This past week, we held our third Movement Builder Intensive in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For two full days, 62 learner-centered leaders from regional and national organizations representing philanthropy, higher education, policy, and civil rights, as well as learning environment leaders and young people, grappled with deep questions around how the learner-centered movement will make good on its promise to reach every single child in this country.
One participant raised the question: “How do you know if you are tweaking around the edges or taking the first small steps towards transformation?” It is such a simple, yet profound, question. Since Education Reimagined’s launch in September 2015, we have been committed to the idea that no tweaking of the standardized, one-size-fits-all system will ever celebrate the unique, capable, curious, and wondrous characteristics within every child. Rather, we must transform—which means we must create from nothing, instead of tweaking something.
Where does that leave district schools who are often in highly constrained circumstances? Does that mean they can’t transform? Does it mean they must demolish their buildings, fire their staff, and stop serving their communities until they are ready to launch a robust learner-centered model? No.
Transformation, first and foremost, takes place in a person (not a building) and changes everything about how they see education—from education’s purpose, to who children are, to how learning happens. And, the anomalies seen in the current system—like young learners who “fall through the cracks”—are no longer seen as anomalies but, rather, as results inherent to the current system’s design. As driving reasons to call for real transformation in order to actually support every single child to learn and thrive. Because no version—be it the first or one hundredth—of any school-centered accountability, assessment, credentialing of learning, or bell schedule system will provide the space for a learner-centered vision to be fully realized.
How can the space be created for a learner-centered vision to be acted upon? If you’ve transformed your mindset, the space is already there. You can immediately begin making small changes (not just incremental improvements) to the system including:
- Getting to know your kids, their families, and the circumstances in which they are living and building meaningful relationships with them;
- Letting their curiosities, aspirations, cultures, and backgrounds help inform and drive what, how, and where they are learning;
- Integrating learning that a young person is doing outside of school into their learning plan and credentialed learning;
- Giving up “control” in as many places as you can; and
- Partnering with young people to co-create their learning pathways, meaningful projects, and solutions to problems within your community and the personal lives of your young people.
As you begin creating a learner-centered culture with the young people you serve, it is your responsibility to provide the space and opportunity for your colleague’s to experience this mindset shift as well. As your community of learner-centered leaders grows, you will have the capacity to push on the broader conventional systems together—eventually leading to a robust transformation within your local, regional, and national community.
This wide-scale transformation starts with questions like the one above: “How do you know if you are tweaking around the edges or taking the first small steps towards transformation?” We must be courageous enough to continue asking these questions and discussing them with one another. The more we question, the clearer we become on what is and is not learner-centered. The clearer we become, the faster this movement will reach every community in this country. And, for the first time in this country’s history, every single child will be provided the support they need to realize their full potential.