Last issue, I wrote about some principles that we see are guiding learner-centered pioneers as they create learning environments that fit their particular learners’ needs and community’s circumstances:
- Transformation cannot be done to or for people; it must be done by and with people.
- Complex systems change demands partnership and collaboration across diverse stakeholders in and outside of education over time.
- Inventing out of our traditional system toward a new one requires high levels of trust among all of the stakeholders involved.
In fact, these principles are not only applicable at the level of the transformation of the individual learning environment. They guide our theory of how this transformation will happen at all levels—learning environment, community, policy, and system. While this inherently means that the starting point for this transformation is at the local level—the community—it does not mean that localities can do it alone.
So, what does it mean? What role is there for state regulators and policymakers, especially in light of the new ESSA? It means that the role of policy is to clear the obstacles so that local pioneers can create, invent, and iterate. This does not mean that legislation needs to mandate new systems. Instead, policymakers could consider allowing their pioneers to opt into zones that provide them with the freedoms to experiment with learner-centered education.
We know that that is a big leap—leaving the space for those on the ground to create, learn, and iterate, rather than coming in with a preconceived answer. So, what’s the first step?
- Know who your pioneers are. Have a way to see and recognize those transforming, rather than reforming, the education system.
- Visit and learn from pioneers. Ask them about the results they are getting and what obstacles are standing in their way.
- Keep the conversation going to learn how policies are affecting them. Provide the space for them to share what is and what is not working.
Just as we will need collaborative iteration among local stakeholders to create new learning environments, it will also take collaborative iteration among local and state players to create the ecosystems in which pioneers can thrive and spread.