Giving up control

Traditional methods of teaching have long been successful. They are known by parents who “succeeded” in classrooms of this type, they are comfortable for many teachers and some students thrive on this type of instruction. It should come as no surprise then, when there is resistance! It is difficult to argue with a teacher, parent or student who has experienced success from traditional practice.

But there is a changing landscape in our schools and the goal of our current education system is to ensure success for ALL not just some students. Part of the changing landscape involves a different type of student in our classroom. A shrinking middle class and high levels of poverty are creating an opportunity gap and overly protective parents are spawning students with high anxiety, fear of failure and little resiliency. Compliant students (those seen and not heard) are not as common in our classrooms and teachers are expected to provide high levels of engagement. These factors and many not mentioned have produced an extremely diverse classroom today. To prepare students to be successful in this century, there needs to be a premium placed on developing a committed learner as opposed to a compliant student.

While this may a little bit general, traditional practice supports the needs of the compliant student. While they may be academically engaged- give me the information so I can get the marks, they are not intellectually engaged. They respond as consumers of knowledge rather than creators of learning. While those skills may have led to success in the 20th century and were well supported by traditional practice, the students of today need an education that is far greater in scope.  The focus in today’s classroom must be the development of competencies with a high priority on learning and not just learned!

The so-called educational purist often only sees the importance of “reading, writing and arithmetic.” I’ve never suggested that the focus on foundational skills should ever be lessened. Literacy and numeracy must be at the core of a strong education system. But a well-rounded education and one that prepares students for their future must offer opportunities for students to learn “soft skills.” Now, I know this really irks our educational “back to the basics” pundits because competencies like communication, creativity, communication and collaboration don’t measure well on a standardized exam. But just because it is difficult to measure does not mean it is not essential for today’s classrooms.

Earlier this week, I witnessed some master teachers creating opportunities for students to learn soft skills. Students were provided ownership by scheduling part of their timetable, given autonomy to choose learning activities or the choice in projects to demonstrate outcomes. And by the way, the curriculum was being covered but so much more learning was occurring. Students were intellectually engaged; they were creating; they were having fun and yes, they were learning! The learning involved not just aspects of the curriculum but the development of self-regulation, time management, leadership and collaboration. By providing some student autonomy, students were highly motivated and resiliency skills (which are often under emphasized) were being developed.

In each of my conversations with these teachers, they talked about “letting go or giving up control.” And each of them commented on the difficulty of doing this but also on how positive the change had been for the students. Remember, these are all master teachers who could continue with traditional practice and remain successful. They chose however, to go beyond their own comfort zone, give up some control and let students become a part of their own learning.

Maintaining traditional methods or giving up control is not an either/or decision, it is both/and! It is also not something that teachers can do at the flick of a switch. It requires significant planning, honest reflection on personal practice and must fit within the context of the students in the classroom. To really develop the soft skills necessary however, we can not allow ourselves to always default to the traditional. Giving up some control to develop competencies in our students should be a focus of every school improvement plan and teacher professional growth plan. The impact is not only a greater sense of efficacy for teachers but improved whole scale learning for students.





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    • Bruce Smith on July 7, 2015 at 8:07 AM
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    So… Who bought you? Are you joking? You are instrumental in ruining our children’s education and should be ashamed of yourself. What you and your colleagues are doing is no different than beating kids into submission. Time to start listening to some pretty irate parents or look for another job… Maybe at McDonalds, which is where your “education” is opening doors!

    1. Disappointed by your comments as I don’t believe my blog post is reflective of what you are saying but you certainly have a right to your opinion. However, thanks for taking the time to comment.

    2. Mr. Smith: I would like to understand your objections more clearly. To what aspect of the educational system, specifically, are you referring that is “ruining our children’s education”?

    • Jessie on July 7, 2015 at 12:44 PM
    • Reply

    Thank you Chris for your wonderful article! I completely agree with you. Students are no longer traditional! Jobs are no longer traditional and we are preparing them for a future that doesn’t yet exist. I would also venture to see tests not being given but rather benchmark projects that assess the “soft skills” as these are the skills that everyone needs, even at McDonald’s. I am disappointed by the other person’s comments as I feel that it illustrates the many obstacles that educators are up against in this province. We need to continue educating the public and I applaud you for taking this first step!

