innovation and creation not possible before. Learners can now create broadcast quality media productions that they can share with the world. If schools have access, students can share and collaborate with other students around the world to create texts and lead social movements. Learners can create questions and pursue and create answers with content and others beyond their physical context.

As we move beyond enhancing current practice to transforming learning with technology (SAMR model),  we’ll be doing things that we can’t even imagine yet. We have to be adaptive, willing to experiment with and consider new ideas and approaches, and know when to abandon former practices.

The possibility of currently unimagined creations is an exciting future that keeps me learning.

A fierce conversation with self

As I start another year, I again ask myself what I want to achieve (personally and professionally), how I’m going to measure it and what I may have to change in order to get there.

“Reflection is the process of stepping back from an experience to ponder, carefully and persistently, its meaning to the self…(Daudelin, 1996).”

Two books have influenced my thinking this summer: The Influencer: The new science of leading change co-authored by Kerry Patterson and a good companion book, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

There are unhealthy behaviours that I need to confront, but it’s easier to see those unhealthy behaviours in others, rather than in myself. If I want to influence others to change, I need to change behaviours that do not contribute to others’ or my own well being. Scott says,


She defines a fierce conversation as “one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real,” but “reality is unforgivingly complex.” Being real isn’t the risk. “The real risk is that:

I will be known.

I will be seen.

I will be changed.”

Scott says, “all conversations are with myself, and sometimes they involve other people.”

So this blog post is a fierce conversation with myself reflecting on feedback from others. Continue reading

Why I almost quit my job

I love what I do. Most of all when I’m working with learners.

In fact, my desire to do my job well is what was compelling me to pack it in and pursue my passion for finding ways to make learning as effective for learners as possible. I want to connect with other educators willing to blow the system up for the benefit of learners.

On a personal, rather than professional level, I want to make time available to learn how to play guitar, develop my piano skills, play blues harmonica, take more pictures, write fiction and non-fiction, make short documentaries, work on improving my yard, renovate my house, and train to qualify for the Boston Marathon. (This list is far from complete.)

So what would make me willing to give up a good salary to pursue other passions? Continue reading

Five things you may experience after giving students choice in learning

Whether you want to do genius hour or are just starting with the belief that students should have greater choice in what they learn, there are some things you may encounter along the way.

I’ve spent the last four years working with high school students, learning with them as they explored their learning interests and passions. The students were given the freedom to explore, and the responsibility to manage their own learning. A. J. Julian’s blog post  about five ways student choice affects learning, got me thinking that I should write a companion piece from a teacher’s perspective on giving student choice. So if you haven’t, read his blog and then come back. Continue reading