Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Plan for Thoughtful Learning

Many years ago (25 to be exact), I wrote an article about the importance of paying attention to children. I came across the article the other day as I was cleaning out some files. For me, it was confirmation that my core beliefs are alive and well. I think I submitted the article to a few magazines but no one every picked it up. The importance of the article now is that it is yet another reminder of what I am afraid we are losing in education. We are losing the children.

There are many of us out there talking about educational reform. I agree with the sense of urgency and I support many of the actions suggested by the most thoughtful educators across the world. Visit the Cooperative Catalyst blog to read some of the most thought provoking posts on school reform and the actions that will move us forward to more meaningful learning. My list of actions include four reminders to be thoughtful and purposeful about the days I spend with children and teachers.

Never Forget the Learner:
I don't want to appear simplistic but, for me, the most compelling reminder is to never forget the learner. Some days it's like fighting through a snow storm when you can barely see a few feet in front of you. You try to clear your vision to get where you are going, but it's tough. Or it's like working your way through a crowded highway of traffic. You are sure about where you want to go but so many starts and stops get in the way. Or it's that long "to do" list that keeps you from doing the meaningful work you know you should be doing like spending time with children.

Think Deeply:
The distractions we face today are enormous. I don't need to list them here because we all sense the pull of the meaningless diversions we experience each day. These take us away from deeply thinking about learning, teaching, leadership and our children's future. So my next reminder-to-self is to slow down and prioritze the thinking and learning I do each day. I need to make time to dig deeply beyond the surface of my thoughts and actions.

Demystify Learning
I worry about the disconnect children feel about school and learning. At our school, they come smiling through the front door each morning but I am not sure they are engaged and involved in their own learning. They are great kids, but I wonder if they have learned to play the game of school. They are good at figuring out what WE want and complying. But where is the curiosity and the passion? I wonder if our students think about the ways they learn, what they care about, and a desire to connect with the world.

Someone suggested we choose one single word that drives us throughout the new year. My word is INSPIRE. I need to take some time for my own inspiration. The pace and intensity of the day often diverts me away from engaging my brain and my heart long enough to experience the inspiration that comes from spending time with children and teachers. I hope to inspire others throughout the coming year. That will mean helping them to find what matters, to think deeply and to take action.

So I have etched out a plan for the coming year. I will need many reminders along the way. I know that the educators I connect with each day will help me stay focused on what counts - our children.


  1. Karen, Thanks for sharing your plan of action and reminding us the important reasons we are in education. I love the snow storm thinking.

  2. How fortunate I feel to work in a building with someone who is doing this deep thinking about students, inspiration, and connecting to their own learning!! I look forward to a year of inspiration, and trying to make the right turn off the freeway.

  3. Great post, Karen. I am "inspired" by your words; it does my heart good to hear these words from an administrator. If we are to find our way through this maze we call education, it will take the efforts of teachers, administrators and most importantly, the children. Lovely.

  4. Thank you! Your words are reminding me of the important things as I head into my classroom today and prepare for the "new" year. I teach third and there is tremendous pressure with the state tests. I look forward to finding a balance with the help of your thinking.

  5. Karen, What a gift you are to your students and teachers! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, your insights, and your belief in children. You inspire me!

  6. Karen,
    I admire and applaud you for staying strong in your core beliefs in a time in education when everything is about pressure and performance. The children are the reason why we are in education in the first place. So thank you for reminding all of us of what really matters, of what really is important.

  7. Thank you for sharing your words with us. With inspiration also comes perspiration. If we want to inspire our students to become life-long learners and succeed, we must also continue to be life-long learners and continue improving ourselves as educators. To truly inspire, we must revamp, revise, update our curriculum and make it relevant, engaging and meaningful. It is not enough to inspire with words, we must inspire with action as well. I promise to keep the learner in mind, to make them think critically, and inspire them.

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