Learning Principles

There’s an army of people out there fighting for reform. Educators who know that education has to change. Teachers striving to change the way teaching and learning take place. Rebels fighting against standardized testing and calling for abolishing grades. Tech enthusiasts driving the implementation of technology to make learning meaningful in the 21st century. Flat classroom proponents, making global connections, bringing the world in, taking the learning out of the traditional four classroom walls…

I know. I’m one of them.

Yet, when I asked on Twitter this week what educators believe about how learning occurs, the silence was deafening. I’m sure there were many valid reasons for the fact that I got so few responses but, I’m fairly certain too, there are plenty of educators out there who don’t think much about what they believe about learning. I know for a fact that there are administrators who make important decisions, without considering learning principles at all.

A recent Jay McTighe workshop on ‘whole school change’ highlighted the importance of a strong foundation, comprising your mission statement (who you are, what you value) and your learning principles (your educational philosophy, what you believe about learning.) His accessible model, as illustrated in this diagram, got us thinking.

Our school has a clear mission statement and, as a PYP school,  we have some firm, shared  beliefs about how children learn. But we still need to ensure that our learning principles are articulated in a clear, accessible way. If we don’t have them spelled out, how do we know for sure that all concerned share the same basic beliefs? How does administration hire staff? How do we plan our teaching and learning experiences? What about the learning environment? How do we implement technology in a meaningful way? What decisions do we make about curriculum and resourcing and policies ?

So, our plan is to ask every staff member to share one or two ‘learning principles’ as a starting point. It’ll be an interesting exercise! Then we’ll collate them and see what our common beliefs are  in regard to learning. Gradually we will develop a clear statement of the school’s learning principles.  (I’ll blog about the rest of the process as it unfolds.)

So… before you rush to throw out grades, develop policies for implementing digital technologies, create new models for teaching and learning in your school environment… I suggest you examine your learning principles, make sure they are shared and articulated, and only then make your decisions about everything else!

This is my response to Scott McLeod’s call for all edubloggers to post their thoughts about school leadership today. This post is my contribution to Leadership Day 2010.


8 thoughts on “Learning Principles

  1. The discussion of how people learn is so important. As you said, silence usually follows the simple question of how do people learn.

    When we consider professional development, shifts in curriculum and instruction, enhancement in assessment, it is imperative that the teacher and those working with the teacher understand the belief systems that inform pedagogy.

    Teaching and learning are different. It seems so simple and obvious but too often they are lumped together.

    I look forward to hearing how your approach to learning principles goes – it is an excellent step!


  2. I am most interested in this whole discussion.
    Prhaps the whole discussion on learning principles might be taken back one step.
    At a PYP conference I attended , where we were supposedly all united by a common belief, we were asked to think about a personal metaphor that described children.

    When we shared, the amazing thing was how different these metaphors were and the old “sponges and gardening ” metaphors even surfaced (amongst many others)
    So learning principles may be connected to what we believe about children and how we see them.
    If we see them as gardens or sponges our “real” learning principles will reflect this.
    I often wonder about what we believe and how we build our practice on these beliefs.
    Can learning principles change our image of the child. what comes first, the chicken or the egg?


    1. I truly agree, Morgan! Heard a talk on how kids learn to read by someone who’s name I have forgotten… He said all the different ways for teaching reading are valid and work for different kids. If each kid had the opportunity to learn it in the way that suited them best (instead of factory model)they would all learn to read right way. Instead, with the ‘one size fits all’ model in school, some fall through the cracks, others fall behind etc.


  3. When some children in my class take a while to respond, I come out with one of my favourite lines “good thinkers are not always fast thinkers”, sometimes followed by “let’s you and me talk about it at recess”.
    Edna, you tweet sprung me into thinking, but it’s now ‘recess’ so my reply is late. I am figuring that it is such a central issue that you won’t mind a late post.
    A document I have maintained for several years, my personal philosophy of teaching, is now available on my blog: http://ecoradio.wordpress.com/my-philosophy-of-teaching-and-learning/
    Thanks to your tweet I have put it up, for comment, improvement, reflection, by myself and others.
    Why was I so tardy in my reply? Sometimes there’s just not enough hours to read and respond to the tweets that catch in my mind. Batter later than never?


  4. Decisions shouldn’t be made in a school without first evaluating if it supports learning and the mission of the school. If not, the change probably isn’t necessary or one of the other elements needs to be reworked. Great reminder!


  5. A teacher must not forget the old saying which is very much applicable in the modern changing competitive era i.e. ‘survival of the fittest’ and therefore, he must not only be aware of latest methodology, innovations, technologies and principles of teaching and learning but he must give a personal response also by excuting all this in his work culture which will help him to grow professionally.


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