I wrote this post in 2013.  I could have written it yesterday. Sometimes I feel like change is so slow, that it is painful. And yet, even though I know I need to relinquish control, have I really done that…YET? Sometimes I think it is a lot easier to theorize about change than to follow through with it. You?


read this post on Inquire Within a couple of weeks ago and it has been sitting with me ever since.  Such good ideas in it! Please go and read it.

The post talks about all the ‘c’ words that are often used to describe education and learning in the 21st Century:




The author, Bo Adams goes on to suggest that all of these very important C words could all be ‘ruled’ by one BIG C:




“Control in the sense of ownership, investment and engagement, degree of agency and autonomy. Control to exercise choice. Control to pursue curiosity.”

And here is where I am really won over:

…in the giving of control, I believe we provide student learners with more opportunities to practice the skills organically and authentically than if we assign them work organized into the seven “Cs.” Through the autonomy of control – motivated by the control of choice – we naturally invest ourselves in those seven “Cs.” When we feel in control, we learn to take control, and we develop our capacities to maintain good control.

-Bo Adams

This is brilliant – and at the same time, can be really hard for adults to do.

We are in the middle of our PYP Exhibition and it is all about the kids being in control of their own learning.  There are guidelines and supports in the form of checklists, workshops, and mentors, but ultimately, the kids are in control. And that can be hard for teachers and parents to deal with but so worth it for everyone if we can learn to back off a little and trust in the process, trust in the child, and be mindful of where they are at and how we can best support their learning.

Giving control of learning to the child doesn’t mean sitting in the corner with your feet up and letting them flounder.  It means becoming an observer, a guide, a road map of sorts – ready to be referenced.  It means being attuned to what is going on in your classroom and being prepared to ask for clarification from the children in your class.  It means posing the right questions, sharing the right provocations, providing the appropriate amount of time for them to work their magic.

It also means modeling the characteristics we expect in our children:

  • We have to take risks even (or especially!) when we don’t know what the outcome will be.
  • We have to believe in our mission and vision and make sure we are not just talking the talk.
  • We have to be a beacon of change if we are expecting our kids to do school differently.
  • And we have to be prepared to let go of control ourselves, so that our kids can see what that looks like.

What kind of educator are you?

One that thrives on being in control or one that is prepared to let go, even in the face of possible failure?

One of the people I look to in terms of someone who reimagines education is Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. In his book, The One World Schoolhouse, he says the following:

sal khan


To me, this is what CONTROL is all about.  Creating a nurturing and supportive classroom environment in which children are actively engaged in their own learning.


A note on student agency…

Recently, a new blog “Educator Voices” has started. A blog designed as “a place to share and celebrate how we are pushing the boundaries, shaking up the system and challenging the status quo.” It is a blog focused on making school different and there is a lot to say about student agency. I encourage you to check it out and engage in the comments on blog posts. This is a tipping point in education and in “school” as we know it. None of us have all the answers but if we keep sharing our ideas and championing each other, we are likely going to get closer to serving our kids in the best ways possible.

2 thoughts on “CONTROL”

  1. Hi Sonya
    What a great post. I think control is something we all struggle with at times, hence why we talk so much in inquiry classrooms about ‘letting go.’ I would argue of what? Metaphors are useful to help us think about this. Do we keep children ‘on the path’ which is safe and the outcome is pre-determined. Or is it more of a compass which invites the ability of multiple pathways but everyone moving in the same direction.


  2. It’s a good message and one that ‘feels right’ but it also sounds like a case of the Emporer’s New Clothes. How much control are we putting into the students’ hands? Can they just learn what they like? Who decides what is age appropriate and what should be part of a school curriculum? What is considered essential knowledge and what are considered fundamental building blocks that must be learned in order to be able to understand more complex concepts? How much choice should they have over these concepts and ideas? What are the non-negotiables that will need to be taught at grade 1, 2, 3, etc?

    Also, why are we assuming that students know best about their own learning? They don’t and it’s okay to say that as educators. The myth of ‘learning styles’ is still hanging around like a bad smell in a lot of schools. This had a similar fundamental flaw – students were expressing a preference of style, not the style they best learned in. Research has now debunked the idea that students can make correct decisions about HOW they best learn. Choice should be encouraged. But within limits and with caution. Encouraging teachers to ‘let go’ is another message with good intentions but one that is widely interpreted incorrectly and can result in students attempting tasks and approaching concepts they don’t have the working memory capacity or background knowledge to deal with. I fear this push for agency will be just as badly implemented as the learning styles.

    I hope I’m wrong but I’ve seen no research published or used in the defense of agency for students or the case for teachers ‘letting go’ (care to share some?), whereas all the research (mountains of it) that suggests guided instruction with clear goals and gradual release of responsibility when students have sufficient guided practice and opportunities to build knowledge seems to be getting ignored. Students can still be actively engaged and make choices in their learning when there are clear goals and benchmarks for them to aim for. You mentioned the teacher being a ‘road map of sorts’. Well the most effective use of a road map is when you know your destination and the most efficient way of getting there. If there are multiple ways of getting there, then great- maybe that’s where the case for student choice could be encouraged and pushed.

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