Does learning in your school take place more by design or chance?


This notion of careful curriculum design and planning is something that I believe is vital to improving student learning in a school. This is particularly true given teacher differences with a school and between schools.

In the context of this post, learning by ‘chance’ is to mean that learning happens completely randomly; it will largely depend on the student’s teacher and what they do and do not do in the classroom.

I have seen it from both sides now. I have seen parents and students come and see me to request that they avoid a particular teacher or be placed in a particular teacher’s classroom. As a relatively new parent myself, I have thought about the chances that this year will be a good or not so good learning year for my son.

You see, when teaching teams work collaboratively, as a tight knit group, to design the learning experiences for students, there is a far higher chance that the extent of their planning will support most to all students across a Grade Level, rather than leaving the learning very much to chance that it will depend on which teacher a student gets.

Design is not just about having collaborative teaching teams, it is also about the school systems that are set up to support teachers working together. Are your school’s collaborative planning periods scheduled and not infringed upon by other duties such as relief teaching? Are there protocols and expectations in place that support teachers establishing a sense of team with a clear and driven focus on improving student learning? Where conflict or tension may exist in teams, what systems or procedures are in place to address such issues to put students first in reconciling individual teacher agendas?

Of course, not all student learning can occur through design. We cannot make clones of our best teachers and, in fact, elements of the individuality of teachers must be celebrated. This is where we can draw our inspiration from to be more creative, try new things and, most of all, really understand what it is that some teachers do that ignites a learning spark in students.

Much of our professional growth comes through those ‘Aha’ moments in the classroom with our students. We may have heard from a colleague that “The lesson was not going so well but then I tried this and all of a sudden things changed.” By chance, and some design, the teacher changed something or seized upon a moment to engage and challenge our students. It is good design, however, that ensures that many of these ‘Aha’ moments get shared with others in the team, so that all teachers in the team can learn and grow from each other. It is a shame when these key teacher moments are not shared – I think our students would want them shared for the benefit of all concerned.

It is clear that learning by design trumps learning by chance, though those chance moments can be particularly powerful for both teachers and students, even more so when they are shared. In saying that, it is worth contemplating whether student learning is more akin to winning a prize in a raffle or whether our schools are taking every success to minimize differences in classrooms that are no conducive to optimal learning for all students.

2 thoughts on “Does learning in your school take place more by design or chance?

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  1. Nicely framed and put Richard. I was curious how this might evolve from the Twitter provocation with Geoff. I agree that the design aspect comes into play through creating the systems that, as you say, ensure that teams can collaborate successfully. This means so much more though than simply allocating time on a schedule and throwing people into a room.

    This is something that we are starting to work on at our school as it seems to left to chance too much. It seems to be a case of everyone agreeing that we should collaborate and believing that we do but not really committing to the process in a way that challenges and extends each other.

    And I think this is mostly down to the lack of designed systems.

    1. I think the key to writing this post needed to be in defining what I meant by ‘chance’. What we might understand that to be differs from person to person, so best to lay it out beforehand, so people see where you are coming from. I think Geoff referred to chance more as those opportunities / moments where we can take the chance to deviate from the designed script to create unique and powerful learning for our students. I think we need this, but it comes back to sharing what we do and building collaborative teams that design and plan learning for all students.

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