Start with why

The Common Ground Collaborative (CGC)
After such a rich and successful international career in education, most people would be reflecting on a job well done. Not Kevin Bartlett. With a nod to Simon Sinek, he starts with ‘Why?’ he and a group of other like-minded educators founded the CGC.
Why did we bother?

Good question. Designing a complete, connected Learning Ecosystem is a mountain of work, with inevitable deep challenges. Why take it on? Not for the money, that’s for sure. CGC is determinedly non-profit, so that common human motivator of material gain is not in the frame. So why did we embark on this journey?

As with most things CGC, the answer is relatively simple. We looked at the current state of play in ‘the learning game’ and saw too many things that didn’t make sense. We saw gaps. We saw gaps between what teachers wanted to do, and the ways in which they were being asked to spend their time. Gaps between students and what they believed was worth learning. Gaps between mountains of standards and the time available to teach them. Gaps between parents and schools, between disciplines, between departments. Ultimately, a major gap between what we promise and what we deliver . . . and we thought, ‘We’ve had it with that!’.

So we set out to change it. To work with schools compounded by complexity and bring clarity. To work with schools constrained by compliance and co-create contexts where teachers and leaders could follow what they believe, instead of jumping through someone else’s hoops.

We set out to close the gaps, to move from silos to systems. Then, a key question:’ If you want to create a complete, coherent learning ecosystem, where do you start?’. Following that line of inquiry, we began with lines of inquiry.

Key questions

We identified four key questions for getting learning systematized, and then we gave each a name, and the system emerged:

Define: ‘What is learning?

Design: ‘What’s worth learning and why?

Deliver: ‘ How do we build our learning culture?’

Demonstrate : ‘How do learners show what they’ve learned?

These ‘4 Ds’ provided a clear and connected framework for a coherent Learning Ecosystem. We knew that if we answered those questions faithfully, never compromising our principles, and if our responses were in the form of practical, sensible learning products for smart, hard-working professionals we would have achieved our goal. Four D’s, one Ecosystem.

That goal is the ‘holy grail’ of the articulated curriculum. We would have a simple, practical definition of the learning process to guide the teaching process. We would have a coherent content framework of ‘learning that matters’. We would have teacher agreement on co-created learning principles that drive effective learning and teaching practice. We would have a rich balance of ways for learners to share what they’ve learned.

We’d have moved from silos to systems, increasing learning while reducing stress. We’d have learners and teachers feeling that their work had purpose and their energy was well spent. We’d have replaced common nonsense with common sense. We’d have a connected, coherent Learning Ecosystem. We’d have redefined the learning game, for the benefit of all learning stakeholders. That seemed a worthy goal, a ‘just cause’ to which to dedicate ourselves.

 So that’s why we bothered.

 This is the first in a series of short articles about the CGC. If you would like to know more, Kevin can be contacted at


Kevin Bartlett has held leadership positions in the UK, Tanzania, Namibia, Austria and Belgium, where he was most recently Director of the International School of Brussels (ISB), from 2001-2015. Kevin is a regular author, a keynoter/workshop leader at multiple international and national conferences, and a consultant/coach on a wide range of themes, including Leading and Governing on Principle. He was a founding board member of CIS.



The Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) is a growing global ‘movement’ of schools, individuals and partners working together to co-create a simple, systemic response to the fundamental questions of learning, leading, teaching and assessing.


Images kindly provided by Kevin