Posted by: darcymullin | October 25, 2013

The Freedom To Learn

Today is a provincial Professional Development Day in BC.  I am spending the morning working on my personal inquiry.    I thinking about supportive structures in our classrooms.  Specifically, what does a supportive classroom look like, feel like, sound like?lightbulb

I read this post by my good buddy Johnny Bevacqua this week.  In it he discusses the work of John Hattie and some of the most effective means of improving student achievement.  I am a big Hattie fan and appreciate all of his work on achievement.  I think as educators, there is much we can learn from his findings, however Johnny (and Hattie himself) are clear on the limitation of his work:

Hattie’s work strictly deals with student achievement in the academic domain.  His research does not deal with student well-being in the affective domain (social and emotional learning). Nor does it address the spiritual domain of student well-being.  Any educator, school or district looking to implement Hattie’s work needs to understand the potential “limiting” context of this work. ~ Johnny Bevacqua

When I think of our school and my inquiry, I feel a supportive classroom must start with the affective domain.  If students can not attend (or self-regulate), how can they learn?   It’s imperative that we deal with the heart first and then the mind.  A student’s must feel comfortable and safe in order to be an active participant in their learning.  Too many students struggle with this and energy that should be put to learning is used up worrying about things that are beyond their control.    What is it that gets in kids way?

Is it worry brought from home to school?


Is it how students are hardwired?


Is it because the work it beyond them?


I’m not sure if we are becoming more cognizant, or if society really has changed, but there is no doubt in my mind that we are dealing with more students who are struggling emotionally.  Whether those struggles manifest themselves as anxiety, ADHD, withdrawal, anger etc. it seems that more and more of our jobs as educators are working in the affective domain and on an emotional level trying to support students through theses struggles.

When I am working with 8 year olds with uncontrollable rage, I realize there are many things these kids are dealing with…all of them beyond their control.  One of the issues that we struggle with is deciphering the root of the issue.  Unless we know what is causing the emotional angst, we cannot effectively intervene.  It is here, where I connect to my inquiry.   How do we create a continuum of support for teachers and students where the intervention and its intensity match the individual needs of the student?

I’m not sure yet, but I am slowly gaining some clarity.  I will continue to learn and reflect.

That said, I always appreciate ideas and insight – comments are always appreciated.



  1. There is a lot of work by Larry Brendtro and Dr. Martin Brokenleg (Circle of Courage) around the fact that kids build brain patterns long before we see them. Then they come to us. They talk about the inner child and the outer child. The inner child is the part that has something they are dealing with (perhaps known or unknown by the observer) and the outer child is the behaviour they exhibit due to the turmoil of the inner child. Often we get upset at the “outer” child and try to control that, but that is really only a bandaid over the real issue. A lot of kids use threat displays (hitting walls, verbally threatening, throwing chairs) as a way of pushing you away….and a lot of the time it works….they often get sent to the office or home. “See”, they tell themselves, “another adult doesn’t understands me and pushes me away, so why should I try, it never works.” Brentro and Brokenleg talk about trying to change these brain patterns through various skills one can learn like sandwich scripts and other techniques. I did a 3 day workshop by Brendtro called R.A.P- responding to youth at risk….fascinating stuff.

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