Ladders of Learning

Stretching for the leaves and muck just beyond my reach, I lean precariously from an upper rung of the ladder propped up against our gutter.  It’s that time of year again when I finally, long overdue, get around to clearing out our gutters.


Once again, as the ladder (with my added weight) pushes against the gutter and bends its metal edge, I consider that there must be a better way for me to clear out the gutters without bending the gutters themselves.  As I also consider just how far I can stretch to the side and lean my weight to reach the debris without the ladder slipping sideways, I’m also vaguely aware that I’m not engaged in the safest of enterprises.   However, I quickly dismiss these musings to focus on the immediate task at hand.

Deciding that safety takes precedence, I reluctantly back off my lean and begrudgingly descend the ladder (observing with resignation that I’ve noticeably dented the gutter edge once again) and move it over before reascending to reach the muck from a less precarious angle.  This time, as I climb toward the roof edge, the weight is simply more than the gutter can withstand and the metal cracks, a stream of brownish water leaking out and dripping to the ground below.

A half hour later, I’m standing in the local hardware store, looking for a sealant to repair the cracked gutter and explaining what caused the damage in the first place.  “You need to get some ladder arms,” explains the customer service man dressed in his overalls, fetching me a pair.

Back at home, I fit the ends of my newly purchased ladder arms into the holes on the side of the ladder – holes I hadn’t previously noticed, let alone considered their purpose.   ladder-wings-on-roof-by-gutterAs I  prop the ladder against the house and rest the arms on the edge of the roof, I happily note that the ladder itself isn’t even touching the gutters.  I ascend the ladder, repair the cracked gutter with the sealant, and continue clearing the muck from the gutters, pleased that the ladder feels far more stable (I can lean much further in either direction without any slippage) and that I won’t be denting the gutters anymore.

As I finish my gutter clearing duties, I ponder how this experience parallels what occurs in our schools every day.  How often do I teach in a particular way, vaguely aware that there’s likely a better way to achieve my objective, but remain too focused on the immediate task at hand to change my practice.  Although I wasn’t pleased that I broke the gutter in the first place, it occurs to me that something had to crack before I looked around and found a better way to get the job done.  Until this crack occurred, I continued to do things the way I’d always done them, despite my vague sense of its shortcomings.

There’s a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen

In the subsequent days, out walking in our neighbourhood, I suddenly noticed several other ladders propped against houses, all with support arms.  The simple solution to my immediate concern (denting the gutters), as well as a more important concern of which I’d only been more vaguely aware (the lack of stability), had been around me for years, yet I hadn’t even noticed until now!

It occurs to me that I am surrounded by better tools and other educators with far better practices than mine, staring me in the face if I only choose to look.  It occurs to me that waiting for years until something cracks before changing my practice is quite pathetic, and I need to more proactively invest the time to improve upon my less efficient and effective ways of doing things.  It occurs to me to more consciously and frequently try new tools and ask others with more experience and greater expertise to share their knowledge and insights.  It occurs to me that, through such reflections, I may have just climbed a rung or two on my own professional journey, my own ladder of learning.  

Originally written October 10th, 2016, by Ken Andrews

  • Was something “cracking” (or at least “lacking”) in your practice, so you found a better way, climbing a rung or two on your own ladder of learning?  Share your story, insights, or feedback in the comments section below.




3 thoughts on “Ladders of Learning

  1. Yes, the “crack” may be the start of change, but it was your willingness and openness to share your experience with the person in the hardware store, then his careful listening and suggestion.
    When I think of worthwhile changes I’ve made, it was so often because of connection with someone – a teacher who welcomed me into their classroom and shared providing services for students, an insightful educational assistant who knew their students and worked respectfully and collaboratively to craft better opportunities for them, and administrators who were supportive facilitators who could listen, connect and make things happen.


    1. Highly agree, Christina. A “crack” may open an opportunity, but the culture – of openness, support, and collaboration – sets conditions that result in meaningful change. I try to speak to that cultural piece in previous blog post – “The Metaphorical Journey”. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  2. Welcome to the blogosphere!

    I look forward to your insights, thoughts and musings Ken. Having read this, I’m compelled to share a post with you:

    It shares my own ladder experience (though I witnessed it, rather than did it), and a ‘Ladder of student involvement in school’, which I think you will appreciate.

    I’m going to share one more post with you (originally posted on March 11th, 2007… but you don’t need to go to it, just read what I wrote in it below:

    “In my first year of teaching, another first year teacher on my team, Ken Andrews, designed a marking system for Humanities (English and Social Studies combined). In his system students chose projects based on which outcomes they most needed to demonstrate. Like all teachers, he had assignments based on the curriculum and prescribed learning outcomes (PLO’s), and then during the year he would have ‘choice’ projects. The means of output/presentation were determined by a student’s need to demonstrate skills they had not shown yet, or that they were still developing. Ken had 4 or 5 categories based on the PLO’s, and to give you an idea of how this worked, some students might have had to do an oral presentation whereas another might have needed to write an essay, and still another student might have had to write something creative as their choice project. Without going into greater detail, he basically followed the notion of:
    “Not counting marks,
    but marking what counts.” ~Ken Andrews

    Liked by 1 person

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