At Education Reimagined, we have been asking ourselves whether it matters which element you start with. In listening to the pioneers, can we see whether it matters which of the five elements you start with? Will starting with one entry point lead to all the other elements more quickly or are they all equal?
This week, it became clear to me that the place that most quickly leads to all five of the elements is likely in the being of learner-centered itself: starting by listening to the learners. Listening to a learner and having them be known and know themselves—really known—for their gifts, talents, interests, and aspirations.
This seems so obvious. It almost feels ludicrous to have to say that the place to start in creating learner-centered learning environments is to start by listening and knowing the learner. Yet, it isn’t where most innovation begins. In listening to pioneers, it seems to be a pattern. Here are three of many stories I heard recently:
Kim Carter, Executive Director of the QED Foundation and Founder of MC2: When a child comes into our school for the first time, we start by getting to know them. We want to know their interests and strengths and have the child know their interests and strengths so we can start with those and develop them into confident learners who know how they learn and are engaged in things they want to learn.
Joanne McEachen, President and Chief Destiny Changer from The Learner First: When we work with a new learning environment, we ask teachers to pick three or four students to really get to know and begin to work with to create learning pathways that empower the learner. That always revitalizes the teacher and gives her permission to use her professional judgment.
Bena Kallick, co-founder of the Institute for Habits of Mind: I train teachers to listen. And then I ask them to sit with a learner and listen to them. The results transform the learners and the teachers. Some learners say it is the first time in their whole life that anyone has ever listened to them.
I suspect that in starting a learner-centered learning environment, the most valuable place to start is by authentically listening to learners. It seems obvious now that you can’t be learner-centered without knowing the learner for ALL of who they are—their interests, strengths, struggles, and aspirations. But, sometimes, the obvious takes time to make itself known.