Learner-centered schools not only focus on what your passion is but [they focus on] you as a person.
Learner, High School for the Recording Arts
Earlier this month, Education Reimagined hosted its second SparkHouse gathering in Washington, DC. Fifty-five learners from 12 states and 15 learning environments joined us for two days of incredible discovery.
When we wrote about SparkHouse last year, we were so impressed by the learners we had gathered, we wanted their voices to be amplified for all to hear. So, rather than describe the ins and outs of what went on during the gathering, we focused on the most important aspect of all, the power and significance of learner voice.
Suffice it to say, with more participants, this year’s event had even more impact on everyone in attendance. For the second year in a row, we witnessed the remarkable ease with which these young learners comprehend the complex information presented and provide fodder that advances our collective knowledge.
One of the most difficult aspects of discussing learner-centered education to general audiences is the barrier of talking across paradigms. For example, the challenge of speaking about learner agency with someone who relates to learners as vessels to be filled with knowledge. Neither person is “wrong;” they are just not speaking from the same worldview. However, when a young learner is asked to describe learner-centered education, they are not only able to candidly speak to their own experiences but are, in themselves, the actual evidence of what learner-centered education makes possible. So, these young learners, in less than 48 hours, are able to provide new and effective communication strategies that articulate the power of learner-centered education in ways only they know how.
Each of us is going to take this back to our schools and talk to our faculty and principals to spread the word about it. It has to be us. Especially at my school, they don’t care to spread the word. I think they’re afraid that they’re going to be forced to do something they don’t want to.
It’s almost comical looking around the room as the adults intently digest every word coming out of the learners’ mouths. If we hit pause during these moments and asked the learners to look around, they might be a bit worried by our dumbfounded gazes. Thankfully, they are as engaged as we are, so we can collect ourselves as the conversation goes on.
It can’t be stressed enough that the evidence of this movement’s effectiveness is contained in their stories and in their articulations of why learner-centered transformation holds so much promise for every child. Acknowledging this power, Education Reimagined brings these learners together to:
- Get clear on what we mean when we say “learner-centered;”
- Deepen relationships with their peers from across the country;
- Cultivate a rich sense of community that expands beyond their time together in DC;
- Realize and gain confidence in the power of their voices;
- Discover new opportunities to contribute to the learner-centered movement; and
- Emerge as a community of movement leaders ready to champion learner-centered education for all kids.
The first four bullet points are right in our wheelhouse and more or less represent the intended outcomes of our The Learning Lab Training. And, when we discovered the wisdom of last year’s SparkHouse participants, it begged the question, what next? How can we support these learners to ensure their work, voices, and contributions are leveraged, not diluted to the point of being undetectable? A more whimsical way to put it, how do we make sure the heat inside SparkHouse isn’t immediately dispersed when someone opens the door?
We didn’t have a clear answer to these questions last year, but thankfully, the learners only needed a two-day gathering to launch themselves into learner-driven, local and national efforts. This year was our chance to synthesize everything we learned from the year before and provide guideposts for learners to stretch their thinking even further as we head into 2018.
Our goal was to design Launch Points to inspire learners to discover how their gifts could be most utilized and celebrated within the learner-centered movement. To jumpstart their thinking, we identified three main buckets—Communicate and Share, Advance the Learner-Centered Field, and Create Something New.
Communicate and Share
The learner-centered movement won’t go anywhere if we aren’t talking about it. Given the countless modes of communication the new millennium has graced us with, everything from hosting a webinar to launching a social media campaign to hosting a virtual dinner conversation can work as a model to engage curious minds in the learner-centered conversation. And, who would you rather accept an invitation from? An impassioned learner from your community or an outside adult with an unfamiliar job title? When we hear learner-centered, we should expect learners to not only be the center of the conversation but actually be at the center of the conversation.
For learners who recognize their communication gifts are best expressed in a non-oratory fashion, they have the opportunity to share their message in publications like Voyager, Trailblazers, or local media outlets.
Advance the Learner-Centered Field
Communicating and sharing the learner-centered message expands the size of the movement. We believe this is what it will take to reach a national tipping point where the predominant school-centered paradigm begins to give way. Simultaneously though, the learner-centered field itself must be robust enough for a smooth transformation to take place, avoiding the possibility of bouncing back to our old ways.
We would like to host our own conference and teach the staff and students about what we learned at SparkHouse. We also want to have a coaching session with teachers so as the year goes along and people show interest in our model, we could coach them.
Learner, Camden Big Picture Learning Academy
Learners have been shown opportunities to accelerate the development of learner-centered education inside their learning environment as well as build the connections throughout their community to make learner-centered education the norm rather than the exception. Within their own learning environments, they can encourage new learning practices or co-design professional development opportunities for educators and district leaders. In the community, they can take a seat at the table in School Board meetings, set up meetings with education department heads in government and at universities, or partner with local policymakers to enlighten them on the learner-centered experience.
Create Something New
After our 2016 launch of the SparkHouse community, learners went home to their communities and began building unexpected and remarkable things. This creative freedom had to be included in the development of these Launch Points. We—at Education Reimagined or adults in general—can only see so many possibilities before the limitations of our experience gets in the way. There is no limit to the ideas and campaigns that can be developed by these learners, and we wanted to encourage them to think beyond what is known. For them, the sky is the limit.
We wanted to share these Launch Points with our readership to bring greater understanding to the intention behind our SparkHouse gatherings. But, even more so, to inspire action by learners all across the country. We are committed to dispelling the tendency to question the realistic nature of a young learner’s ability to make any significant impact. Instead, we hope this makes educators ask themselves, “How might I empower my learners to tackle similar challenges?” It’s already happening, and it’s our responsibility and opportunity to accelerate this work in every corner of the country.
Learners are acutely aware of the impact learner-centered education has had on their lives and are hungry for the opportunity to provide similar experiences to every learner in their community. Let’s be activators (not detractors) in this inevitable and irreversible educational transformation.