  1. I completely agree with your post and insight into education! As a teacher, it is beyond frustrating to have to “convince” the ‘back-to-basics’ believers of the paucity of that pedagogical methodology and outlook. It is even more frustrating when compared to other colleagues of mine (typically much older) who have a ‘traditional’ approach to learning (i.e., lecture, textbook practice, test). While I can certainly appreciate the frustrations of parents as well, I continue to hold that a back-to-basics teaching mentality results in a ‘basic’ education. This was acceptable as far back as the 1980s (when I was in elementary school); however, the rapid economic, political, social, and, of course, technological changes since the mid-1990s require far more than a ‘basic’ curriculum. I find it odd that the previous person to comment on your post likens the evolving educational landscape as “beating kids into submission,” yet the idea of ‘submission’ and ‘obedience’ and ‘order’ are aspects of an educational (and, arguably, social) system that is quickly dying, and, if I understand you correctly, one you oppose. The purpose of the educational system today is to help form citizens that are both knowledgeable and critical of their place in society; citizens who can solve problems for which there is no immediate solution.

    I think, however, we (as an education community) have done a poor job in educating parents about the objectives and methods of this ever-evolving educational model. Ignorance breeds “irate parents,” as your previous commentator noted. Mr. Bruce Smith’s ignorance of complexities of education should not detract you, sir. Keep up the *GREAT* work you are doing!

    • Cathy D on July 7, 2015 at 12:55 PM
    • Reply

    Dear Bruce,
    It’s hard to take a comment like yours seriously when you don’t really explain yourself. The post talked about how education is changing and needs to change. I understand if that makes you uncomfortable as a parent but it would be nice to know what your concerns are. I’m a teacher in a primary classroom and my students have been thriving in this sort of classroom environment. They are engaged and exited about their learning which I’ve heard from both their parents and the students themselves. It’s hard to understand where you are coming from with a comment like that sorry.

    • Sean Beaton on July 7, 2015 at 1:10 PM
    • Reply

    Mr. Smith,

    While everyone is entitled to their views and positions, it is unclear what yours is other than to attack Mr. Smeaton. Do you have any specific objections to how he runs Holy Spirit School District. Did you have any specific evidence that Mr. Smeaton has been “bought?” In what way is he ruining “our children’s education?” Launching such an attack should probably be backed up with some evidence, but that’s just my opinion.

    • Shaye on July 7, 2015 at 1:24 PM
    • Reply


    Great post. You explain both perspectives well. I often remind teachers, parents and students of these same points regarding competencies. We discuss the need to think critically, but that the prerequisite for this is a basic understanding of multiple perspectives on an issue.

    Thanks for bringing my his ongoing conversation to the forefront again today


    • Susan Poole on July 8, 2015 at 1:32 PM
    • Reply

    Chris, a great blog that truly reflects the importance of our work. Balance is the key and I appreciated that you emphasized the importance of literacy and numeracy basics while maintaining the need to build competencies so that students can thrive in school and in life.

    As we have learned, the more we engage our community in our work the more they begin to understand why we need to shift our practice away from compliance to engagement. You demonstrated this so well by sharing your experience when you connected with teachers, students, and parents on the teaching and learning that was taking place in one of your schools.

    Thank you for taking the time to blog and share your thoughts on and your experiences in education. Your blog provokes the reader to think, reflect and if compelled, respond. I hope that in the future you continue to receive feedback on your blog that ignites conversations that build knowledge and understanding of our work as educators.

    I hope that if Bruce S. is compelled to respond in the future he will make constructive and informed comments that contribute to the conversation. The right to express an opinion is one thing, however, making inflammatory accusations or personal attacks crosses the line.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    • Staci on July 8, 2015 at 3:05 PM
    • Reply

    I think Mr. Smith provides here a great example as to why teachers need to “give up control”. Mr. Smeaton cannot control the responses he recieves here, just as I cannot control responses in a classroom. In a traditional classroom setting Mr. Smith would be reprimanded for his response, and the root cause to his “outburst” would never be determined.

    Rather than thinking of it as “giving up control”, maybe think of it as providing students with the opportunity to take control; fostering an environment where students learn to become responsible and ethical citizens.

    This isn’t even taking into account all of the new non-curricular things that students need to learn how to deal with. Such as Internet trolling – it’s much easier to be a keyboard warrior than it is to have meaningful conversation towards change.

  1. […] week, I received a scathing comment to my blog Giving up control. While I didn’t agree with the comment, I allowed it to be published and thanked the […]

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