Comprehensive Support & Programs for World Language Educators

Timeless Learning Drives the Blueprint!

©2022 The DNA of Learning Blueprint Series
by Dr. Robert K. Greenleaf and Elaine M. Millen, M.Ed. C.A.G.S.
"That which prevails in the mind and permeates time, will serve the future.”


It didn’t matter...

...that the string of small pearls Grandma wore every Thanksgiving were as old as I could remember. Grandpa gave them to her while riding back in his 1934 Ford truck after a long day of sorting through his mother’s belongings. No, the pearls weren’t worth a great deal of money, but resting upon her neck on that navy blue dress... they were priceless. Their meaning to her transcended time. It represented an understanding of a loving relationship, the challenges of life, and the journey that had evolved around the Thanksgiving table and grown over time.

Some things never go out of style... a woolen sweater he gave you 35 years ago; that little black dress still sitting in the closet.  Some things are always there... knowing someone will always love you; a teacher that lit your curiosity with a thirst for figuring things out that still lives on to this day.  Things endure because they have meaning.  Experience and personalized learning can become timeless. When application, purpose and the capacity for what one understands and can use come to light again and again... timeless learning has occurred. 


Trending echoes reverberate... we hear, “I already do that” or “My school doesn’t let us” or “There’s not enough time” when a new idea or way of doing things is put forth at the latest faculty meeting. Initiative fatigue is real...and often appropriate. Anyone in education for three+ years has already been pushed to change programs, materials, apps, etc. at least once. It’s exhausting. Worse, the last several shifts in programming didn’t live up to the hype. Millions of dollars, yet no noticeable differences. At some point our perspective must shift to resist the latest trends pushed by vendors. Rhetoric such as “This one is research based” and “This one has options for all learner needs” must be vetted with informed care. We now know exactly what will happen. Here we go again, a dose of awareness PD, some new materials, precious little implementation support and absolutely no follow up monitoring of substance. We’ll go through the paces, expend energy, make noise and in time, abandon this new initiative in favor of yet another. NOTHING over the past two decades of promises has been sustainable.


Two Decades ago...

...a RAND study suggested the 4 C’s of essential future learning as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. Today, twenty-two years later, Bernard Marr, in his recent article for Forbes magazine lists the “Top 10 Skills” for the next decade to be:

  • digital literacy (communication NOT via)
  • data literacy (communication NOT via)
  • critical thinking
  • emotional intelligence (communication NOT via)
  • creativity 
  • collaboration
  • flexibility
  • leadership
  • time management and
  • curiosity for continuous learning 
Our instruction and assessments are largely content driven, seldom aligned with the engaging interests of those sitting before us.  Notice that none of the Four C’s or Top 10 above are content specific, but rather, can all be universally developed through any subject matter. 


Past, Present, Future 

The CIA mantra is straightforward, simple and generally reasonable.  For the most part, each component has been addressed individually, but not integrated with each learner in mind.  We repeatedly update our curriculum content and learn new instructional practices.  The quantity and time spent assessing is exponential--from locally made to standardized marathons.  We’ve done it all... over and over again.  What we have not done is integrate the trilogy through students.  Unless C, I, & A are blended with the learner in mind, we’re parsing out siloed practices that “do-to” students in lieu of “doing with” each student.  Good ideas and models are everywhere.  Effective implementation, monitoring and follow-through is elusive.  The circle diagram depicts well documented educational domains.  Though the central purpose is students, it functions to conduct CIA all around the student, but fails to know the student sufficiently to impact learning.  The DNA of Learning places students front and center.



Our 2nd DNA of Learning article stated, “The traditional CIA diagram that encircles the student at the center is appealing, yet fundamentally flawed with respect to motivating learning.”  “How will I teach this” is not the same as “How will my students learn this?” [Pause please and read that again.]  More than knowing the curriculum and a toolbox of teaching strategies, is knowing what makes your students ‘tick’.”  “Everything emanates from knowing them well.  Grandma’s 1917 edition of Oral and Written English-Book One cited this at the beginning of the schoolbook.  Understanding students, their values, challenges, interests, strengths and how it all connects to their learning is imperative, lest lessons get completed without learning as a result.  Understanding a student’s personal aspirations has a profound impact on classroom culture, emotional health, engagement and learning outcomes. Committing initial and ongoing energy into connecting with students is far more productive than spending energy containing behaviors and implementing new “programs.”


We can lead horses to water.  We can put fancy new curriculums before students.  Thirstless horses don’t drink much.  Uninterested kids don’t learn much.  If students cannot see relevance in the purpose, content and tasks, there’s no inclination to invest.  Disenfranchised students pushing back and/or being compliant is not new.  It IS more pronounced than ever.  Is the message falling on deaf ears?  Without engagement first, along with neuro-move cognition-based practices (articles 4a-4f) we’re doomed to experiencing Groundhog Day... repeatedly.  Continually spending millions on CIA frameworks as the driver has yet to produce improved outcomes.  A business yielding similar results of huge expenditures and little growth over decades would fail.  The student is first, not the content.  In a world of outsourcing, the default system commonly refers “problems” to outside organizations rather than address the challenge within the system.  Expensive and non-inclusive, this practice addresses the symptoms, not the source.


