Opinion
Education Opinion

Balance and Choice: The Time Is Now

By LeaderTalk Contributor — July 09, 2010 2 min read

The structure of many professional development opportunities focuses heavily on instructional strategies. The notion of learning and motivation that inform these sometimes is lacking or even worse, non-existent.

The jump directly to instruction puts the focal point on teacher practice and what the teacher needs to do to and for students. A review of professional development that includes technology shows this more times than not: a focus on how to enhance areas of a teacher’s pedagogy, how to use a specific tool to instruct, or how to leverage technology for management pieces.

While surely needed, I continue to see a big piece that is missing: the need to focus on helping teachers to rethink their mindsets about how students learn and how they design, create, and display that learning in ways they determine.

Social media and technology can play a central role here, but we must remove the notion that the focus should be solely on the use of these technologies as directed or in isolation by the teacher.

Instead of focusing solely on pedagogy or a specific tech tool controlled by the teacher, there needs to be a balance of guiding teachers to understand the power of choice in how students express their learning, their growth. Instead of just focusing on helping teachers to rethink the delivery of content, there needs to be a balance of guiding teachers to power of choice in how students select from multiple channels to understand deeply foundational content.

It is time to empower students with the technology and let them drive the use. It is time to empower students in their learning and let them drive the process.

Starting Point

A starting point is the following rough equation that focuses on how students can leverage social media to learn: challenge + empowerment + engagement x choice = enhanced motivation for learning.


  1. Empower students with a choice of path, creation, and display of learning
  2. Create flexibility in homework (if you must assign formal homework)
  3. Provide students with a wealth of opportunities and tools to guide their process of and for learning (and allow students to infuse foreign tools into the learning environment)
  4. Stretch students to take control of their education as both a teacher and learner within a community
  5. Provide opportunities for students to select digital tools that they feel best allows them to showcase their learning
  6. Focus on proposals and conferencing with students to teach them how to think, how to select tools, and how to gauge progress
  7. Encourage multiple sources of support both internally and externally, local and global
  8. Develop multiple channels of content resources for students developed by teacher and students
  9. Design frequent opportunities for meta-cognition
  10. Allow students to showcase to the class and beyond their thinking and their processes including the digital tools they opted to use.

This is not revolutionary. A simple reading of the great thinkers in education speaks to this clearly. Still, the knowing-doing gap remains as we continue to lump the concept of teaching and learning into one. This leads to failure in addressing how our understanding of what it means to be well-educated informs not only teaching but also how we see and understand learning.

The time has come that professional development puts just as much if not more focus on empowering students with the tools for learning as we do on improving teacher instruction.

Ryan Bretag
Glenbrook North High School

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Fruit Balance by Pickersgill Reef

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.