Learning should be consensual…

On the first day of my grad classes we do a funky intro ice breaker.  Students pair up and google the person next to them and introduce them solely based on what they find on the internet.  Afterwards each person gets to ask me a question.  This is one of the questions that was asked in my last class:

I have to admit, I had never heard of the book.  And a couple weeks later she gave me a copy of the book to read.  Here is a confession, it has been probably 20 years since I have read a fiction book, but since it was being given to me from a student, I could not just ignore, I had to read it.

I did put it off for a few weeks and then decided to read it last week.


The description of the exchange in the the first chapter literally happened to me two days before reading it.  The second chapter described an exchange that nearly literally happened in my class the first day of school, and it continued on like that chapter after chapter until ______ (can’t tell you, it would spoil the book for you).  The book was an incredible view into the heads of my students.  It was a reminder to me that every exchange I have with them has an impact and contains a “lesson.”  It reminded me that it is truly the little things that matter most.  It reminded me that they will be who I am and not who I want them to be.   It reminded me to model being the person I want them to be, instead of trying to teach them to be.  It reminded me that in great classrooms learning is consensual.

Personalizing learning.

Individualizing learning.

Standards based learning.

Project based learning.

Flipping the learning.

There are many things we can/should/would/could be doing as teachers.  How many things do we do with the consent of the kids?  Is learning in your class consensual?  Is it self-directed?

We want kids to do epic things.

We want them to write.

Create. Innovate. Collaborate.

We want them to produce products that make a dent in this world.

Do we ask them for their consent?  Or demand it.

I have been reflecting on the things that are important to me that “I know” and that “I can do.”  .  In each case before I learned them I did something first.  I said “show me.”  Someone telling me to “do this” is a turn off.  That is probably why for most of school I was just waiting for the chance to escape.  School was a box.  I was constantly being told to do this, learn this, behave like this, and someday you can leave the box and be successful.  I was told if I did things right I could eventually leave the box and do epic things.

What always struck me as odd is the very people who wanted me to become a better writer never shared their writing.  The people who wanted me to be a scientist never shared what they were researching.  Schools that said I could do epic things in the future just made me sit in a row every day.

Your kids do not want to be taught.  They want to be moved.  Teachers think kids learn from their teaching, but they learn a lot more by watching what is being modeled for them.   They listen to  and watch everything that you do.  Sit at lunch with a group and get them talking about the adults in their life, they can spot a hypocrite a mile away.

You could make the very best set of directions, the very best rubric, your kids can do flipped classroom and spend every Friday doing Genius Hour, in the end they will simply imitate what they see–they will act like you.

I think that we often forget that every exchange we have with kids is a “lesson.”  Every time we pass them in the hall, and each time we share with them about our lives in the classroom is a lesson.   Most important is every time we share with them what we are learning and each time we show them examples of the innovative, creative, and yes sometimes even epic things that we are attempting to accomplish.  Kids will be who we are and not who we want them to be.  My father did not tell me to play baseball, he took me outside and let me play with him.  He did not sit me in front of a book that showed me how to use tools,  he brought me under the car with him.  I got dirty with him, beside him.

With the new year rolling in, teachers will usually spend a few minutes reflecting on some goals for their students.   How many of those goals include you getting dirty with them?  What will you be doing with your kids?  More teaching?  or will you start modeling?  The big question for 2015 is not will you teach your kid to be a writer, historian, scientist, artist, or even simply a kind person, the question is will you be that person with them.

Will you be their model?

Or will you be their teacher?

Remember kids don’t want to be taught, they want to be moved.

Be the person you want your kids to be.

Did you miss my last post?  It’s right here 🙂


  1. Consensual – at what age; or level of intervention? The word itself seems to dismiss the role, experience and reason for teaching. Collaborate. Innovate. Create. — may be more in line with the reflection and post-box behaviors for success. Ultimately an effective teacher is a good model; engaging in the discovery, being willing to risk, fail and try again — but they still come to the table with the lesson.

  2. The word actually increases the importance of the teacher 🙂 You can hire anyone at minimum wage to watch over a group of kids who are following their personalized learning plans. The teacher that comes to teh table is the same person who does not trust that kids come to the table ready to learn. The same teacher who believe kids come to the table as a vessel ready to be filled. It’s the old quote, great teaching is not the filling of a pail, but lighting a fire. Saying that learning should not be consensual, is saying that learning should be forced. Nothing forced upon someone is every loved.

  3. Consensual learning is a matter of trust.

    Do we trust our students enough to know what they need? Do we trust our students enough to make their own learning choices? Do we trust our students enough to follow the models we set for them?

    If the answer is no, then we can’t hope for consensual learning.

    I’m so glad that you are pushing us to think about the ways in which we can “move” kids. I just wonder if we trust kids enough to do that movement, to model the way forward. I question this because I’m not sure we trust ourselves enough to “do something epic” or “get our hands dirty” with kids. If we do not trust that we can truly be models for kids in a modern world (with all of its hyper-connectedness and bias toward rapid change), we will never move anyone.

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here: http://bit.ly/C4C15

    1. Yes, teachers don’t trust themselves…if you told a teacher they are teaching a new course called XYZ, the first thing they ask for is a textbook, sources, curriculum, standards. Remember a conversation a few years ago with a teacher who was going to have a class on “innovation” but could not start until the curriculum writers told him what to teach and what the kids should be doing 🙂

  4. When the “reform” push is to assess/publicly evaluate with standardization, innovation is hard to achieve. Teachers aren’t often allowed/empowered to trust themselves. The mandate in all but the dream schools of freedom for those who can handle it is 1) You will fill this pail 2) Your fire will be measured by this standard 3) If your fire does not fit our standards, the pail will be used to extinguish you.

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