Shifting to the learner-centered paradigm means shifting from having “high expectations” of kids to having no idea what kids are capable of—they become a constant source of surprise and wonder.
Five years ago, when we first began interviewing education leaders from across the country, I got a chance to talk with multiple Teachers of the Year (TOTY). Each conversation was amazing in its own right, but what struck me most was the common thread—they never spoke of having arbitrarily-set high expectations for kids. They spoke about how kids constantly blew them away and surpassed any expectations they may have had about what young people are capable of.
You may be asking, “What’s wrong with high expectations?” There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. It just inadvertently creates a finite realm of possibility based on adults’ expectations of what a child can and should be and do.
The TOTYs I spoke with intuitively knew that even high expectations put a lid on kids. When we are open to stepping back and watching young people explore, discover, hypothesize, create, and share, they can blow us away with their thoughtfulness, creativity, generosity of spirit, and kindness—going well beyond even our highest expectations. They challenge us to see the world differently. They can produce groundbreaking solutions to problems we’ve all but given up on solving. Most importantly, they take ownership of their own learning and their own lives because they’ve found a nexus between their gifts and what the world needs.
In a learner-centered paradigm, we know all kids are innately curious, creative, wondrous human beings who are ready to exceed anything we could have imagined with their gifts, when given the space, opportunities, and resources to do so. When we get out of the way and support them (without saddling them with our biased expectations), we open the door to be curious ourselves. As the young learners discover themselves and who they might become, we too begin a journey of self-discovery and open-mindedness—reinvestigating the impact we want to make in this world.