Where does the energy in your classroom come from? | Simon Holzapfel | 3 Min Read

February 6, 2024

When I started lesson planning in the 90s it was something I looked forward to. Although it took a lot of time, I found that better plans made for more energy in the classroom, more student engagement, and better learning outcomes. 

With the passing years and hundreds of reps of practice, lesson planning took less time and it remained something I basically enjoyed. Until I realized that something was amiss. 

As a heavily loaded administrator who also had classroom responsibility, I realized I was missing something about how to engage my students and how to make the classroom a place of authentically shared authority for learning. That doubt started when I encountered Understanding by Design [UBD] and then grew when I started using LearningFLOW from L-EAF. 

What I noticed is that when I shared authority with my students for lesson planning, allowing them some agency and real input, the energy level went up and stayed up. I was getting more done, sooner and with less energy. I now know that I shouldn’t have been surprised, given what we have learned about team science in the past generation and across many domains of learning. 

The UBD framework has been proven effective over decades of use and development. It scaffolds lesson planning beautifully: introducing transparency, structure and flexibility to the process. L-EAF’s LearningFLOW approach builds off the basic structure of UBD, but with some refinements that makes it even easier to the energy flow going in class. 

Mapping UBD and Learning FLOW 

As LearningFLOW is used by more teachers we started noticing the overlaps with UBD, a validation of both the science underlying both methods and the power of students’ intrinsic motivation to grow and succeed in most learning environments. 

Here is the correspondence: 

Step 1 of the UBD process [Define Desired Results] mirrors the Meso Cycle of planning in LearningFLOW. In both methods the teacher is leading the design process, setting up the initial constraints and boundaries for the next unit or project.

Step 2 of UBD [Determine Acceptable Evidence] corresponds to the LearningFLOW Macro Cycle. In this stage of planning there is more collaboration between the teacher and students. While the teacher still is setting the parameters to ensure learning standards are targeted effectively, the students can introduce ideas and experiments. 

Step 3 of UBD [Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction] corresponds to the Micro Cycle of LearningFLOW and this is where the magic starts happening. LearningFLOW draws on student agency and interest to allow more input to this ground level activity — encouraging students to claim responsibility for HOW the learning will be directed minute to minute in time outside of direct instruction. Students can pull instruction from the teacher as needed. Teachers can then shift their attention from controlling and being the ‘air traffic controller’ of the class to being a conductor and guide. 

For me this means that I’m spending less time on lesson planning without sacrificing quality outcomes. That is because of an authentic sharing of responsibility with the students for our outcomes. This is where doing one less thing becomes counterintuitive: a method to improve outcomes while reducing teacher energy. 

As teachers are asked to be front line mental health workers, counselors, nurturers and other roles that were used to be more peripheral to the work, we see signs everywhere of overwhelm, burn out and quitting. LearningFLOW’s pedagogy allows teachers to flip the script. By allowing students’ drive for success and agency more space in the classroom, the effort of lesson planning can now be put into deepening relationships or simply coming to the end of a long day with more gas in the tank for the rest of life and heading back to the classroom tomorrow.

Simon Holzapfel

Simon Holzapfel is an award-winning educator, thought leader, innovator, and writer. He is a co-founder and CEO of the L-eaf Lab, as well as a former Head of School, former Director of Studies, and current Board Chair of The Montessori School of the Berkshires. Simon was in the initial cohort of leaders trained at NAIS’ Innovation Strategy Lab and spent time on the Executive Board of Boston University’s Agile Innovation Lab. Simon is a certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified ImprovementKATA (LIK) & WorkFLOW (LWF) and a member of the Berkshire Innovation Center. Applying four years of experience on the New York State Association of Independent Schools [NYSAIS] Commission on Accreditation, Simon has spent years helping organizations and their teams improve their outcomes by applying lean system thinking and the agile mindset. He lives in Williamstown, MA, and spends as much time as he responsibly can each day on his skis or mountain bike.

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