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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do We Inspire Learning? Or Just Allow It?

By Sean Slade — October 07, 2014 2 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Sean Slade, Director of ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative.

Much of the work around developing a positive school climate talks about establishing safe and supportive environments. While that is key or fundamental, however, a safe environment doesn’t necessarily impact the learning or the pedagogy. Since Peter and I published School Climate Change: How do I build a positive environment for learning? (ASCD, 2014) last month, I’ve been thinking of how best to summarize the thoughts inside it into a statement or a phrase. A phrase that would capture all that makes up a positive school climate.

While phrases such as...

  • Schools where students want to come.
  • Environments that are safe an inviting.
  • A place where you belong.

...are part of what we are working to establish, they don’t take in all of what we are wanting. They focus on one aspect - safe, supportive, inviting, or belonging - but is there a phrase to fully encapsulate everything a school climate is and should be?

After digging closer to the core, here’s what I’ve come up with:

We want to establish environments that inspire our kids to learn. It’s not making our kids learn, nor even guiding them to it - it’s allowing. And it’s purposefully passive.

Consider that for a minute. It’s not about forcing or requiring learning - that is a teacher-led and -enforced activity that automatically assumes the activity, content, or rationale is uninviting or un-engaging. Rather, what we should be aiming for is establishing a climate and a culture where learning can and should happen - quite simply, where learning is inspired to happen. How would your teaching change if you took this approach or mindset?

Think about these things:

If your focus was allowing kids to learn would you:

  • Set one activity for everyone?
  • Require the task be done in a set time?
  • Determine the tasks for the students?
  • Necessitate individualized study?

Or would you:

  • Allow a variety of choices?
  • Enable learning across various modalities and platforms?
  • Ensure that students understand the rationale and meaning behind activities?
  • Empower students in their progress?

Would you:

  • Make sure that the class environment had an abundance of learning tools or one textbook?
  • Make sure that students could move, talk, discuss and collaborate as part of their everyday experiences?
  • And would you be concerned if a student was not engaged? Would you ask why? Would you want to know what’s stopping them from learning?

By seeking to establish an environment which inspires students to learn you are transferring responsibility for learning back onto the student - and as the educator, it’s your responsibility to make sure that the options, choices, activities, and rationale for learning are established. It’s your responsibility to make sure that the environment is most conducive to learning.

As many who know me would agree, I am a big believer in intentional mindsets and establishing a framework for how and why you do something. Changing your mindset from ‘making’ students learn to ‘inspiring’ to learn may be semantics but it may also change the way you view your role in the school and in the classroom. It puts the onus for learning back onto the student and it places teacher responsibility on the environment - one that is safe and healthy, but also engaging, varied, diverse, and challenging.

Did I get the phrase right or are there other words and concepts that need to be included? Please share your thoughts.

Connect with Sean Slade on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.