It’s time to realize that we are teaching for our student’s future more than the present.  Learning today must provide learners a context to think about basic questions such as, “How does this relate to me? and When will I need this?” as functions of attention and motivation.  The traditional system behaves as if amassing information for regurgitation is valued above critical thinking and problem solving across all domains.  In the end only those rewarded by the age-old revered “review and recite” practices will persist for a grade or approval.  Instead, the future will belong to those who are adept at navigating change; figuring out relationships between new and known ideas; and adjusting to best use available resources.  Very little P-12 content suffices to support a lifetime of work and relationships through curricular content alone.  Skills and competencies are required to implement all content, thus stand the test of time.  They’re timeless.

Today we hear ads from prospective employers saying, “Come with a good work ethic/disposition and we’ll train you.”  The content is not driving most jobs, the 4 C’s and Marr’s Top 10 are.  Is it time for P-12 to re-think a content focus toward a future driven by essential capabilities over content-based test scores and grades? 

Unpacking Timeless Learning:  Moving Toward Tomorrow 

These are uncertain times yielding elevated frustration, anger and distress embedded in perspectives and dispositions (Wormeli, 2022).  It is imperative that we prepare youth for the world they live in and the world they will encounter.  So, what are the gold standard capabilities for the next generation?  Below, we’ve revisited the 2000 RAND findings, Marr’s 2022 work and the three requisites of the DNA of Learning Blueprint.

Navigating Uncertainties: Timeless capabilities needed moving forward 

Ponder encouraging teams of teachers and students to develop learning projects together (especially our high schools) and developing new structures for such collaborative teaching.  Effective time-management would be taught through project development in lieu of assigning projects devoid of addressing the skills required to accomplish all the tasks involved.  We could provide ongoing, continuous exchanges, gaining feedback about efforts in real-time, focusing on critical thinking and analysis of issues based on evidence.  We will all face new issues throughout our lives.  The capacity to go beyond knowledge to understanding—and then transfer prior understandings to less known circumstances is of lifelong purpose and value!

Art of Relating:  Timeless capabilities needed moving forward 

Ponder the interpersonal skills students must develop to be successful in the workplace as well as throughout life.  Couple these with the capacity to control and manage emotions and develop empathy.  As these capabilities develop and spill over into relating big ideas and concepts across existing and new situations, we experience a freedom of thought and understanding that helps us relate to the world as we encounter it.  Artificial intelligence apps like “ChatGPT” will eventually replace the 5-paragraph essay, research papers and other content driven assignments.  Instead of producing the documents, educators will need to engage students in evaluating computer generated papers for source, accuracy and other target criteria... as a means of developing their skills to compare and evaluate written documents. Assignments must generate engaged student attentional systems through relevant and meaningful content and concepts. The shift is imperative!

Understanding Cognition:  Timeless capabilities needed moving forward 

Ponder that Rex Jung suggestions that species potential is related to our capacity to develop and operationalize creativity. Given that David Eagleman (2012) notes the brain is inherently reluctant to re-engage with prior tasks with vigor (if physical or emotional security is not threatened), then our content driven system of delivering siloed curriculum falls short of relevant interest for the mind. We now have some insights as to aligning experiences and opportunities with how the human brain works to best relate, problem solve and retain relevant ideas.  Teacher prep programs, along with school systems, must ensure educators are applying well-vetted practices with learners.

The deliberate development of skills, such as sorting, organizing, assessing, communicating, comparing, evaluating, etc... will serve ongoing, everyday requirements for problem solving, relating, and figuring things out across all domains of learning. Curiosity and continuous learning are the essence of what eventually becomes timeless.

Moving to tomorrow...

For many, beliefs are held tightly, often without close examination (Ropeik, 2022).  For us to let go of prior practices, we need to believe it’s possible and that it’s best for all involved. Our students must learn to apply prior learning to new issues and problems if they are to embrace the wonders and tackle the challenges of the world they’ll embrace. We all do. Schooling efforts will require familiarity with problem solving, relating and applying skills and capabilities in stride. Appling learning experiences embedded in context will connect meaning with accomplishment.  There’s far too much to understand for the next generation to prosper in a ‘review and recite’ dominated approach to learning. Transferring understandings to new real-life situations moves learning forward. It’s our opportunity, perhaps even our legacy as educators throughout each learner’s lifetime.

Ch. 14 Citations:

Greenleaf & Millen, Journal of Maine Education, Summer 2022.

Marr, Bernard. “The Top 10 Most In-Demand Skills for the Next 10 Years,” Forbes, Nov. 2022. 

Ropeik, David. Harvard instructor in, Psychology Today Blog, 2022. 

Eagleman, Stanford University Neuroscience Department.  Keynote-Brain/Learning Institute, Albuquerque Academy, NM, 2012.

Wormeli, Rick. The Grief of Accepting New Ideas, Association for Middle Level Education, Dec. 2022.

Coming soon:  The DNA of Learning Blueprint ANTHOLOGY! With “how to’s” where your thinking starts...

Dr. Robert K. Greenleaf was formerly a professional development specialist at Brown University. Bob has 45 years of experience in education ranging from superintendent, principal, teacher, & special education.  As President of Greenleaf Learning Bob has traveled the world conducting Brain & Learning Institutes.  Dr. Bob’s doctoral work was at Vanderbilt with undergrad psychology.

Elaine M. Millen, M.Ed. C.A.G.S., has over 50 years of experience in education as a teacher, principal, director of special education, curriculum director and assistant superintendent of schools.  She has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  As an educational consultant/instructional coach, she has worked countrywide with hundreds of school leaders in areas of leadership, instructional coaching, and student engagement.  She worked with Brown University as a consultant, guiding project work.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published