Article: Escape from the Zero-Learning Zone

November 10, 2020
Written by
Geoff Knight

Article: Escape from the Zero-Learning Zone

July 19, 2023
November 10, 2020
Written by
Geoff Knight

We know that learning is essential for professional success, self-efficacy, healthy relationships, and well-being. However, when opportunities to learn present themselves, we frequently turn away. Offered the chance to learn, we choose instead to move into what Jim calls the Zero-Learning Zone. Jim's article from ASCD's Educational Learning highlights several reasons for why we have this turning away from chances to learn, and what we can methods we can use to get ourselves out of the Zero-Learning Zone.

Why We Slip into Zero-Learning Mode


We often miss the chance to learn because we do not see that we need to learn. A principal, for example, might not see how much time he wastes on unimportant issues during staff meetings until he watches a video recording of a meeting.

We don't think the learning is worth it

In order for us to grow and change we need to believe we can do what we are considering, and we need to believe the change is worth the effort.


Another reason we might turn away from a learning opportunity is if the learning challenges our narrative about who we are. Many of us are shy about learning more about ourselves.

Hope (or, more precisely, its absence)

Gallup Senior Researcher Shane Lopez (2013) summarizes a three-part process for hope: To have hope we need goals, a sense of agency (our belief that we have control over our lives and that we can meet our goals), and having multiple ways of reaching that goal. 

Getting Past Zero (How to move out of the Zero-Learning Zone)

Flip your perspective

Gain a different perspective on how you lead and teach, or how your students learn. The easiest way to do this is to video record yourself doing something important, such as teaching a lesson. This will force you to see or hear things outside of your own perspective and, yes, learn.

Create specific goals

Our research on coaching at the Kansas Coaching Project at the University of Kansas identified five variables that make for effective goals. We summarize these variables as PEERS goals: Powerful, Easy to Achieve, Emotionally Compelling, Reachable and Student-Focused.

Utilize design thinking

Design thinking is a methodology for creating and problem solving that applies the strategies of design to real-world challenges and opportunities. One of the advantages of design thinking is that it reduces the stress and anxiety of attempting change without a framework, and therefore helps to push teachers out of the Zero-Learning Zone.

Conduct a hope audit

Ask yourself: Do I have a clear, specific goal? Do I have strategies I can use to hit the goal? Do I believe I can hit the goal? If your answer to any of these questions is "no," then you need to identify resources that can help you find hope and reach that goal.

Keep it simple and targeted

Learning may seem overwhelming if we try to take on too much all at once. Choose one learning target and stick with it until it is accomplished.

Treat yourself with compassion

Daniel Pink (2018) offers a simple way for educators to be more compassionate toward themselves. He suggests that when we are disappointed by something we've done, we should write ourselves an email expressing compassion or understanding, imagining "what someone one who cares about you might say."

Leading Our Own Learning

Teacher-led learning has great potential because we can influence and inspire students when we model our own learning. Learning is our lifeblood, and we live better when we learn more. To experience that learning, however, we need to step outside of the Zero-Learning Zone. What matters is that we intentionally keep learning. When we do, our children's lives will be better, and so will our own.

Click here to read the full article on the Zero-Learning Zone. To see more of our articles please visit our research page.

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation

We love hearing how instructional coaching is impacting the life, work, and relationships of people all over the world. Share your story with us today.

share your story

We love hearing how instructional coaching is impacting the life, work, and relationships of people all over the world. Leave a comment below to share your story.

Do you have a coaching story to share?

We love hearing how instructional coaching is impacting the life, work, and relationships of people all over the world. Share your story with us today.