Learner-centered leaders provide powerful learning opportunities

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 16, we spoke with Roger Cook, superintendent of Taylor County schools in Kentucky, along with 3 learners – Weston Young, Lexi Raikes, and Lauren Williams – about learner-centered opportunities in Taylor County and their innovative 24-7 performance-based education school, Cardinal Academy.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders provide powerful learning opportunities.  They listen to their learners to find out what they need. Then they identify a way to create a program or other structure that supports the learners’ needs.

Takeaways

The superintendent, Roger Cook, seeks to provide success for all of his learners. Regardless of what the learner needs, he finds a way to provide an opportunity. This can look very different for individual learners, as it should, but he consistently engages in non-negotiables when addressing a learner’s challenge. In Taylor County, no one is allowed to fail. If a student wants to drop out, he/she needs to sit with Roger and talk about why he/she wants to drop out of school. Roger Cook is proud of the District’s 100% graduation rate! “If a teacher fails kids, the teacher is failing me.”  Not only are all current seniors graduating, but the District has also graduated 16 learners who dropped out of school in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Cook developed a six-spoke “Wheel of Learning” that allows teachers and students to chose the instructional style they prefer for each subject. The spokes are:

  1. Traditional: typical teacher-directed learning and lecturing
  2. Self-paced: a flipped classroom approach, in which teachers develop video lessons that students can access anytime, and then complete coursework on campus
  3. Project-based: students focus on applying knowledge to real-world situations
  4. Peer/group-led: Teachers facilitated group work that allows students to teach and learn among another
  5. Virtual: classes offered completely online from an outside vendor
  6. Cardinal Academy: a group of advanced students who don’t have a class schedule or assigned teacher, but instead have standards to accomplish on a daily basis that they decide independently how to complete

Learners in Cardinal Academy need to be proficient on the state standardized tests,  and demonstrate responsibility and discipline. Applicants are interviewed before enrolling in the Academy.  Before graduating, Cardinal Academy learners are required to complete a culminating community project. Learners shared they appreciated the agency they have over their time in the Cardinal Academy. Learners can manage their schedules to earn college course credit.

Opportunities abound in Taylor County. Everybody has a 1:1 device and can utilize it it to engage in self-paced learning. The District realizes some learners still prefer and a need a traditional approach to their education. In the traditional path, the students learn with a teacher in a more traditional, blended school model. Examples were shared during the conversation pertaining to a student-led bank and grocery store, students earning their flight credentials, and career/technology education (welding, cosmetology and agriculture). Regardless of student interest, a program exists at Taylor that can be personalized to student passion and interest.

STARS – Students Teaching and Reaching Students – The district is building student leadership through Cook’s Kids in the STARS program.  Currently there are 350 students teaching and reaching other students. The STARS earn credit by supporting the learners who need extra help.

To create these opportunities, Taylor County had to readjust some attitudes.  For example, they don’t give learners zeros as they overcame the notion of giving up on learners. No zeros. No failures. No dropouts. No excuses. Dropout prevention Specialists will meet with students 1:1 to talk about barriers to learning. If students are not working diligently in class, they are pulled out of class for a conversation with the Dropout Prevention Specialist.  

Teachers and school leaders need to look at every student every day and help to keep them in school.  As the leader of the organization, Roger holds the teachers responsible for living this mindset. He truly values learners. “If you trust kids and you give them responsibility, they will perform.”

The learners shared their perspectives on learning in the rigorous learner-centered environment. Having more agency over the learning environment requires a strong, and sometimes different, skill set.  The learners in Cardinal Academy need to learn how to be highly effective in time management, realistic about what they can achieve, and how to prioritize their learning goals and study time. The students reflected that working with an individualized schedule supports future work at college.

Leaders also need diverse skills to be effective in a learner-centered learning environment. To Roger, it is easy. Listen to the kids. Be compassionate. Be interested in your kids and see what it takes to make them successful.  Get the staff to listen to kids every day.  Be open-minded. Instead of thinking outside the box, throw away the box. Support teachers as they try something new. If something is not working, find out why and fix it.

