Guest blogpost by Anton de Vries, learning power consultant and lead thinker. Thank you Anton!

In a few days, pupils in The Netherlands will be allowed to return to elementary school; a great time for teachers, parents and especially the pupils themselves. Although there are concerns, many teachers will be happy to meet their pupils again.

  • How will you start your class again?
  • How do you give space to pupils feelings?
  • How do you create a safe pedagogical climate so that learning becomes possible again?
  • What matters at school, what values are so alive at school that it gives you something to hold on to for the start next week?

The river of learning

A wonderful metaphor is the learning river, conceived and designed by Becky Carlzon and included in her book ‘Powering up Children’, which she co-authored with Prof Guy Claxton.

Teachers are trained to deliver the curriculum; core objectives, subject matter and knowledge are usually embedded naturally in everyday teaching. This upper stream in the river of learning flows quickly.

Below it is the flow of skills and literacy. Literacy is the knowledge and ability to acquire and process information; good reading and math skills are essential to this. This second stream in the learning river also usually flows fairly quickly.

Below it is the slower undercurrent of attitudes and dispositions. For example:

  • What attitudes do you need to show in order to work well together?
  • Are you willing to share all information?
  • Do you put yourself in the other person’s shoes and listen attentively in the process (even if you don’t agree with someone’s point of view)?
  • Do you appeal to your predisposition and are you willing to ‘stretch’ in that?

From the pedagogical approach the Learning Power Approach, it is recommended to connect these attitudes, to the lesson content and skills you were planning to do anyway.

Pupils back in school: what is of value?

And then the pupils are back in your classroom. How do you start? Open the books immediately and get to work (because they are already so far behind)? Just a ‘blow off (emotional) steam morning’ and then go again? I think this is the time to organise ‘White space‘. It’s about having time and space to think, so your mind isn’t so full that you feel overwhelmed and overloaded. It’s about channelling your emotional state and well-being, what you feel, know and believe about yourself. What matters? When your pupils leave school, what makes us happy? What do the answers and thoughts about this dialogue mean for the start next period?

So what I want to add and revise to this great ‘river of learning’, is a good “bottom” and solid “quays”; in this way it will allow learning to flow well at all three levels. This bottom and quays are filled with values that matter to you as a person, and as a school team; that give meaning. This outcome of the reflections in the ‘white space’, makes it logical and valuable how to start next period. So now in this start-up phase is a good time to reflect on this. Recommendations:

  • Have a prolonged (and have it come back regularly) conversation with each other about what made you happy in the past period and what you want to keep. What do you definitely not want anymore? Do these answers (still) fit with the core values of the school?
  • Do this conversation also with pupils. What have you found important recently? What do they want to keep? What do they want no longer? What could we do differently together in the future?
  • Have this conversation with parents as well. Make the connection to what they find valuable and how they can help in parenting to train the attitudes that are needed at home and help in learning at school.

Good luck and enjoy the next period!

Anton de Vries
trainer consultant BLP in The Netherlands


  • Powering up children, Carlzon and Claxton (2018) 

earlier blog about ‘white space’:

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