Seeing learning in everything



Every single moment in life is learning. Every single moment at school is – or at least has the potential to be – learning. Like the image above, it is complex, it is beautiful, it is unpredictable and it is limitless.

This is wonderfully liberating, as it reveals the fact that, actually, it doesn’t really matter what students are doing as long as they and their teachers are aware of the learning that lies behind what they’re doing.

Of course, when students are doing things that are interesting, challenging and motivating the learning that lies behind is richer, more complex, more sophisticated and has more potential to evolve naturally and in directions that are difficult to predict.

It is in generating the ideas for those types of experience that the gap exists in the teaching profession. Don’t be confused by the word “ideas” though, as so many of us are. An idea doesn’t have to be some massive thing, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary, it doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. Even the simplest idea can set a student on a learning pathway that transforms their relationship with school, that redefines the school experience for them.

Also, don’t be misled by the labeling of some teachers as “ideas people” and some as not. You don’t need to be an “ideas person” to see where learning exists, you just need to know what learning looks like, or can look like. Anyone can be an “ideas person” if they allow themselves to be. You just need to see the multi-dimensional learning possibilities in absolutely everything you and your students do.

When all else is stripped away, I believe it is all about creating the conditions for learning to happen naturally using methods like:

  • Passion Projects – students figure out how they would like to use a given amount of time each week. Some thought is put into making that decision, but not too much of the students’ time is wasted before letting them go. Some students will be ready to go before others… that’s life. Let them. Once students start doing, teachers then start documenting – noticing and naming the types of learning that are taking place, and helping their students start doing this too. Curriculum is used as a map to help students navigate their way through their project, pointing in possible directions and identifying the knowledge, the understandings, the skills, the attitudes and the actions necessary to maintain forward momentum.


  • Inquiry in Context – students are put into a planned context, e.g. exploration. Teachers design a series of provocations that could reveal each student’s existing knowledge, their misconceptions, their curiosities, their ideas, their biases etc… Teachers see that these provocations give them what they need to work with in order to move the inquiry forward. Students are guided towards identifying a focus that is interesting, challenging and motivating to them. As their inquiries evolve, teachers begin to notice and name the types of learning that give the inquiry momentum and help their students begin to do this themselves. Together, teachers and students develop ways of documenting the learning that provide evidence of growth and areas of the curriculum that have been connected with.


  • Harnessing the power of situations, routines and habits – continuous attention is made to the way that we all behave each day and the choices that we make. Students develop habits that are positive through ongoing reflection, discussion and documentation of themselves as people. Teachers see the value (and help their students see the value) in each moment – how their students play together, how their students take care of their belongings, how independent their students are, how their students operate when the teacher is not there, how their students interact with other adults, how their students see themselves, how their students moods fluctuate, how their students relax, how their students respond to the unfamiliar… the list goes on. It is endless, because the learning that takes place in life is endless! Its only in schools that learning is seen as finite, as having beginnings and ends, that it can be predetermined or predicted or that one person can be in control of it for others.


I’ve broken the rules for maximum length of postings now, so will cut it short here. However, there’s much more to say!

Image from



  1. lararonalds

    Thank you Sam for articulating far better than I did yesterday the depth of knowledge and awareness needed to capitalise on the learning possibilities in inquiry (or actually any good) teaching. I truly feel as an industry we need to take greater lengths to be accountable for this aspect of the pedagogy. I am so excited to see education embrace inquiry, value inquiry and begin to explore and understand the pedagogy, but I fear that if we don’t maintain accountability, continue to support our teachers in being knowledgeable about the application and development of skills, inquiry will be passed by as another ‘trend’ that didn’t work. (A tragedy if it were to happen!) It has been a long road and wait to see this approach to teaching take hold and be practised by more than a few. Thank you for the great writing!

    • sherrattsam

      Thanks Lara. I guess this posting is all about what you’re writing about in your comment. It’s helping teachers and students be accountable for their learning by using curriculum to notice and name the learning that is taking place all of the time. By knowing our curriculum really, really, really well (or making friends with it, as I often say!) we can be skilful about how we and our students navigate through it, rather than attempt to cover it. When we get good at making that navigation explicit we can achieve accountability in new, exciting, inquiry-based, student-centered ways.

      • lararonalds

        Exactly!! I think that is the trick! As an industry how can we develop these skills and continue the growth and awareness in order to allow inquiry to go further still!

  2. concentricthinking

    There has to be a part 2 or 3 or more to this Sam. There is so much to be said. Reading this post gives me so many ideas. Take assemblies for example, teachers get stressed, feel pressured and complain about running an assembly. Instead, they should be thinking what a positive experience for them to speak and present. Build confidence…. Do something with a clear purpose to a real audience. What is more alive than that? We all need to open our eyes, look for the learning, and then connect it to all the ninja around us, all the while developing skills, knowledge and most importantly the self.

  3. sherrattsam

    Ha ha ha… Are you sure you meant to say “ninja”? Are you using ninja as an analogy? The joys of typing on an iPhone!

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