Timeless Learning Drives the Blueprint!

When Teaching Mirrors Learning Series 

Unpacking The DNA of Learning Blueprint


     Each article in this 15 part series systematically unpacks the DNA of Learning Blueprint for kindling the spirit of learning and re-starting our passion as educators.  The collective series will represent a comprehensive outline of fundamental requirements for timeless learning across ages and disciplines.

Part 15:  Timeless Learning Drives the Blueprint!

“That which prevails in the mind and permeates time, will serve the future.”

What if…

     …instead of tracking content proficiency, we focused on timeless capabilities. 

What if

     …the DNA of Learning requisites 1) navigating uncertainties, 2) relating to others and 3) understanding how one thinks to best explore new situations were central tenets of schooling?   Would these be more likely to transfer into the elusive happiness and productive lives we often hear referenced?  Instead of acquiring content knowledge as measured by grades and test scores, these three requisites of the DNA of Learning Blueprint support the journey across infinite settings and career choices. Given the fast paced ever changing technologies, navigating uncertainties is paramount to building competency and resolving challenges.  With social media connecting people globally, knowing how to relate to information as well as to others is far more lifelong than getting grades within subject matter silos.  If our brain is our asset, our thinking tool to guide the process, then we should know how to best use it ASAP!


Coming full circle

     We began this work with… “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.”

     Timeless doesn’t go out of style.  Some things are always there, with a purpose, with meaning. Learning can become timeless—must become timeless—as there is too much content, too much coming at us at all times, too much noise.  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…

     …as 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 it’s exhausting personnel and resources.  NOTHING over the past two decades of promises has been sustainable.  It’s time to let go of expenditures, labor and resource, that cannot measure up to the challenges of our times.


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)
  • data literacy (communication)
  • critical thinking
  • emotional intelligence (communication)
  • 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 common 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 because “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’.”  Grandma’s 1917 edition of Oral and Written English-Book One cited Everything emanates from knowing them[students] well” at the beginning of the schoolbook.  Even in 1917 it was posited  that 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 challenges 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 with 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 (2000) and Marr’s (2022) 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 communications of all types.  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 Dr. Rex Jung (2011) suggests that our 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.  Applying 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.                                                                                

Previous Article


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.

Jung, Rex.  2011.  Presentation given in Albuquerque, NH at the Greenleaf Learning Institute.

Eagleman, David, 2012. Presentation given in Vancouver, BC at the Greenleaf Learning Institute.