Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

10 Student Expectations about Learning (right back at you)

CJ Westerberg, April 16, 2013 2:01 AM


(Editor's Note:  This is the second installment about Big Picture Learning's Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski's book, Leaving to Learn.  Be sure to check out the first  - What do young people want from their schools?    - CJ Westerberg)

"We hear of the 'high expectations' schools
must have of and for their students,
yet we seldom hear of
the expectations students have of their schools.

-Leaving to Learn, by Elliot Washor & Charles Mojkowski

What is your school's "customer experience"?
Video Below

by C.J. Westerberg

There are the over-used, misunderstood, go-to, default sound bites and lofty goals that seem pervasive within every school mission statement. Here they are: love of learning; life-long learning; student voice; critical thinking, democratic ideals, preparation for life and career. 

When reading Leaving to Learn by Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski, one gets a strong sense of the hollowness of the-above mentioned platitudes coming from so many schools, both public and private, that one one wants to shout, "Show me".  In this book, Even the education novice understands how schools under-deliver on the "promise".

. . . As one of our students said of his former school: "They knew my weaknesses, but that is all they knew about me."  And it's true: the bottom line for measuring learning in most schools is knowing what students cannot do, not what they can. 
And seldom are weaknesses viewed as insights into strengths. (p.12)

Unless the school mandate and community delivers the environment, conditions and culture for engaged and productive learning, phrases du jour like "inspiring life-long learning" are merely vacuous talking points.

A remarkable and unique signature element of Leaving to Learn is the framework or template, if you will, that can help every school create the right conditions for learning success, which is  redefined BEYOND the traditional parameters. Excerpts:

Students' expectations constitute the new "rules of engagement" in the relationship that young people want with their schools.  (p. xxv)

Based on our work with young people and the reasons they disengage from school, we have identified ten expectations, phrased as questions from a student's perspective, that we believe are indispensible conditions schools must provide if they are to engage students in productive learning: (p.22)


1) Relationships: Do my teachers and others who might serve as my teachers know about me and my interests and talents?

2) Relevance:  Do I find what the school is teaching relevant to my interests?

3) Authenticity:  Is the learning and work I do regarded as significant outside school by my communities of practice and by experts, family, and employers?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Leaving-to-Learn.jpgThe other student expectations are:
4)  Application
5)  Choice
6)  Challenge
7)  Play
8)  Practice
9)  Time
10)  Timing
Each are framed by a key question and further elaborated with anecdotal examples.

Intriguing? Yes. Disruptive? Yes.  Do-able? 
Here's what the authors have to say:

There you have it:
ten expectations that, consciously or not,
students crave and that most schools largely ignore,
arguing that these expectations are far too idealistic. 
Nevertheless, in the worlds of vocation and avocation,
providers of out-of-school learning are listening carefully to students' expectations and improving their ability to deliver. 
Indeed, we think that social entrepreneurs will begin to treat these expectations as design requirements for developing alternative learning programs
that address the user's experience.

These expectations - essential conditions - for productive learning
are much more easily addressed if schools take advantage
of the world outside school,
where young people find adults who are doing the work
the young people wish to do and
emulate these mentors in developing the necessary habits and practices.

Leaving to Learn is an important book. It is also refreshing because it marries big picture with concrete options but not the headache-inducing, super-granular kind. Technology and policy are part of the conversation, but not the lead stars as much as productive learning, relationships and relevance.

As Sir Ken Robinson concludes in the book's Foreword, "To succeed as it has to, education must engage the curiosity, creativity, aptitudes, and passions of every student.
Leaving to Learn has vital lessons for all of us on how to do exactly that."

Go to Part 1 - What do young people want from their schools?
Getting Out of Their School Silo


Related The Daily Riff:

It's Disengagement, Stupid featuring Elliot Washor

10 Steps for Smarter Schools by Dennis Littky - co-founder Big Picture Learning

Passion-Based High School vs. High School Boredom: Choose

Bill & Melinda's Field Trips

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