Implementing Carl Rogers in the Classroom

After pulling together some resources for our instructors here at work, I came across a great article that outlines Carl Roger’s theories on psychology, which align themselves with educational theories. Rogers is often associated with taking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the next level, and often leaves a bit to be wanted when it comes to implementation in a learning environment. How can one construct a learning environment that simultaneously elicits strong self-worth while also building ideal self? Here’s how. According to Rogers, a fully-functioning person is one who is open to new experience, lives in the moment without judgement, trusts their feelings, involves creativity, and lives a fulfilled life. All these things are vital to a successful learning environment, so it’s fitting that we architect an environment to strengthen and elicit these notions.

Open to Experience

As this involves the acceptance of life circumstances and emotions that come with it, a learning environment can do the following.

  • Encourage failure, so as to see failure as a positive opportunity to learn – debunking the myth that to fail is the same as to be defeated.
  • Incorporate choice in assignments, lessons, and learning. Feed the inner explorer to help foster curiosity.
  • Build a safe environment, where students aren’t punished for unique thinking. This encourages risk taking.

Existential Living

This means to live without preconceived notions of what will happen. It encourages living in the moment, and a learning environment can do that through the following.

  • Journal writing – allows students to think about where they are, being mindful of their learning and how they got there.
  • Encouraging emotion recognition during the learning process. Ask students – how do you feel right now? Being emotionally aware will help students live in the moment; it gets the noise out of the way so they can just be.
  • Conduct talk-alouds to demonstrate mindfulness in action. No one is natural aware of themselves in a situation – it’s a skill that needs to be taught. Talk-alouds help learners see how the “experts” do it. Even if we don’t always get it right – it’s part of being human.

Trust Feelings

Western cultures are horrible at emotional intelligence. We don’t include a lesson about how to be angry, sad, or joyful. We don’t teach it. But we should. Here’s how a classroom can encourage that.

  • Provide space for students to react and be emotional. Let them get angry and walk away for a bit.
  • Journal writing – just as it allows students to be mindful of their learning, it gives space and validation to their “guts” and feelings. In a world that values data and facts, having a space to validate the passion that makes us human goes a long way.
  • Model. Just like talk-alouds above help, articulate what you’re doing when you trust your feelings and why. Again, it goes back to modeling that behavior and showing students how the “experts” do it.


This should be the most familiar. Fostering creativity in a classroom is something many strive for, so I won’t pretend to have the best ideas. Here are others who have much better ideas than me:

Fulfilled Life

To me, this is a combination of all the above. A fulfilled life is when a learner is interested in taking risks, feels confident and comfortable, and wants to explore more about the world and themselves. It also means feeling important to the group. Many of the same techniques can apply here, but this can also include peer teaching, peer advocacy, and committee membership. Any time you can provide student voice to the classroom, the stronger the classroom.

Happy teaching!

Humanities makes us better humans

Standford’s article The humanities and medicine (April 6, 2014) poignantly captures the value of humanities education.

For the fan of hard evidence

Education in the humanities also provides us with unique and powerful opportunities to hone our skills of critical analysis and develop clarity of thought and expression. In every pursuit and profession, the expression of ideas is inextricably linked to the formulation of ideas. It is through written and spoken communication that we shape and refine our thoughts.

Translation: humanities force us to practice critical thinking and analysis, and practice makes perfect.

For the fan of pontification

Examining differences in values and reasoning enables us to reflect thoughtfully on the normative framework we have as individuals and as members of a society. The humanities challenge us to question our assumptions, examine our beliefs and develop new ways of thinking about “conventional” wisdom. This appreciation for other modes of thought enables us to see complexity and uncertainty as key elements in the process toward discovering new truths. When viewed in this context, the journey we travel becomes as important as the destinations we reach.

Translation: humanities makes us better people.

Learner-centered and assessment-based education measurement

[T]he long-used proxies for quality in higher education—seat time, faculty profile, institutional reputation, tradition, even endowment size ― all of these indicators are insufficient, even invalid. What really matters—fundamentally, the only measure of educational quality that matters ― is learning; that is, what students know, and what they can do with what they know.
Of course, as assessment experts, you made this connection long ago. You know better than anyone that any viable definition of quality must be firmly rooted in results, in specific learning outcomes.

~ Jamie P. Merisotis, President & CEO, Lumina Foundation

The Lumina Foundation is actively working toward building new ways to measure quality in higher education, and thank goodness for that. I agree: the use of seat time is not a strong indicator of rigor, success, or even of learning. The industry is moving more and more to demonstrative means of learning – see competency-based education models, for example. More emphasis will focus on how are your students proving they have gained the learning outcomes. My favorite example is that from  psychometric expert Thomas Zane: don’t ask students to explain how to change a tire, ask them to change it.

So, if your school doesn’t have strong, measurable learning outcomes, now might be a good time for program revision.


Strength-training creativity

Many scholars from Sir Ken Robinson to Albert Einstein have recognized the importance of creativity in our lives. However, our culture too often forgets to make practicing creativity and imagination part of our mental workout routine. We fill our time with academic focus on deliberate skill sets specific to our field or job.
Yet, if we listen to those who understand neurology, like Scott Barry Kaufman and others, we’ll see that creativity is one of the highest functions: allowing ourselves to deconstruct and reconstruct prior knowledge in a unique situations to develop innovative perspectives/solutions. Dr. John Kounios defines it “as the ability to restructure one’s understanding of a situation in a nonobvious way.” A clinical way to say that creativity allows us to see the world anew, full of new beauty and possibility. Regardless of the definition, the message is the same: practicing creativity and imagination is imperative to our cognitive health.

So, I encourage you to include a creative event or “goal” in your professional development plan. Encourage yourself to go to something like Creative Mornings. Or sign up for a photography course at your local community center. Stretch yourself out beyond the direct-measured professional development to become a better thinker and problem solver. Don’t let your creativity atrophy.

Balance between project-based and linear-based education

ARTICLE: Confessions of a Subversive Student
An interesting read about the need to balance linear, predetermined paths of curriculum with loosely structured situations wherein messy, exploration-based learning can occur. Reminds me of Seyour Papert’s interview, wherein he argues that academics must

“give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means we’re going to put kids in a position where they’re going to use the knowledge that they’re getting. So what I try to do is to develop kinds of activities that are rich in scientific, mathematical, and other contents like managerial skills and project skills, and which mesh with interests that particular kids might have.”

Regardless of level, those messy and chaotic moments in project-based learning provide a real opportunity for learning that is different than linear-based. A balance is needed to be sure.