Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Voices from the Field: Owning the LEARNING!

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Heather Bross

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field, Activate Student Agency

Heather Bross
Heather Bross

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter. The RISC newsletter is designed to give you practices and opportunities to move students from compliance into engagement, an essential element for building a personal mastery system.

As with each New Year, new hope for success and happiness formulates in all of us. Which makes this an ideal time to begin goal setting and the practice of self-monitoring with students.

As a coach and an avid Detroit Lions fan, I had many mixed feelings over the weekend. My beloved Detroit Lions were out of the playoffs, so my family watched as the Packers lost to a team led by someone who, I must admit, struck a chord deep in my educator heart. You may have already heard the tale of 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s letter to himself at age 9 predicting that he would someday play pro football. Funny thing, he was very detailed in writing that he would play for either the 49er’s or the Pack-ers…. The irony of that brings a smile to any sports fan’s face.

In the letter, Colin prophesizes the future: “I’m 5 ft. 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athlete. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft — to 6 ft 4 inches 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football Then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friend are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob.

Sincerely, Colin

Mr. Kaepernick obviously has extraordinary athletic ability, which has enabled him to capture the lead offensive position of a team such as the 49er’s, thus following his dream. But as an educator and advocate of personalized learning, his story sparked my interest in another way. I began to think about the motivation, goal setting, and the importance of ownership in the choices that a person such as Colin has embraced throughout his life, making his dream a reality.

As educational leaders we hear a story similar to Colin’s and say, “Now there is a very motivated child. But why do we have so many students who lack motivation in today’s classrooms and how do we motivate them?” I know I have repeated that question in my head a few times in my 18 years of public school teaching. Then I realized that it wasn’t about me motivating students… it was about me creating an environment where students will be internally motivated and own their learning. Personalized learning offers such a place by tailoring the content, pace, structure and goals of instruction to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners.

Take this opportunity to assist students in setting class leadership goals, then move to individual leadership goals. Tracking their progress with the use of goal charts, Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) forms, data folders, or electronic checklists. Teachers who have implemented a student-centered, personalized learning approach have shared with us how their students begin to own their behavior and learning as they self-assess it. Students know what is expected of them, they have had input in setting their goal, and they are holding themselves accountable for attaining it. Students are motivated to reach their goals! How can this possibly be done? Let’s begin by setting a goal for ourselves.

Our goal is to shift from teacher-driven to a student-centered environment allowing ALL students to learn. Here is what we need to consider:

  • Learners need to know why they are there and how to be successful learners…having a Shared Vision and Code of Cooperation
  • Learners need to understand clearly what they are trying to learn and what is expected of them (transparency)
  • Learners need to understand what quality and successful work looks like.
  • Learners desire to be engaged in the self-monitoring, goal setting, and strategizing.
  • Learners need to celebrate successes and stretch to reach new goals.

In 2014, how many learners will write a letter of hope like Colin’s? Encourage big goals by setting and accomplishing small ones. Revisit often, monitor regularly, and celebrate each success. Promote hope in ALL our learners by creating an environment in which ALL students can learn.


Heather Bross shares her drive and passion for education as an educational consultant and personal mastery coach with Re-Inventing Schools Coalition. Mrs. Bross worked as a primary classroom educator in Michigan for 18 years. Bross co-created a standards-based, multi-age classroom model within her local elementary school. The success of this model was the beginning of a partnership with RISC.