What my Students taught me about Learning Skills

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To understand and deeply appreciate the reality of the teacher in the classroom is to live deep inside the trench. Working along students with the hope to meet not only your respective goals as a classroom teacher but importantly provide students with the support and framework to meet their expectations and individual definitions of success. From their academic aims to their social pursuits in the school community, the hope is that all students grow into active, mature and responsible citizens. Often within this discourse, teachers are driven by the time constraints in meeting the curriculum expectations and working within a realm where initiatives are abundance. It’s with this that some of the best teaching and learning happens outside of the curriculum (those small moments) but can very much guide students in becoming the very best version of themselves (and teach, teachers at the same time about what learning is).

As educators in the classroom, how often do we intentionally address the learning skills noted on the Ontario report card?

Do we allow students an opportunity to reflect on the skills they will need today and tomorrow to achieve excellence?

In doing so, we have the great opportunity to learn a great deal about our students – who they are now and who they want to become tomorrow.

Last week, I facilitated the second annual Portfolio Camp at my school. In working with Gr. 9 STEM BTT students, that goal is to provide learners with an authentic understanding of why digital citizenship matters within the context of online social profiles as a new resume. Through the lens of Creating Pathways to Success and the IPP and importantly the Catholic Graduate Expectations, the conversation was shaped to allow students to direct the thinking and share in reflection about the skills needed to succeed in their today and tomorrow.

To begin the day, students participated in a small group brainstorm activity.  

In small groups, the class of twenty-six students shared their working goals for tomorrow (potential jobs, post-secondary education goals etc.) and the skills they believed are required for a particular profession or to “succeed” in a global economy.

As I walked the room, it was amazing to see students actually sharing – being open about their fears, ambitions and questions about what the future holds (all incredibly viable reflections). As the students shared their group reflections, some of the big ideas (and somewhat typical references) came to forefront, including:

  • Leadership
  • Collaborator
  • Problem Solver


As the conversation progressed and we dove into such terms, other ideas began to grow. Students began speaking about the need to be inclusive, respectful, empathic, compassionate, politically aware, humble, selfless etc. The human skills that are needed regardless of education or socio-economic stature. 

It was in this change in conversation that the framework for the Ontario learning skills provided context for a deep reading and practical application of the  Catholic Graduate Expectations – the importance of not only being a Collaborative Contributor and Effective Communicator but to be a leader through the lens of A Reflective, Creative and Holistic Thinker.  It was in addressing the big idea of leadership that the term was defined through the footsteps of Christ. The students shared (and learned) that being a leader is much more than organization, sharing workable ideas or being the most intelligent person in the room, but rather, the ability to help people grow, stand up for what is morally right, to admit fault, to treat people with dignity and to share in the common good.

It was with this opening camp day activity that the students became aware that designing their online brand, curating their portfolio and understanding the urgency of digital literacy and citizenship was very much about ensuring that who they are online matters. Their ability to shape the world through their digital footprint (their attitudes and values shared online) was and is much more urgent that the work curated from a respective class.

It was in listening to the students share and dive deep in this  opening conversation that the “intentionality” of the learning skills became so clearly important and a great reminder to me as a classroom teacher to pause and support students in this discussion.

Moving forward, my practice will now most definitely change. At the start of each new semester, the learning begins with this similar conversation and sharing.

Pause. Curriculum can wait.

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