‘Where the Wild Things Are’ in Practice

By Nancy Meredith, Senior Staff Developer for PEBC

Pumpkins landing on front steps morphing from ordinary farm pumpkins to Halloween pumpkins of the scary variety. Scary faces lurking behind a lighted candle casting an aura of eeriness, leaves rustling across the landscape emptying trees transforming them into skeletal shapes in the moonscape, and spooky winds blowing in the season of change. Similar to the picture book Where the Wild Things Are, this time of year casts strange shadows on everything until daylight occurs.

Such as it is with our teaching practice. Those moments of uncertainty often deepen when we are unclear of outcomes, or we wonder what might occur if we relinquish some of our control to students. In September, I discussed some ‘warm thoughts’ that might begin answering our essential questions—“How are we supporting equity, agency, thinking and understanding for each and every learner via the student-centered classroom? How do we release control in a way that is effective for all? Today, I invite us to explore further how we ‘let go.’

Hiking toward Ouzel Falls last Sunday with friends, both educators, I talked about the student-centered classroom. Rod, who works with teacher preparation programs, mentioned that he has moved from the term ‘student-centered’ to ‘learner-centered.’ This struck me, and although it is used synonymously with student-centered, I find it a bit more freeing.

Why do I say this? ‘Learner’ for me extends the focus to not only students but practitioners as well. We ALL become learners in our classrooms. I think the term ‘student-centered’ sometimes denotes the kids are in charge totally with little teacher direction. I think ‘teacher-centered’ denotes the teacher does it all. But with learner-centered, it is this combined effort to provide explicit instruction, give students large blocks of time to practice, and opportunities to become reflective beings thus resulting in a world of independent learners. Teachers should be part of this process as well.

Some would say that learner-centered education creates opportunities for helping students develop skills that better equip them for professional skills later. (Source: oneyoungworld.com) But I want to invite us to think about this as teachers selfishly for ourselves. If we adhere to the learner stance, we have to figure how to move forward with trading total control to shared learning and planning together.

Unveiling the ‘Wild’ Things…by asking ourselves these questions for our kids, what if we ask them of ourselves with our teacher/leaders?

  • Allow for (student/teacher) voice and autonomy …what structures are we creating for kids BUT what are we providing for ourselves as staff?
  • Use open-ended questioning techniques…how are we asking the beautiful questions not just of our students but of ourselves?
  • Engage in explicit instruction…how do we do share ideas for explicity with other teachers?
  • Encourage student AND teacher collaboration and group projects…if we want to encourage our kids to work collaboratively, what are we doing to practice this as well?
  • Encourage student AND teacher reflection…metacognition and self-regulation ranks very high in effect size (.94) so why are we as teachers allowing ourselves time to be more reflective?
  • Get the students involved in community-based activities and service learn projects…how are we planning this together with our students? (Source: apasseducation.com)

Returning to our essential question: “How do we release control in a way that is effective for all?” might help us strive for that learner-centered stance.

So…after uncovering some notions that make moving from the teacher-centered stance to the ‘learner-centered’ less scary, go after it. Find just one thing you want to explore as we prepare to ‘give thanks’ and gratitude in November.

“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”


Many of PEBC’s events include the opportunity for participants to visit Lab Classrooms where they can see learner-centered practices in action. Click here to see a list of upcoming events.