Saturday, June 20, 2020

Self-managing learners. Yeah right.

The New Zealand Curriculum demands that we develop 'self-managing' learners, yet how many of our students were unable to do so without our constant hovering, timekeeping and nagging in lockdown? How many students were 'missing in action' and just had an extended holiday instead of learning from home?

What does it take to help students become truly self-managing? What does it look, sound and feel like? I am of the opinion that it doesn't involve quiet compliance and meeting every deadline. Instead, I imagine something a bit more like Jimmy Neutron - creative, resilient, self-motivated, sets their own personally relevant goals and challenges, capable of complex problem-solving, empowered. The process involves a lot of trial and error, is usually quite messy, and takes a 'nuanced' view around deadlines. In other words, deadlines that work to the teacher's schedule take a back seat to authentic deadlines set by alien kidnappings and the like.

The Jimmy Neutron self-managing learner example raises some important questions:
  • How might we develop learners that are confidently and competently self-managing, who will continue to learn successfully without us hovering over them?
  • Once we have successfully developed more self-managing learners, how might we continue to engage and support them on their personal learning journey?

image source

So what does it take to turn an unmotivated Bart Simpson into a Jimmy Neutron? 

Well, for a start, you wouldn't. Bart Simpson is his own person and needs you to recognise and respect his mana and rangatiratanga (his spirit, his agency, his right to self-sovereignty). We should not be trying to turn Bart into anyone. Instead, we need to think about how our classrooms, schools and online environments, might create the conditions in which Bart Simpson wants to, and can find ways to engage in the learning on his own terms, in a positive way. How might we help Bart be his 'best self's so to speak, instead of asking Bart to be a Jimmy, and forever failing to do so because he is not Jimmy.

If we couldn't engage Bart Simpson in class, what are the chances that we engaged him during lockdown? What are the chances that Bart would have self-managed and continued his learning at home? Probably quite well if you are talking about skateboarding, but less so for algebra. So what do we need to do differently at school to help Bart realise his best self, capable of self-managing his learning around skateboarding and algebra?

To start with, Bart's teachers first need to overcome years of his mistrust in teachers who have profiled and distrusted him. They will need to overcome years of him feeling like his work is never good enough, that his teachers don't value him, want him in class or respect him. He will need teachers to see past his rebellion, to a child who is probably hurting because he is made to go to school every day - a place where he feels unwelcome and no sense of belonging. As it turns out, the first step to starting to build Bart's self-managing around algebra has very little to do with algebra. 

PS: The above is a reflection re. my continued journey into the realms of culturally sustaining pedagogy (as described by Ann Milne) and developing my practice as a North East teacher (as described by Russel Bishop). 


  1. I love the distinction you make between him becoming the best version of Bart, instead of the weakest version of Jimmy Neutron. By the time our kids get to high school, their identities as learners can be well and truly solidified. I hear time and time again that students feel freer in the high school space - especially the voice from our most vulnerable Year 9 students who had histories of school aversion, truancy, behaviour challenges etc. One of my teaching mantras is: meet them where they're at (for students and colleagues!). I feel it takes a good 6 months to turn this identity around for our most vulnerable learners and how amazing it would be to have children arriving truly curious and open to learning (some do!). I often wonder how much the National Standards sapped that love of learning and experimentation (however, I am not a primary teacher just speaking to the changes I have seen in learners over 20 years of teaching).

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