Follow the Child

When I wrote my book, Learning Unleashed: Re-imagining and Re-purposing Our Schools, I knew that readers would fall into several camps. There would be those who enthusiastically agreed with the proposals that I presented, those who could wrap their heads around one or two ideas, and those who vehemently disagreed with the entire premise and intent of the book. I am totally okay with that. It mirrors the diversity of thought that fuels our collective engines, hopefully to produce better results for all of our school-aged children.

As I wrote in the preface of my book, “My desire is that everyone who reads this book will find a reawakening of passion, a morsel of hope, a willingness to think out of the box when it comes to the world of formal schooling.” That is still my hope.

In various capacities, over thirty years, I have participated, observed, and led others in the quest for an excellent education on behalf of thousands of young people in our schools. I care deeply about learning and find that most teachers do as well. I will continue to reiterate that teachers have one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs in our country.

I can hear the naysayers. For their benefit, I do not assume that other jobs are not challenging, demanding or difficult. They are as well. However, from my vantage point, teaching requires a level of consciousness that rivals a surgeon during an operation. It takes critical decision making, expertise and incredible skill to assess and respond in a way that increases the likelihood that the patient will survive. Great teachers do this everyday.

I know and have observed great teaching and learning in public schools, charter schools, private schools, religious-affiliated schools, and home schools. Great teachers are everywhere! In each instance, I noticed that choices were made by parents and students based on what they needed most. This makes sense to me because I am a mother and grandmother. I would not accept or tolerate inferior schooling for my children or grandchildren. Would you?

Why is it then that critics of school choice seem to know better than the parents and students who want to make these choices? Are these parents not capable of deciding which school choices are better than others? Do they need to be shouted down, harassed and intimidated as anti-public schools because they may choose a different course for their child? Where is the civil rights outcry when the right to choose something as basic as an education is vilified and demonized?

My book does not bash teachers,  principals, or superintendents and school boards. It is not anti-public schools or pro-religious or charter schools. It does not espouse the best route for schooling at the exclusion of others. I would not claim to know what is the best schooling choice for every child in this country. I would defer to a child’s parents on this determination. Apparently, there are many voices, (mostly teacher unions and those who support them) claiming to know what kind of school is best.

Unfortunately, as a nation we are not on common ground when it comes to the purpose of schooling. Some believe that it exists to promote and further our democracy. Others hold fast to the notion that it prepares students for college, careers and life in general. There are some who believe that it exists for the benefit of the social order as seen here below.


Until there is common ground and consensus on why we have schools to begin with and what purpose they serve, we will surely encounter division and discord. Do we consider schooling a moral obligation, a right, a necessary requirement? Do we believe that the federal government is the sole directional compass, mandating body that ensures educational equity? If so, does equity  include ALL kinds of schools or just the ones deemed appropriate or acceptable and who makes that determination? Do we believe that how one decides to become educated is a basic human right and should be unaffiliated with any governmental agency?

Given that there is vast disagreement on the “why” of schooling, we would do well to honor and accept these differences and stop trying to promote one over the other. If we are a country of diversity in thought, ideology, culture, religion, politics, etc., should we not embrace diversity in schooling rather than control the options and narrow the choices?

Maria Montessori espoused a wonderful philosophy of learning; “Follow the child.” She became keenly aware that “children absorb knowledge from their surroundings, have an endless interest in manipulating materials, and given the right tools, they can teach themselves more than anyone realized.” 1

Considering that every child learns differently, at different times, and through different approaches, maybe we should frame our educational policies, funding, and support to FOLLOW THE CHILD!

Alas, perhaps it’s not really about the child at all. Perhaps its more about  control, intimidation, or narrow-minded allegiance to an old school paradigm. The same thought that brought us to the one size fits all model of learning, will lead us to the same destination – mass production schooling where casualties are inevitable.


  1. Follow the Child




A Different Kind of NOISE


Communication is the process of transmitting information from one person to another. Noise is any type of disruption that interferes with the transmission or interpretation of information from the sender to the receiver.1

Semantic noise in communication is a type of disturbance in the transmission of a message that interferes with the interpretation of the message due to ambiguity in words, sentences or symbols used in the transmission of the message.2

Psychological noise results from preconceived notions we bring to conversations, such as racial stereotypes, reputations, biases, and assumptions. When we come into a conversation with ideas about what the other person is going to say and why, we can easily become blinded to their original message.3

There are other types of noise such as physiological, cultural and organizational. More information on these can be found in the sources cited below. However, the most important take away in this blog comes in the following sentence.

The efficacy of communication is impacted by how much noise there is in the communication channel.4

There is noise all around us, all of the time and it is not just physical noise.

Given  a typical school classroom, where communication from one person to another/others  is the main vehicle of transmitting information, understanding the impact of various noises can be helpful. Teachers and their students are not immune to noise and distractions. In fact, as a former teacher, I can attest to the constant efforts teachers make to keep distractions to a minimum. However, those are obvious noises like talking, managing books/materials, doors and windows, office interruptions, unannounced classroom visitors, and school bells and alarms.

Less obvious noises are those described in the opening paragraph. For young people, multiple noises are competing with one another as they attempt to “pay attention” in class. They may be distracted by unclear or unfamiliar words they hear. They may be distracted by facial expressions from the teacher and fellow classmates. Their memory may distract them as they recall past learning experiencing both successful and unsuccessful. They are most often distracted with their perceived failures. They are trained early on that making their teacher happy is the goal – getting the right answer is the goal – being smart is the goal. That is quite a bit of NOISE to overcome.

Teachers often repeat directions, rephrase questions, and redirect students to the lesson at hand. Some students appear attentive, yet when questioned regarding the presented material, they struggle to understand. At times, teachers assume that their students are not really listening, or perhaps they are just under-performing. Whatever the teacher diagnoses, students are hoping for a personal breakthrough that will suddenly illuminate the embarrassing darkness of not being able to properly respond.

Good teachers spend hours preparing and gathering materials for their lessons. They may even jot down great questions that ask students to think more deeply. They stand/sit and deliver with the best intentions and yet there are still many students who respond with a blank stare. If one were to ask a teacher the percentage of students who “get it” the first time they present or ask about the learning objective, the number would be quite low. From years of observing students interacting with teachers/lessons via responding to questions posed, I would venture to say that 5-10% of students demonstrated enough “attentiveness” to provide a correct or thoughtful response. Why is this the case?

When teachers frame their understanding of learning with the “other kind of noise factor” in mind, they will be better prepared for what can/will happen. Below are a few important questions teachers can ask themselves.

  • Do all of my students know that I genuinely care about them?
  • Do all of my students feel safe with me?
  • Are my words clear and precise?
  • Am I talking too much?
  • Do I allow frequent student talk?
  • Do I use other forms of communication besides my voice?
  • Do I model cognition?
  • Do I engage my students with thought-provoking questions?
  • Does it appear that I only want the right answer?
  • Do I consider and honor the individual learning differences of every student?
  • Do I demonstrate respect and attentiveness?
  • Do I refrain from bias labeling of students based on their performance or behavior?
  • Am I committed to facilitating the learning of those students in my care, whatever it takes?

Please be mindful of the noise that we may not hear -the kind of noise that has the potential to hijack real learning.

Worth repeating and food for thought: The efficacy of communication is impacted by how much noise there is in the communication channel.


  1. Communication
  2. Semantic Noise
  3. Psychological Noise
  4.  Communication Efficacy