Creating My Significant Learning Environment

I have never been a “traditional” classroom teacher, as my job duties in my school district is to support teachers with professional learning, integrating technology and general instructional support. However, I can honestly attest that there has not been one day in my 28 years in public education where I have conducted, implemented, facilitated, supported or presented new knowledge without putting myself in the shoes of the teachers I support. How will this information impact this teacher? How can I make the information I am sharing be of importance or interest to this teacher/campus? How can I help make this as easy as possible for my students to grasp and implement? 

It is challenging to provide engaging, personalized instruction that leads to deep learning. I strive to find new and exciting ways to present the required materials, however it has morphed into more of a “to-do” on my checklist. I have become the “entertainer” where the focus is on how to make the time we spend together learning as fun as possible. I have been known to do cartwheels to gain attention, use props, throw treats to participants (smarties, of course) and have impromptu conga lines when we need to move!!   I am proud to say that my learners were never bored (hopefully!) but also embarrassed to admit that my focus was not necessarily on retention or deep, meaningful learning.

Reading and studying A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, has pushed me to reconsider how we – the educators – are challenged to think about our classrooms as environments for learning filled with inquiry, the wealth of technology resources, the significance of play and the increased importance of community and mentorship to produce a new culture of students who learn through each other and self-discovery (Thomas & Brown, 2011). The authors argue that learning has shifted from an educational environment of exclusively explicit knowledge (that which is “easily identified, articulated, transferred, and testable”) to one of tacit knowledge (that which is “understood as a product of experience and interaction”) (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 74). We live in a world of consistent change and unlimited access to information, and the education system has unfortunately not kept up. The teacher is no longer the sole provider of information and because of the plethora of knowledge at our disposal, it is time to shift our thinking from the old model of teaching (explicit) to a new model of learning where our students learn by doing, watching and experiencing in this digital world(Thomas & Brown, 2011). 

Learning is easy, natural, and effortless everywhere but in our current school system unfortunately (Thomas & Brown, 2011). We learn in everything we do by taking in our world and making sense of our experiences, but learning at school is currently inauthentic and bogged down with accountability, standardized testing and lack of funding and resources. Although I have strived to make learning entertaining for my students, it has not necessarily included a focus on retention, inquiry, and connection to the passion and desire to learn that Thomas and Brown define as PLAY. Through play, we can engage passion, use imagination and allow for appropriate constraint (Brown & Thomas, 2011). So now I am at a crossroads where I am taking the path untraveled as I am convinced that I should not be the person at the front of the room acting as the content provider or entertainer but rather to commit to encourage, facilitate, engage, support, model and inspire by creating significant learning environments for my students that fosters creativity and play. And I have a clever plan to do just that!

As I have progressed through this Masters Program, I have had to do some deep soul-searching to make sure I am supporting my learners in the best way possible. Personally, if I want to know something, I search for the answer, read about what others have to say, ask experts, practice, fail, try again, and learn through this process. Our classrooms should provide that same opportunity to our students. My largest challenge though is completely personal – I have the desire and my why, but do I have the courage to stay the course? Do I have the confidence and strength to stand up for my beliefs, stay open to integrating new concepts and making the needed changes to model, implement and encourage significant learning environments that provide students choice, voice and ownership? I believe I am ready and able, both professionally and personally, to build this new culture of learning because that is what is best for my students. 

Instead of asking how will the information I teach impact the learner or how can I make the information feel important/relevant to the learner, I will reframe it to remember that I can create significant learning environments with the focus on the core elements of passion, imagination and constraint built with play so that my learners can develop the skills they require to be successful (Thomas & Brown, 2011). An effective and engaging learning environment takes everything into account and recognizes that learning is often messy, dynamic, and always deeply personal (ChangSchool & Bates, 2015). Regardless of the age of the learner, the goal is the same…the desire to instill lasting, contextual knowledge for our students. A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown has reignited my commitment to create a culture of “play” that is not entertainment but rather hands on, contextual and imaginative so that the learners (no matter what age) can walk away having had FUN while gaining meaningful KNOWLEDGE too. I believe that this is the desire of every educator and my plan is broad enough to become a foundational perspective that will influence not only my actions, but those of every educator I impact. That is my mission now and my plan is slowly coming to fruition in order to change the culture of learning in my school district!


ChangSchool & Bates, T. (2015, December 14). Dr. Tony Bates on Building Effective Learning Environments [Video]. YouTube.

Dwayne Harapnuik. (2015, May 9). Creating Significant Learning Environments (CSLE) [Video]. YouTube.

TEDx Talks & Thomas, D. (2012, September 13). A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas at TEDxUFM [Video]. YouTube.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (1st ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

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