Creating a Significant Learning Environment

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘school?’ Does it conjure up a picture of a bright space with desks in rows and students sitting quietly and listening to the teacher? Douglas Thomas (2012) says in his TEDx talk, “We’ve looked at a way to prepare our students for the jobs of the 19 th century. It’s just that we’ve taken 200 years to perfect that method. And we’ve gotten it right. We are now training people for Industrial Revolution factory jobs and we’re doing a very good job of it. Unfortunately, those jobs no longer exist anymore.”

In the last 15 years, during my career as a teacher, I’ve been fortunate enough to work in a district that fosters growth. I have been to many professional learning classes that encourage us to understand our students, use their multiple intelligences to help them learn, create engaging lessons, and have students working in groups and moving around the classroom. But it’s not enough. Our world is changing so much faster than our education system is.

Ideally, it would be ‘out with the old and in with the new,’ and we’d have a complete renovation of teaching and learning. But change is hard, and many teachers don’t want to give up what they’ve always done. Henry Ford said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” This slow change just doesn’t seem to be working: we need to ‘get’ something new, quickly!

The idea of ‘teaching’ suggests that information is being transferred from the teacher to the student, but people today learn through various contexts. According to Thomas and Brown (2011) “In the new culture of learning, people learn through their interaction and participation with one another in fluid relationships that are the result of shared interests and opportunity,” (p. 50). This means that students can learn just as much from one another as they can from the teacher. All of the information they need can be found online, and it is constantly updating and changing with new discoveries and understanding. Teachers can be guides, facilitators, and questioners, but don’t need to be information-givers anymore. They are just one context for students to learn from, not the only content they need.

As a teacher of teachers, I can use this knowledge to transform my lessons as well. I want to model for teachers what they need to be doing in their classrooms, and what better way than to guide them and question them? I can be one context that they can use to understand this new culture of learning. Instead of one-time, sit-and- get professional development courses, I can use technology to provide questions and resources for teachers, and continue talking and working with them throughout the year. I can be there to take pictures of things that they’re doing that are working, and I can blog about their experiences, and mine. I can use Twitter and G+ Communities, and possibly Google Classroom to have conversations across the district with a wide variety of teachers. Hopefully, through my modeling, questions, and resources, I can help teachers to see that their ‘teaching’ needs to change. I want them to embrace holistic, authentic learning and encourage their students to innovate, create, and explore.

Douglas Thomas (2012) says that the two most powerful words in the world are ‘What if’. Think about it…What if students came to school excited about learning? What if students had time for imagination? What if students asked questions, and enjoyed helping each other find answers? What if students knew how to access the information they needed and wanted to learn? What if I can empower teachers to embrace the new culture of learning?

D. (2007, July 31). Progressive Education in the 1940s. Retrieved August 28, 2016, from

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace

Thomas, D. (2012). A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM. Retrieved August 28, 2016, from

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