What Happened When My Son Joined Me At Work?

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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For the first time ever, my 15-year-old son got a glimpse into what I do for a living. He sat in the front row and listened to my keynote message in front of an audience of teachers and administrators in back to school mode.

It was breathtaking for me to see him quietly taking it in as I described the contemporary problems and challenges students should be experiencing and how that compares to his own schooling.

What My Son Sees

I try to envision school through my son’s eyes …

  • He might see school as a series of hurdles — some more interesting than others — with the goal to jump over and get ready for the next one, which come faster and faster as he moves through the grades.
  • He may see the point of school as fulfilling someone else’s expectations. What’s important? What does quality work look like? All of that depends on someone else’s interpretation.
  • He may see the pace as already set, somewhere between a slow jog and a full-out sprint. Naturally this is someone else’s pace, because they must prepare for the next day, next unit, or next year.
  • He might see that what students are interested in — what they care about — is left outside the classroom door.

My Personalized Learning Reality

There is an urgency to my work because of my own children.

I have a real desire to create learning environments where the following questions have positive affirmations:

  • “Would I want my child to be enrolled in your class?”
  • “Do you really see my child? Do you know his aspirations?”
  • “Does my child have opportunities to seek out and pursue interests within and beyond the structures of the course material?”
  • “Is there room for him to grow, to create, to struggle in your class because of your actionable feedback, your inspiration, your flexibility in practice?”

Quality Learning Environments

Take the time to know students as the year begins.

Timothy Walker wrote a piece for The Atlantic, describing that “Many of the Finnish educators I spoke with recognized that classroom structure, which typically stems from establishing rules, routines, and procedures, is valuable, but they emphasized the importance of fostering a welcoming, low-stress learning environment first.”

Clarify that learning is a partnership.

The teacher is dependent on the students to engage, analyze, problem solve, show their thinking, be receptive to feedback, and to make improvements. Therefore the learning partnership is dynamic and reciprocal.

Provide moments where students can co-create and pursue authentic problems and challenges.

There are a powerful structures to engage them in the design and pursuit of this, such as Mary Cantwell‘s Deep Design Thinking Scratch Pad.

Seek inspiration from your PLN or spend time with educators engaged in doing this work.

To see powerful examples provides the confidence that it can be done. For example, check out the good work of the Greenwich High School Innovation Lab or peruse some of the guest bloggers on Learning Personalized — Dan Ryder, Jessica Craig, Eric Chagala, Megan Offer, Brian Durst, Andrea Craig, and Craig Gastauer.

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