The Story of Learning, Part 1

The Story of LearningBeginning the school year is incredibly hectic for me and my wife. We are both teachers working in different schools in different systems. We also have four children—in four different schools. Each with its own unique start of school schedule, traditions, and expectations. In addition to this, I’m shifting to a Readers’ Workshop approach to my classes this year, and I’m once again training for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. It’s Friday morning. I’m tired and feeling overwhelmed. My students arrive next Wednesday, and I’m not ready—not even close.

At one of our first-day meetings, my instructional leader asked us to stop and reflect for a moment. She asked, “What will be the story of learning in your classroom this year?” The start of a new school year is an opportunity for a new start. This is my fourth new start teaching sixth grade reading, but Susan reminded me my students only get one sixth grade year. They only get to be a sixth grader one time.

As I sat there trying to reflect on the learning in my room, my mind was blank. What will the story of learning be in my classroom this year? I had no idea. All I could think about was the lists I need to complete, the schedules I need to coordinate, the books I still need to read, the forms I need to make, the files I need to organize, the shelves I need to rearrange, the lessons I need to create, and the planning I need to start. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t picture the story of learning. I wanted to see it, but I couldn’t.

I want to stop all of this craziness. I want to spend some time dreaming and wishing—imagining what our year of learning in sixth grade reading will be like. I really do. I cannot think of anything I’d rather ponder, but I’m overwhelmed by the start of school. There’s too much to do. My checklists runneth over.

I’m not dismissing Susan’s suggestion. I’m holding on to it. I woke up with it early this morning hoping I could  steal a few minutes to sit and reflect—to zoom in on what I truly want for my students. And yet, my lists keep calling to me. Here in the quiet of this morning, I’m still being pulled toward a more visible form of productivity. So for now, I’m just going to keep carrying the question in my heart and mind: What will the story of learning be in your classroom this year?

This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

What Is the Role of Today’s Teacher?

Photo by Cindy Brock, Instagram

Yesterday was the first day of in-service for the faculty and staff at PDS, and I really enjoyed being reunited with my colleagues, hearing about their summer learning and activities, and meeting the new team members and Martin Institute residents. One of the my favorite parts of the first day back is the prayer walk that our faculty does through the school. As we make our way through he school, we stop at each classroom, gathering area, and office to lift up each other and the boys we will serve. The experience moves me as a PDS parent as much as it does as a teacher, and I’m blessed my family is a part of this school.


During one of our first meetings Susan Droke, Assistant Headmaster for Teaching and Learning, shared a brief presentation “What Is the Role of the Teacher in 21st Century?” Mrs. Droke admitted that these thoughts were a synthesis of her own learning and not original to her. She also acknowledged that the term “21st Century” has outlived its usefulness and that she wasn’t planning to use it again after her presentation. Her message inspired me, and I want to keep referring back to it this year as I reflect on my teaching.

My note-taking skills are average at best, but this is what I gleaned. 

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” ~ John Dewey

There is a growing irrelevance in regards to what happens in our classrooms. Most schools are still educating for the industrial age.

There is a new wave of black-collar workers that have become today’s workforce and will be the workforce of the future. As economist Philip Auerswald writes,

Black-collar workers are easy to find. They crowd coffee houses with their laptops. They create prototypes of their inventions on 3-D printers at San Francisco’s TechShop, raise money for their projects on Kickstarter, and share their creations at Maker Faire events around the country. They are the work force of the future, powering change in the present.

Black-collar workers are after purpose, not pensions. They’re not seeking lifetime employment; they’re seeking lifetime learning. They don’t have secretaries or bosses; they have teammates. They don’t punch in at 9, and they don’t time out at 5. They connect, create, contribute, and collaborate whenever and wherever it makes sense. They try to minimize their spending in order to maximize their flexibility.

Do we embrace the quirky? Are we truly educating for the unknown? Our students don’t need a better schools. They need different schools.

The Teacher Roles

We need BOLD teachers. (Note: Mrs. Droke made several points about each of these, but I wasn’t able to keep up.)

  • Teachers As Innovators – “The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” ~ Jean Piaget
  • Teachers As Designers – “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn” ~ Albert Einstein
  • Teachers As Collaborators – “You can’t say you are delivering a world-class education if your kids are not communicating with the world.” ~ Vicki Davis, ISTE 2012
  • Teachers As Learners – The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ~ Alvin Toffler
  • Teachers Who Care – “Excellence in education is when we do everything we can to make sure they become everything that they can.” ~ Carol Ann Tomlinson

Engagement vs. Empowerment

“Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ~ William Butler Yeats

Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, has written and spoken about the need for student empowerment rather than student engagement. According to Lehmann, we chose engagement because it beats boring, but it perpetuates the idea that the classroom always must be fun. However, empowerment creates a more student-centered environment that focuses on what the student actually learns and what they can do with it.

Challenges for PDS Teachers

  1. Question everything you do this year
  2. Rethink the first few days of school
  3. Think about what you need to unlearn and relearn
  4. Be part of the change—join the conversation


Personally, I’m challenged by Mrs. Droke’s remarks. I want to be more innovative. I want to create a better design for the learning that transpires in my room (and beyond). I have some ideas about what I want to do–and it’s a big transition. I’m planning to meet with Mrs. Droke today to discuss it. I want to make the learning in my room “real-world relevant.” I also want to empower my students to make a difference and be innovative. I’m thinking a PBL approach would be best, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that looks like and how it meshes with the standards that I’m required to teach and assess. It’s a process of change. Unfortunately, I want the product now. Maybe that’s one of the first things I need to unlearn.

Well, I’ve run out of time this morning. What are your reactions to all of this?