Big Picture Learning

Skip to main content


Why can’t all schools meet students at the center of their own learning? There are many answers to this question, but one that comes to mind is that schools simply self-impose pressures on themselves that keep them from finding the flexibility within whatever structure (either literal or figurative) that confines them.

For instance, one very specific self-imposed barrier is an insistence that schools themselves set the expectations for learning, which students must adhere to. Desks must be positioned a certain way. Classrooms must last a certain time period. The level of volume in the room must always hover around a certain (quiet) decibel. And, above all, teaching must occur at school.

But while we often hear of the expectations that schools have of students, we rarely get a chance to hear about the expectations that students have of schools. These get less attention, but are essential to keeping students engaged and in school.

At Big Picture Learning, we have been working steadfastly for over 20 years designing and assisting schools who are interested in finding ways to put students at the center of their own learning. And you can’t do that without first asking hard questions like: 

  • Do I know about my students’ individual interests and talents?
  • Do I help my students understand how learning contributes to our community and the world?
  • Can my students learn things in an order that fits their own learning style(s)?
  • Do my students have opportunities to tinker and make guesses?
  • Do my students have real choices about what, when and how to learn and demonstrate their abilities?

So we’ve developed a set of tools for educators which lay the path toward a more student-centered approach to learning, a path that—remarkably—is open to both resource-rich and underserved communities. Through the 10 Expectations portal, we’ve made available (for free!) videos, rubrics and interactive surveys that can help students, parents and educators determine whether their school is truly an engaging learning environment, one which asks the essential question: “Have we considered students’ own expectations of us?”