Learning Principles… « What Ed Said

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.

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 will be to take the list back to the teachers for their comments and suggestions. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here’s what it looks like currently:

Everyone has the potential to learn.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning takes place when we make connections between previous and new understanding.
  • Learning for understanding 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 and 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.
  • Learning is continuous, lifelong and ever-evolving.


This spoke to me. I do believe all students can learn, and that’s a real focus on our campus this year. I wish we, as a school, sat down and agreed upon these types of non-negotiables instead of just focusing on policy/behavior mandates.

Learning principles should be fundamental in all classrooms. So what are yours?


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