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Here’s a TED Talk that came across my daily feed this week. The title immediately caught my attention. I mean, what self-proclaimed TED Talk junkie wouldn’t be attracted by a title that seemed to mix learning and passion.

I grabbed my lunch and sat down to watch. I wasn’t disappointed—and I can’t imagine that you will regret investing the 10 or 11 minutes. In fact, if your reaction is similar to mine, you will likely want to watch it again with a friend or colleague.

The premise is poignantly simple. Mindset Works co-founder Eduardo Briceño argues that we can use two frames or zones to look at the lives we lead and the work that we do: a learning zone and a performance zone. The learning zone is where we aim to improve a skill, a practice or a competency. This is the place of trial and error, the place of risk-taking and the place where a growth mindset can propel us forward. The learning zone is the place for real…well…learning!

On the other hand, the performance zone is all about mastery, competent execution and putting our best out there for the world to see and hear. This is where we say to the world, “Here’s what I can do!”.

As I watched the video for a second and third time, my mind took me on a somewhat involuntary tour of my own life, my own practices and the places where I needed to do the most learning. It wasn’t long before I was faced with the realization that most of my waking hours are spent in the performance zone. Whether it is writing a blog, conducting a radio interview or, more recently, practicing the piano, much of what I do falls within the performance zone and, by its very nature, is very public. I don’t set aside a whole lot of time in my day for intentionally structured practice.

But, if Briceño is correct, that’s exactly what needs to happen if we want to get really good at anything—especially the things we really care about.

And, given that education is one of the things that I really care about, it wasn’t long before I started thinking about schools as learning zones. I fear that Briceño is right when he observes that schools are primarily places of performance—on so many levels. Tightly wound curriculum, coupled with blurred lines between assessment and evaluation make it difficult to argue otherwise.

I would like to reflect on this more, but I need some companions on the journey! I would love to get your thoughts on the brief video and then engage in a conversation, either here or on voicEd Radio. I think that Eduardo Briceño has given us a way to think about shifting schools in a very powerful way.  But you may have a different take on things.

How do you frame your thinking about schools? As an educator, what percentage of time do your students spend in the learning zone? Are you satisfied with the balance between learning and performance? Do you agree with the conceptual separation between learning and performance?

As a parent, what are your observations of your own children in terms of learning and performance? Is there a difference between what your children experience in school and other aspects of their lives? 

As a student, what parts of this conversation resonate with you? What percentage of your school day do you feel like you are performing? Is there adequate time and space for learning? Can you engage in deep learning when in the performance zone? 

As always, there may be a totally different set of questions going through your mind. I would love to hear what they might be!