A Chance to Liberate Learning from Schooling

I haven’t blogged all year.

And I’m not quite sure why.

Likely because I was finding my footing at a new school, in a new country, doing a new job. Trying to understand a new organization; what are its values, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, strengths, perspectives, philosophies? While figuring out how my own individual values, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, strengths, perspectives and philosophies fit – or don’t fit – within that organization.

Whatever the reason, my last published post was August 3rd!

Then Distance Learning hit.

And once that whirlwind began (as I am sure all of you have experienced), it was a sprinted marathon. So although I had many thoughts and ideas bouncing around my head, I was too swept up in it all to sit down and write.

Until I was given an assignment from my Director of Learning….

To sit down. For 15 minutes. And write.

So here I am – sitting down. For 15 minutes. And writing.

Our assignment was about pausing to notice and reflect upon success within our Distance Learning experience so far. And there are SO many tangible moments of success that I could point to – the tireless efforts and mind-blowing creativity of the staff; the resilience and commitment of the learners; the seemingly never ending patience, support and empathy from leaders and coaches; structures, systems and approaches that had positive impacts… and the list goes on!

But my mind usually has a way of zooming out, to the intangible and abstract – especially when it comes to school. So instead, I find myself reflecting upon how Distance Learning may unexpectedly be helping an entire generation (of learners, educators and parents) brake some of the shackles and constraints of the traditional paradigm of school that have been hard to shake free from in the past.

I’m not sure about your experience with Distance Learning so far, but for me, the experience seems to have begun to separate and elevate the concept of learning from the current, collective, notion of schooling.

Not by choice or intention. But by having to start over. Having to start from scratch. Having to come up with totally new things. Having to look at old things, in completely new ways. Questioning the purpose, place and impact of things that we may have never needed to question before. Rendering the phrase, “that’s the way we’ve always done things” powerless.

There have always have been small pockets of educators and parents critically examining the current paradigm of education and asking questions like:

What is learning?

How does learning happen?

What is truly worth learning? Who decides?

How do we know learning has happened?

What’s the point of grades?

Do schools create life-long learners or life-long students?

Does everyone have to learn the same things? At the same time? In the same way? At the same pace?

How do we help learners, learn how to learn?

How do we raise the profile of approaches to learning skills and attributes? 

How do we best meet individual and family needs?

But now those conversations seemed to have migrated from small pockets in certain schools and Twitter circles, to general discussion, happening on a much wider scale.

It seems that we have stumbled into a situation that forces us to focus on how to plan for learning and support learners without:

  • compliance
  • rewards
  • punishments
  • extrinsic motivation
  • timetables
  • grades
  • seat-time
  • standardization

But instead, to focus on how to plan for learning and support learners through:

  • curiosity
  • relevance
  • motivation
  • interest
  • significance
  • personalization
  • choice
  • ownership
  • feedback
  • relationships
  • family partnership

It seems that for so long the system of school has muddled the concept of learning with self-imposed structures that seemed natural, invisible, ingrained and unchangeable. But now, these awful and unfortunate circumstances have engendered a global, collaborative inquiry into learning. Which has allowed us all to see through those structures and peel back those limitations, to gain a clearer, more accurate picture of LEARNING itself.

Obviously the necessity of distance learning, and the circumstances surrounding it, is something nobody wanted or planned for. And all of us are counting down the days to when life gets back to normal, when people are healthy, happy and safe and we’re back on campus, surrounded by learners, colleagues and families. But while we find ourselves in this unique situation, what lessons might we learn along the way that we can bring back with us?

How might this unwanted disruption to all of our lives, springboard our collective disruption of what school could be?

How do we take what we’ve been wondering and discovering about learning during these extraordinary circumstances, to help us shake-up and re-define what school looks like when we all go back to our ordinary circumstance?

How might this collective experience leave the door open a crack for bold moves and innovations when we return?

7 thoughts on “A Chance to Liberate Learning from Schooling

  1. Fanny Passeport April 25, 2020 / 2:15 pm

    So good to read your new blog post! In total agreement. I’ve found myself reflecting so much about the exact same thing and also finding this paradoxical because we have been in the 21st century for 20 years and we still have to fight for LEARNING to be at the centre of education, rather than compliance?! It’s unbelievable that we need to advocate for this. It should be a given.


  2. Adam Hill April 25, 2020 / 2:38 pm

    Hi Taryn,

    I am so happy to see this blog post. I’ve missed this blog, and this post reminds me why. You always raise important and thought-provoking questions. This is obviously a terrible situation but there are silver linings. People are definitely rethinking education and considering what really matters. I hope that education looks different (and better) on the other side as we identify routines and structures that have had no impact or, worse, have actually held learning back.

    Keep writing!


    Liked by 2 people

  3. Judy Imamudeen April 26, 2020 / 11:21 am

    I’m hopeful, as you are, that “school” will never be the same after this. For many of us, we work with privileged families- that doesn’t mean that they aren’t impacted by covid 19 -but they have access to resources that others do not. One of the issues that has been accentuated by the crisis has been the equity issues. In the States, many public school districts have created “do no harm” policies, in which “good grades” are frozen. That’s an interesting choice Of words, isn’t it? But it epitomizes the paradigm that most schools operate in.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and raising these questions. It’s important, no matter where we are in the world, to use this time to reflect and reset the educational philosophies of our schools.

    May you and your loved ones remain healthy and safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • echee8 April 30, 2020 / 12:08 am

      Aha, U blogged it, finally.


  4. Therese Clemo April 30, 2020 / 8:13 am

    This discussion is beating like a drum in so many teachers’ hearts right now!
    My Irish Mother came from a long line of teachers , one of whom was the originator of The Hedge Schools in West Ireland. This was a place where the Irish children gathered secretly with a teacher ,under a Hawthorne tree, to learn the poems, songs, dances and sagas of their Celtic culture; indeed away from the School room where Gaelic language and their culture was denied them.

    These factory walls of our schools need to tumble and the voices of curiosity, wonder and creative de and con-struction nurtured again. Through such a development of playfully conscious minds ,we will be able to collectively and determinedly move back towards balance and inclusion within our Ecosystem. Thanks for raising this discussion Taryn.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Baela Raza Jamil June 7, 2020 / 2:32 am

    this was such a good read and resonates so well with all that we do at Sanjan Nagar School in Pakistan- The ‘new normal’ means that teachers must liberate themselves first and foremost – changing attitudes towards students’ agency and their own too. From scripted instructions to ideas and triggers – without giving up the space for routines, discipline in inquiry and logical steps from observation, evidence, reflection, action, correction, action, observation, evidence and so on. How can we prepare a new pack on shaping teachers’ instincts, preparation and prompts for learning ? Thank you for the stimulating piece..
    Baela Raza Jamil Chair Education Committee SNPET HSS


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