Professional learning is a critical component to the evolution of this district. Students are dismissed at 1:00 every Friday so teachers can engage in professional conversations and learning. If students are unable to go home, the STARS students will provide additional tutoring.  Providing alternatives and options helps learners get what they need.

Connection to Practice

Our teachers have significant professional learning time. By contract, teachers complete nine full days of professional learning.  Of the nine, two are choice days in which teachers have significant autonomy over their learning. Are we making effective use of the days? How do we know?

As a result of our 1:1 digital transformation, our learners each have a device which can be used to access resources, collaborate, create, communicate, etc.  How can the tool support our next steps in developing a learner-centered learning environment?

Our graduation rate is very high, but as leaders at the top of the organization, we are not consistently engaging with those learners who are considering dropping out of school. Should we have a process for engaging those learners and their families?

Questions Based on Our Context:

  • Will we get to the point where we maintain the “traditional spoke” and yet have much more to offer?
  • How do we support our leaders as we implement this vision?
  • How can we build student leadership?
  • How can we release agency to our learners?
  • We believe we are supporting teachers in taking risks. What would our teachers say?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations with our teachers about learner agency and risk-taking.
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Learner-centered leaders understand the critical importance of learner interests

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 15, we had a conversation about personalizing learning through internships based on learner interests; and the power of relationships with leaders and learners from Big Picture Learning and Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in Bronx, NY. We spoke with Dr. Andrew Frishman, co-executive director for Big Picture Learning; Naseem Haamid and Terrence Freeman, learners at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School.

Terrence shared examples of extended learning opportunities – internships and panels.  Naseem shared his transition from learning what teachers wanted him to learn to learning about what most interested him.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders provide opportunities for their learners to develop their passions.  They keep the “students at the center, but practice at the edges.”   How do we design a set of classroom experiences that compliment that? A school that supports educators who do that? An evaluation system that determines who is doing that well? Learner-centered leaders understand the critical importance of learner interests in designing deep, powerful, learner-centered opportunities that shift life outcomes and trajectories.

Key Takeaways

Learners need diverse opportunities for growth. For example, Naseem learned to dress more professionallly, communicate professionally via email and network through his internship in Madison Square Garden. These opportunities provide motivation for additional leadership opportunities. Through this experience, and a subsequent internship, Naseem worked towards visioning his future and developing the skills needed to realize it. He tells us he wants to be President of the United States.

Learners will have to adjust to a new environment with new expectations. For example, the development of a portfolio requires learners to write more effectively. This transition may be challenging for some learners.

Big Picture Learning schools are designed for learners who are interested in pursuing their passions. BPL schools are organized around progressive ideas – connecting to young people’s experiences/interests. Learning through interest creates a pull and reward for learners.  Learning is about relationships, and as people we are biochemically connected. Learning requires practice.  Bridging these three ideas – interests, relationships, practice – creates a unique learning environment.

Advisors need to understand students’ interests and passions. Naseem and Terrence really value the mentoring program. The advisors put the learners in a position to succeed, learn more about themselves as learners, and grow. In a Big Picture Learning school, the learners learn from the advisors, and the advisors learn from the learners. Learning happens within and beyond the school, and advisors recognize that.

Naseem encourages teachers to take the time to really learn about the students, and see something in the students that they don’t see in themselves. Terrence encourages teachers to regard individuality. Students should not be on the same pathway, and will not meet the same expectations. Students are not machines that will just mechanically produce.

Connections to Practice

At Salisbury, we are investigating implementing an internship program. We are actually going to start with some internal internships. We are creating a Social Media Intern and a Design Intern. What will this look like for our learners?

We are talking about developing digital portfolios with our secondary schools. Our specialist teachers in our middle school have worked with all middle school learners to create a digital portfolio using Google Sites. Content area teachers are also using the sites to show the students’ work. In the high school, some teachers are tinkering with WordPress sites, but it is not yet systemic.

Learners can help us determine what is necessary in our schools/systems. How can we leverage #stuvoice to learn more about what is possible in our context. We are working with superintendent advisory groups in each of our buildings. How do we connect more with learners?

