Sunday, November 13, 2011

Get Out of the Way

Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.  Ernest Dimnet, Art of Thinking, 1928

Due to an experience in the summer of 2010, with Quality Learning and a gentleman named David Langford, I have made a point to have periodic conversations with students about how they learn.   These 10-15 minute conversations, regardless of the grade level of the child, never disappoint. See, Mr. Langford, along with my new boss, introduced me to W. Edwards Deming, and what I thought I knew about student-centered learning was turned upside down.  Since that time I have sought to find the answers to questions about learning, creating ownership, fostering pride and joy and facilitating unlimited possibilities.  

Seeking these answers has led me to the usual suspects, The DuFours, Reeves, Marzano, Stiggins, etc, but truly owning my learning and opening a Twitter account was the best step I could take.  Seeing the thinking of others, interacting with their thoughts and synthesizing my own has been incredibly empowering.  The next step has been clear for a few weeks now I just haven't taken the plunge.  Tonight, however is the night.  This is my first blog post.  I am a principal learning, and the day that ends is the day it is time to move on.  My hope is that I push my own thinking through this effort.  If I happen to enhance the thinking of someone else too, that's even better.  

For my first post I wanted to capture the power of students taking ownership of their learning.  We had parent/teacher conferences this past week.  I was very excited by the fact that, for the first time, a number of teachers chose to have student-led conferences.  The excitement I heard in their voices as they prepared for, and then carried out these conferences was contagious.  I had to find something to reinforce the choice they had made and to show them they were on the right track.  I also wanted to show them this wasn't new or radical.  I found the above quote from a book written in 1928, and I had my message.  Learning is and has always been learning.  Sometimes it is just easier to think of the learner as an empty vessel.  We can just disseminate the knowledge and go home.  Moving forward my hope is that we can standardize this practice.  I want to see us get out of the way of the learner.  I want students to own their achievements and find joy in sharing with those that care about them.  

I am interested in hearing how others create student ownership of learning.  Feel free to share your thoughts.  I look forward to sharing my own educational journey.  I'm just a principal learning.


  1. Mark, I enjoyed your first post, and thank you for sharing the Deming resource. You've inspired me to start having more meaningful conversations with students about how they learn. Often our conversations involve what they're doing in class or things happening in their life, but it will be important to find out more about how children experience and perceive their own learning. Thanks, Mark! -Lyn

  2. What a great post! Thanks to Lyn Hilt for tweeting about your blog (can you believe that sentence makes sense to you?).

    This is such a powerful time to be a learner, and I love your quote that "I want to see us get out of the way of the learner."

    I'm opening a small middle school in August 2013 in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. The school will focus on creating empathetic global citizens, and one of the key ways the school will be different is that it will truly be driven by student inquiry rather than a set curriculum.

    My school info is Triangle Learning Community

    And my blog is called What I Learned Today.

    I look forward to learning from your blog as you continue to be a principal learning. Great stuff! I hope you're sharing with your whole community. As they see you lead, I imagine some amazing things will happen :)

    -Steve Goldberg, Durham, NC

  3. I found your blog through Twitter and look forward to learning more from your learning. You are correct that students taking ownership of their learning is not new or radical. John Dewey's Schools of Tomorrow - - is a handbook for project-based learning, teachers as facilitators, learning by doing, etc. It was published in 1915. Going forward, we can learn a lot by looking back.

  4. Mark - I am just a principal learning as well! I enjoyed your first post and look forward to many more. I loved your thoughts about getting out of the way of the learner. To many times we hinder learning, for students and teachers, by demanding compliance and conformity.


  5. We're all in this together - Welcome to the blogosphere!

    I've been working on a philosophy of education and I keep thinking about how two opposite statements can be equally true. One example relates to your post:

    My job is to empower students to be self-directed learners. Equally true, I (as teacher) should be held accountable to make sure students learn.

    My next post will be on teaching students to make SMART goals.

    Janet |

  6. Implementing student-led conferences this year has led me to so many unexpected results. For example, the connection we built between the student, parent, and myself, have already shown to increase their sense of urgency to meet the goals they came up with in their data notebooks. I have never felt so connected with my students.
    Through the implementation of data notebooks and student-led conferences, it has held me more accountable to know where my kids are academically, and sharing this information with the students to increase the ownership. I have enjoyed this transformation myself with the Quality Tools, and the staff-development on student-centered classrooms.