The Untouchables

Sometimes the things that need to be questioned the most, are the things we feel we’re least able to question. The parts of the education system that carry the guise of being ingrained, natural, and untouchable. Things that have “always been” and things that will “always be”.


– grade levels

– curriculum

– assessment

– reporting

– timetables

– units

– classes

– classrooms

But if we really want to pursue more agency for students and shift the current paradigm of education, then maybe these are the very things that we should be critically questioning, challenging and re-imagining.

Sometimes this is difficult to do because these human-created systems have seemed to almost calcify overtime to the point where it’s hard to figure out how to remove them, or change them.

But if we ask ourselves George Couros’ famous question…

(Image source – Principal of Change Blog)

… with the intent of creating a place that respects and supports each student’s agency as a learner and a human being and supports the processes of learning as they naturally occur… would those elements and structures be part of the design?

How can we stop seeing these elements as untouchables and start having critical conversations about:

the purpose they serve, or perhaps don’t serve…

the way they support learning, or perhaps inhibit learning

the way the help students flourish, or perhaps prevent students from flourishing

the impact they have, or perhaps their unintended side-effects...

I’m not saying that they’re all bad (or that any of them are bad) I’m just saying that making an informed choice as an education community about the structures and systems we choose to have to support learners and the process of learning, is very different than passively accepting elements of the educational paradigm that have been passed down, or passed off as “untouchable”.

Which “untouchable” elements of the current education paradigm do YOU think need to be critically questioned?



File_000Sometimes I feel downtrodden by the current system of education.

Today is one of those days where I feel like my own blend of Paulo Freire and Simon Sinek- constantly wondering… why?

Why aren’t we obsessed with who learners are, how to best serve them, and how to partner with them to learn?

Why do we stay stuck in the way we learned rather than focusing on the opportunities that learners have today?

Why do many educators fight the use of devices in schools and leave it to chance that our students develop fundamental skills for digital learning and citizenship?

Why do we blame teachers for leaving schools when they are not supported or valued, feeling ill equipped or unable to meet student’s needs?

Why do we say we want creative thinkers and problem solvers, yet stifle those opportunities to ensure we get through the “curriculum” or make sure students are prepared for a test?

Why is the teacher the holder of information who needs to be in control?

Why do we embrace school systems designed for people to comply and implement instead of systems designed to empower people to learn, improve and innovate?

Why do we talk about current theory and best practice and not use it to challenge or influence how our students learn?

Why don’t all teachers see learners as wondrous, curious individuals with vast capabilities and limitless potential?

Why do we view struggle as weakness? Why isn’t struggle a crucial and celebrated part of the learning process?

Why do many think of changing “education”, but no one thinks first about changing their “teaching”?

Why do those with intimate knowledge of the day-to-day context and evolving needs of learners have limited decision making power for learning in our schools?

Why do we structure schools and education with resources, curriculum and ideas that are outdated before kids learn them?

Why don’t our school systems serve to develop the skills and mindsets of learners and empower them to find their place in the world?

Why don’t many teachers embrace how students use social media and help them build their digital leadership skills?

Why don’t we hear about the unintended consequences in education, like-“This program helps improve your students’ reading scores, but it may make them hate reading forever”?

Why don’t we admit organizational culture in schools often dictates how people are treated and what we expect of them… teachers and students alike?

Why do we expect to develop creative and innovative thinkers when we want to micromanage every move?

Why does professional learning in education exist in isolation? Why is it checked off by attending events, team meetings and seminars?

Why is change in education focused on better programs and tools instead of creating better ecosystems for learning and innovation?

Why is research in education overwhelmingly focused on the benefits of programs, policies and practices while failing to acknowledge the adverse side effects?

Why don’t all teachers believe they have the power and obligation to create an environment that ensures their students have a place in the world where they feel safe, valued and cared about?

Why do we think we can just “do” a lesson on growth mindset and expect it to change the culture of our classroom?

Why do we say “save your questions until the end”? Why aren’t questions an integral part of the learning process? Valued and actively encouraged?

Why don’t we have open discussions about what we want learners to know and do?

Why are school visions disconnected from professional learning and day-to-day practices?

Why do we preach we believe no two students are alike, yet give standardized assessments to measure performance and success?

Why do we say we want students and teachers to be motivated, yet remove opportunities for autonomy, purpose and agency?

Why don’t we constantly re-examine beliefs about learning and teaching to consider how schools can best serve learners?

Why is doing well on a test a celebrated end goal of learning?

Why don’t we have conversations about the type of learning we want to see in classrooms and the conditions necessary to make it happen?

Why do we standardize learning experiences that rarely meet the needs for all?

Why do we create learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant to our context instead of our learner’s context?

Why do many educators talk about what curriculum or program they are using, instead of how we learn best and what that looks like?

Why is the majority of technology integration focused on the “device” rather than the learner-centered pedagogy?

Why don’t many educators accept they are designers- creators of context and experiences for diverse students to learn and grow?

Why do so many teachers work in isolation and teach in their comfort zones without collaborating regularly with peers?

Why don’t many educators believe they are learners themselves and learn how to learn alongside students?


and what am I going to do about it?

What are you going to do about it?

What are we going to do about it?

“Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information.”-Paulo Freire

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”– Simon Sinek