One sunny Auckland afternoon, I sat talking with two of my favourite people, Sandra Russell and John Edwards. We chatted all things learning and got talking about child centered learning and agency. Sandra mentioned a poem she wrote with John: The Things We Steal From Children. I loved it so much I asked if I could share it on my blog – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did as I think it hits at the heart of agency and child centered learning.



Sandra Russell and John Edwards

 If I am always the one to think of where to go next.

If where we go is always the decision of the curriculum or my curiosity and not theirs.

If motivation is mine.

If I always decide on the topic to be studied, the title of the story, the problem to be worked on

If I am always the one who has reviewed their work and decided what they need.

How will they ever know how to begin?


If I am the one who is always monitoring progress.

If I set the pace of all working discussions.

If I always look ahead, foresee problems and endeavour to eliminate them.

If I never allow them to feel and use the energy from confusion and frustration.

If myself and others are allowed to break into their concentration.

How will they learn to continue their own work?


If all the marking and editing is done by me.

If the selection of which work is to be published or evaluated is made by me.

If what is valued and valuable is always decided by external sources or by me.

If there is no forum to discuss what delights them in their task, what is working, what is not working, what they plan to do about it.

If they have not learned a language of self-assessment.

How will they find ownership, direction and delight in what they do?


If I speak of individuals but present learning as if they are all the same.

If I am never seen to reflect and reflection time is never provided.

If we never develop a vocabulary to speak about our thinking

If I signify that there are always right and wrong answers.

If I never openly respect their thoughts.

If I never let them persevere with the difficult and complex.

If I discourage playfulness.

If there is no time to explore.

How will they get to know themselves as a thinker?


 If they never get to help anyone else.

If we force them to always work and play with children of the same age.

If I do not teach them the skills of working co-operatively.

If collaboration can be seen as cheating.

If all classroom activities are based in competitiveness.

If everything is seen to be for marks.

How will they learn to work with others?


For if they

have had all of their creative thoughts explained away.

are unaware what catches their interest and how then to have confidence in that interest.

have never followed something they are passionate about to a satisfying conclusion.

have not clarified the way they sabotage their own learning.

are afraid to seek help and do not know who or how to ask.

are paralysed by the need to know everything before writing or acting.

have never got bogged down.

have never failed.

have always played it safe.

How will they ever know who they are?

 (Russell and Edwards: 1996)


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