Learning Principles…

In my post for Leadership Day 2010 , I wrote about the McTighe ‘Schooling by Design’ model, in which programs, practices, hiring of staff and allocation of resources all rest on the foundation of the mission statement (what we stand for) and learning principles (what we believe about learning.)

Our school has a mission statement and, as a PYP school,  we have some firm, shared  beliefs about how children learn.  But, till now, our learning principles were not articulated in a clear, accessible way. Does everyone have the same beliefs? Is our practice really based on what we think we believe? Are school-wide decisions made on the basis of these beliefs?

We started the process of clarifying our learning principles by watching Simon Sinek’s TED talk on successful leadership. He highlights the importance of knowing WHY we do things and the importance of  prioritizing the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in business, or leadership… or teaching. We discussed the connection to the McTighe model and the rationale behind defining our learning principles.  The model applies just as much to teaching as to whole school design. What you teach, how you teach, how you speak to students, the layout of your classroom… all of these should reflect your beliefs about learning. Often our practice doesn’t really reflect what we say we believe.

Teachers were then invited, individually or in pairs , to write down a few of their own beliefs about learning. The leadership team then put forward their beliefs, without looking at what the staff had written. We compared the two lists and found them compatible. We explored the theory underpinning our beliefs and investigated current research to support them.

I shared the first draft of our learning principles with Nancy (@blairteach), a school improvement consultant in the US and a supportive member of my online PLN. A fresh perspective is always helpful with tasks like this and she made a few helpful suggestions.

The final stage was to take the list back to the teachers for their comments and suggestions. Here’s what it looks like currently:

Everyone has the potential to learn.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

12 thoughts on “Learning Principles…

  1. I think your principles are comprehensive and great food for thought for your teachers.

    Another thought is to use the exact same process with students! What do children believe about learning? What do they consider relevant? I’m currently reading the “Pursuing Relevance” chapter of Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Postman & Weingartner convincingly argue that “there is no way to help a learner be disciplined, active, and thoroughly engaged unless he perceives a problem to be a problem or whatever is to-be-learned as worth learning, and unless he plays an active role in determining the process of solution.”

    It is clear your organization values shared vision and that’s so important!


    1. Thanks, Lynn. Yes, we will see what the students think too. I like the Postman quote. It’s a shame that at the upper end of school so much focus is placed on grading as a (supossed) motivator for learning…


      1. Hi Lyn and Edna, the idea of taking ownership for learning is covered in the last point after emphasising on metacognition and reflection.


  2. Hi Edna,
    I wonder if there’s any place in your principles for rote learning. I know it’s probably anathema to your ears but I would say there is still a need for it in certain areas, such as learning multiplication products or phonics, or memorising the lines of a poem or play. In these cases, learning does not take place through inquiry.


  3. Really great list Edna. If every school would only go through this reflective process, education might really start to see some seismic changes. Bravo to you and your school!


  4. Thank you for this post! We have a great mission statement at my school which we developed collaboratively with the whole community but it felt like something was still missing. After reading this I realised it was the learning principles. I borrowed your idea of using the TED talk and we have just spent a whole day creating our principles and ‘what we would see when the principles are honoured.’ Can’t wait to see how it helps us to have a common understanding of how to achieve our mission.
    I was also inspired by your post ‘why aren’t schools more like a conference?’ and we are in the middle of having a Year 6 Sharing the Planet conference to launch our exhibition! hope it works out!

    Liked by 1 person

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