Learners > Students

My daughter is a great student.  She arrives on time, is prepared for class, follows all the school rules (even the ones she hates like “no dropping off your school books in your locker before lunch”), and works well with her peers.  She is quiet in the halls, raises her hand to speak, and returns her homework on time.  Her teachers regularly comment on her positive behavior and attentiveness.  In some ways – all of this makes me proud.  It’s true that some of the traits my husband and I hope to foster in our kids (timeliness, reliability, honoring commitment, and kindness & respect) center around some of the skills targeted in school rules- and for this reason, I’m happy that she is a good student.

I’m always struck, though, at the disconnect between what our schools expect of students’ behaviors and the conditions that truly support learning.  While my daughter is an excellent student (with the grades to prove it), she actually has much growing to do as a learner.  Thinking deeply, finding and solving open ended problems, making connections across contents, applying thoughts to novel scenarios, and thinking creatively are all areas that create stumbling blocks for her – struggles that are masked in her ability to play the game of school quite well.

My daughter’s experience reminds me that optimal conditions for innovation & learning are not fostered through conformity.  In fact, as @gcouros often reminds us, conformity can actually do quite the opposite.


Image from https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/tag/compliance-engagement-and-empowerment

Sometimes schools fall back on compliance, rules, and conformity in the name of ‘preparing students for the real world’ – for the responsibilities that will come when they leave our classrooms.  While it’s true that our society does have rules and deadlines,  Dr. Justin Tarte thoughtfully reminds us that “responsibility and accountability could never be taught through a gradebook” and that as educators, we need to discern what we are truly assessing/fostering through grades and rules.



I do believe that schools are recognizing this disconnect and are working hard to focus less on rewarding ‘school-like behaviors’ in their students in exchange for a focus on the conditions and opportunities that allow learners to emerge.

One significant step we can take in this process is to embrace the notion of personalization and individualization that true learning necessitates.  Fostering an environment conducive of innovation, creativity, and learning requires a degree of customization that blanket rules can’t provide.  As educators, we must create systems that allow for flexibility and individualization in our approach to developing learners – something that Proactive Coaching says cannot be achieved through rules.  Bruce Brown, founder of Proactive Coaching, notes that rules create rigid boundaries that tend to box coaches (and educators) into a corner and leave little room for discretion.   Exchanging rigid rules for high standards (especially when set by someone students have developed a positive, authentic relationship with) though, allows educators the freedom to look at each situation differently; to customize and personalize their responses based on what each student needs, and most importantly, “provides students a chance for growth” that rules can’t provide.

Box students in


Together, let’s commit to valuing:

Standards over rules.

Creativity over conformity.

Learners over students.

One thought on “Learners > Students

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