Questions Based on Our Context

  • What barriers to change exist for us, and how can we push through them?
  • How do we increase opportunities for learners to connect with their passions?
  • How do we leverage our community to determine what is possible for Salisbury learners?
  • How are relationships different between advisors and learners in a learner-centered environment as compared to a school-centered environment?
  • How do we become more sensitive to listening to learner voice – the users of our educational system?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations with our learners to better understand the disconnect between what learners do in school and what learners do outside of school. How do we bridge that gap?

Learner-centered leaders are intentional about what is being given up in the transformation

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 14, we had an engaging conversation with Sonya Wrisley, Neel Pujar and Stacey Lamb from Design39Campus in CA. There were lots of takeaways as we listened to the story of designing a school to creating the conditions for intentional conversations about what to give up from the old school-centered model. One of the most significant parts of the conversation had to do with the intentionality of letting aspects of the school-centered system go.

Key Competency

When working with a small team of leaders and learners to design Design39Campus, principal Sonya Wrigley created space for the team to have intentional conversation about aspects of the school-centered system to let go. Learner-centered leaders are intentional about what is being given up in the transformation. Here is what they discussed letting go: control and power, teacher isolation, territory, traditional classroom spaces with “stuff,” learning only happening at a desk, homework for homework’s sake, grade level boundaries.

Key Takeaways

It takes time to create a sustainable vision for transformation. As principal, Sonya worked on this for two years. She researched other school models around the country that exemplified key principles – a school designed with the learner in mind, collaborative community, design thinking, global connections, inquiry, technology and other real world tools, and a growth mindset poised to change the world.

Learner voice was a key factor in the development of the school. Through a design thinking model, learners were asked, “Why are schools built the way they are?”

As they engaged in the design thinking process, they thought deeply about what to let go of during this transformation:

  • They wanted to reduce the isolation and concept of territory. Teachers (learning experience designers) would not have their own classrooms, and Sonya would not have her own office. Instead they created community learning spaces for learners, and the open collaboration areas became design studios.
  • They thought intentionally about traditional school-centered spaces and how they needed to be modified for this new school. Teachers were asked to “dump their stuff.” Instead, they created “makeries” by contributing all of their “making” supplies to the learning community. Classroom books were moved to the loft so students could borrow resources which interested them.
  • Giving up control was one of the biggest challenges. Teachers gave up the position of power or being a sage on the stage. Learners have knowledge, and the learning experience designers can learn from them, too.
  • Traditional school-centered seating was also abandoned. Learners didn’t have to be seated at a desk to be learning; learning takes place everywhere from hallways to community learning spaces.
  • Homework akin to doing 20 math problems was no longer acceptable. Instead, homework was completed when the learning naturally extended beyond the school day because learners didn’t want to stop what they were doing.
  • Grade level boundaries evolved into learners learning at a pace that was appropriate for them.

While engaging in the design and implementation, the team mitigated some barriers. They had to learn to trust the community – including their colleagues. Team members needed to rely on each other because no one person can do this work. The team reflected on its work continuously, made modifications and will continue to assess their work.

They needed to shift mindsets and perceptions – particularly in the parent and school community. Everyone needed to understand this is not the school they attended in the past.   Design39Campus conducted design workshops prior to and during the school year. About 100 people attended the sessions and talked through the ideas. Parent tours were conducted to help parents experience the learning environment.

If they wanted to change the way they thought about something, they had to change the way they talked about it. In addition to classrooms becoming learning spaces, the administration building was referred to as the welcome center.   The shift in language helped the community understand the differences.

Design39Campus discovered the more voice/choice learners have, the more agency. Learners take control of their behavior, thoughts, and actions. They take control of themselves, and changes are evident. For example, issues on the playground have decreased as a result of learners taking control, solving problems, and taking leadership – even in social situations. Learners are empowered with trust and ownership and they then want to make their learning space the best space possible.

Shifting the paradigm of education is not easy and it is not quick. It is hard work. In education, we need to build empathy for one another. We need to listen to understand where others are coming from in their thinking.

