Start with the child…

Start with the child, not the curriculum. Schooling is currently organised the wrong way around. The curriculum becomes the structure for the learning and is delivered via a timetable. Yet we know that every child is different so there cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to schooling. Learning and teaching should be designed around each child’s learning strengths and needs. In this way, the curriculum is the reference point, not the blueprint. 

~Greg Whitby

On the first day back after the summer break, we introduce our 2017 focus to our team of educators:


Check in: Choose a word that describes one of your strengths and then one you would like to work towards.

Sharing the justification for our choices serves both as an ice breaker in the cross campus, multi-year level groups, and as a provocation to think about and value the diversity amongst us.


A provocation: Watch till 2:38 and create a title that sums up the essence.

The video provokes a range of responses and lively conversation ensues. To what extent are we guilty?

Pre-thinking: Create an image that represents your first thoughts about the notion of starting with the child.

There are rich conversations about the possible connotations of the phrase and an exchange of ideas about what it might mean to us.



An appreciative inquiry…

Discover: What are we already doing?

It’s important to acknowledge the many ways in which we already start with the child.  This activity creates a space for cross pollinating ideas and sharing practice.


Dream: What are the possibilities for taking it further? 

Teachers are encouraged to imagine. What if…? How might we..? Could we…? How would we…?



  • How do we ensure we cater for diverse needs and interests?
  • How might we rid ourself of the idea of a controlled classroom?
  • Imagine if we didn’t have grades and reports.
  • What if we could get rid of Naplan?
  • What if we had one free choice unit of inquiry every year?
  • What if the children wrote the curriculum?
  • What if we didn’t have timetables?
  • How might we increase opportunities for cross age learning?
  • How might we build a culture where all children value each other?
  • How can we ensure social and emotional wellbeing of every child?
  • What if there were no bells interfering with learning?
  • How might we help every child to believe in himself?

Design: What will you do?

We ask teachers to record something they will start working on right away.

What will you do? Try out? Think about? Explore? Change? How will you ensure that you start with the child?

How are all learners’ needs for catered for?

Have you thought about whether or not all learners needs are catered for, as highlighted in an earlier post?

Which of these images resonates with your perspectives on inclusion, differentiation or simply catering for every learner’s needs? 

Multiple different entry points, well planned in advance, to allow access for every learner?

Or one broad, interesting, open-ended provocation that allows each learner to go to a different place…?

Image by Dominic Walter


How do you cater for all learners’ needs?

Do you plan for differentiation in advance of the learning? Or do you wait and see what the provocation reveals?

Do you teach first, then observe what learners need? Or do your learners have a go, before you step in to teach or support?

Are there opportunities for all learners to engage in a complex, meaningful problem in different ways, depending on interest, ability and preference?

Does agency and ownership allow learners to learn at their own pace, seeking support when they need it?

Does an inquiry stance in itself ensure differentiation and inclusion?

Related post: 10 ways to differentiate learning.

Are all learners’ needs catered for? 

How are all learners’ needs for catered for?
The design thinking model is an excellent way to approach the issue, forcing us to think about this from the learners’ point of view first.

It’s not the time to express your opinion or to make judgements. It’s too soon to identify problems or jump to conclusions. Ideas and solutions will only come later… Step #1 is EMPATHY and we need to focus on how the learners feel.


We go around the room, taking turns to put ourselves in the learners’ shoes. At various points, some or other students will feel…

  • invisible if their needs are not noticed
  • inadequate when they are unsure what to do
  • liberated when they have agency
  • valued when others take an interest
  • isolated when withdrawn from class
  • comfortable when allowed to express learning in their own way
  • important when their contributions are valued
  • anxious about others’ opinions of them
  • self-doubt when they can’t keep up
  • excited when they feel successful in their learning
  • understood, when their needs are identified
  • labelled (although some kids want to be labelled, it turns out)
  • confident when they can take the lead
  • secure when given time to think
  • pressured by high expectations
  • stupid when they don’t understand
  • appreciated for their individual abilities
  • frustrated when unable to understand or explain
  • rushed because of timetable pressures
  • afraid to show what they don’t know
  • proud when they achieve things for themselves

This stage of the process ends up taking the whole session. But it’s worth it…