What is the most underutilized resource in education? The learner. We never tire from saying this because it is what the current paradigm of education can’t see. The learner is the object, not the subject, of the adults’ work—the delivery of education. In the learner-centered paradigm, what becomes obvious is that learners can be active participants in all aspects of learning, learning design, model design, and systemic transformation.
Whenever we get stuck on the “how to” of learner-centered transformation, we should habitually engage with young people—making them core members of the strategy team. Whether we’re exploring the competencies we want every child leaving with, identifying how to assess those competencies, or simply figuring out what healthy lunch options we should provide, learners will illuminate our blind spots.
As a parent, I have learned this lesson over and over again. When my children were in Kindergarten and 3rd grade, respectively, getting out of the house on time was a battle. Oftentimes, tears were shed by all, including me. After taking a parenting class, I shifted from forced compliance (demanding the precise time each of my children be out of bed, downstairs, and with their backpacks packed and ready to go)—to sitting down as a family and co-creating a plan for how we can have less anxious and stressful mornings.
During our little meeting, I told my children how our morning routine simply wasn’t working (with looks of “No kidding, Sherlock”). When presented with the opportunity to create something new, they dug in without hesitation. We created ideas and developed a plan that was far more ambitious than anything I had ever tried.
They set the rewards and consequences to the game we were going to play for the next week. And, I asked them what help they wanted from me. There were victories and losses that week. But, by weeks two and three, they were reliably winning the game. So much so, in fact, that we didn’t even have to acknowledge the game we were playing. It fell into the background; I trusted them to get out the door on time, and they did.
Standing at the door a month earlier, I couldn’t have imagined that these children, who seemed to have it out for me when it came to doing what I asked, were taking charge and delivering beyond expectation. That’s what’s possible when we engage young people—of any age—in being part of the creation of things.