Are You Changing, or Are You Growing?

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.
– John C. Maxwell

Although snow is still on the ground here in Central Wisconsin, I am preparing for the upcoming gardening season. Two new raised beds will be installed. My family and I have selected what vegetables we want to grow this season.

Long before this year, I have kept a compost pile. If you are not familiar with this, it is a container that houses dead leaves, kitchen scraps, and most anything else that was once living and not an animal by-product. When this mixture breaks down into a soil-like material, it can be spread over soil and beds to aid plant growth, water retention in soil, and the overall health of a garden. Some refer to compost as “black gold”, because of all the benefits it provides toward a great harvest.

Now, I could let this pile sit. It would eventually decompose and become compost at some point in time, maybe in a couple of years. However, I can accelerate this process by turning over the dead plant material every now and then. Putting in this extra work in the beginning results in more compost both now and in the future. My efforts will lead to better results at a faster rate compared to doing nothing at all.


I see some parallels between compost and the new ways of learning available today. Tools such as social media, eBooks and digital portfolios are ripe for the taking. They just require a little extra effort in the beginning, plus some reflection as to what outdated practices they will replace. Moreover, I believe these new tools differ than other shifts in learning in the past. Being more connected will most likely not be an initiative that comes to us top down. It needs to start from the ground up, in classrooms willing to start accelerating the learning process and innovate. The students are asking for it, in their lack of engagement if not in their words. Many of them may already be using these tools on their own time and can teach us how to use them. That is okay. Maybe even better.

So, we can sit back and allow these personalized, self-directed tools for learning to eventually come to us. Maybe we can try one out next year when we are more comfortable. Our students’ audience for writing will continue to be only us, and maybe the parents. Sharing students’ learning will happen on special days a couple times a year. The purpose for our students’ work will be to get that grade above passing. Or…we can turn over our instruction and start to accelerate our own process for learning. We can be learners alongside our students, growing as a connected community whose diversity of resources knows no limits. Students will ask you what you all did while they were absent, because they don’t want to miss anything.

If you were a student in your classroom right now, would you want to wait until next year to become more connected, or even one more day?

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

4 thoughts on “Are You Changing, or Are You Growing?”

  1. Matt,
    By labeling tech tools as personalized, self-directed learning, you immediately upped the ante. As educators we really can’t wait for the “perfect” tool or until “we know it inside and outside” because the students deserve access NOW!

    Your ending question is perfect for teacher reflection, “If you were a student in your classroom, would you want to wait until next year to become more connected, or even a day?” Ask your students. I think I can predict their answer! 🙂


    1. I appreciate the feedback, Fran. This post was inspired by Alan November’s book, “Who Owns the Learning?”, which I am rereading. I am fortunate to work in a building where the professionals have an open mind about these Web 2.0 tools and their potential for helping leverage student engagement and learning.


      1. As one of those teachers in your building, I am thankful for the opportunities we’ve had to implement so many different technologies. I think a key for me is that I feel you are very supportive of us just jumping in and trying. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away. Much of this is learn as we go and, as you said, the kids actually can teach us.


      2. It’s been a fun process working with our team so far. We ask important questions of each other and we are willing to innovate. We’ve come a long way together! Thanks for the kind words.


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