Design39Campus team members shared advice with our listeners. They encourage us to start small and make some changes with the learners in our schools. They encourage us to let go of control and share the leadership. We need to encourage teachers to fail forward and fail fast. The environment has to support this with strong trust.

Connections to Practice

  • The design thinking process is woven through this experience. We have been iterating our professional learning over the past few years. We have also iterated leadership team meetings and goals. Where else can we iterate? Where can we start?
  • It is essential to develop trust across the organization in order to provide the space for risk-taking and failing. As leaders, we need to be explicit about this expectation. How well are we communicating this across the organization?
  • To shift our mindset, we need to intentionally shift our vocabulary. As we learn and talk with other practitioners, our language is evolving. We will work with our Leading #YourSalisbury professional learning cohort to develop our own lexicon.
  • We need to provide opportunities for collaboration. Teachers work in PLCs through grade level teams, departments, etc. What structures do we have in place to encourage collaboration? How can we best support out teachers and leaders when they are working in these groups? How can we engage their voice and choice to cultivate ownership?

Questions Based on Our Context

  • Why are schools built the way they are?
  • How can we more effectively engage our parents/community through school visits?
  • What can we give up? Who needs to be involved in these conversation?
  • How do we build empathy for one other?

Next Steps for Us

  • Consider the above questions
  • Identify areas we can “give up”
  • Identify a strategy for getting started on our lexicon

Learner-centered leaders exhibit a start-up, entrepreneurial mindset

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 14, we had an engaging conversation with Sonya Wrisley, Neel Pujar and Stacey Lamb from Design39Campus in CA. There were lots of takeaways as we listened to the story of designing a school to creating the conditions for intentional conversations about what to give up from the old school-centered model. One of the most significant parts of the conversation had to do with the intentionality of letting aspects of the school-centered system go.

Key Competency

When working with a small team of leaders and learners to design Design39Campus, principal Sonya Wrigley created space for the team to have intentional conversation about aspects of the school-centered system to let go. Learner-centered leaders are intentional about what is being given up in the transformation. Here is what they discussed letting go: control and power, teacher isolation, territory, traditional classroom spaces with “stuff,” learning only happening at a desk, homework for homework’s sake, grade level boundaries.

Key Takeaways

It takes time to create a sustainable vision for transformation. As principal, Sonya worked on this for two years. She researched other school models around the country that exemplified key principles – a school designed with the learner in mind, collaborative community, design thinking, global connections, inquiry, technology and other real world tools, and a growth mindset poised to change the world.

Learner voice was a key factor in the development of the school. Through a design thinking model, learners were asked, “Why are schools built the way they are?”

As they engaged in the design thinking process, they thought deeply about what to let go of during this transformation:

  • They wanted to reduce the isolation and concept of territory. Teachers (learning experience designers) would not have their own classrooms, and Sonya would not have her own office. Instead they created community learning spaces for learners, and the open collaboration areas became design studios.
  • They thought intentionally about traditional school-centered spaces and how they needed to be modified for this new school. Teachers were asked to “dump their stuff.” Instead, they created “makeries” by contributing all of their “making” supplies to the learning community. Classroom books were moved to the loft so students could borrow resources which interested them.
  • Giving up control was one of the biggest challenges. Teachers gave up the position of power or being a sage on the stage. Learners have knowledge, and the learning experience designers can learn from them, too.
  • Traditional school-centered seating was also abandoned. Learners didn’t have to be seated at a desk to be learning; learning takes place everywhere from hallways to community learning spaces.
  • Homework akin to doing 20 math problems was no longer acceptable. Instead, homework was completed when the learning naturally extended beyond the school day because learners didn’t want to stop what they were doing.
  • Grade level boundaries evolved into learners learning at a pace that was appropriate for them.

While engaging in the design and implementation, the team mitigated some barriers. They had to learn to trust the community – including their colleagues. Team members needed to rely on each other because no one person can do this work. The team reflected on its work continuously, made modifications and will continue to assess their work.

They needed to shift mindsets and perceptions – particularly in the parent and school community. Everyone needed to understand this is not the school they attended in the past.   Design39Campus conducted design workshops prior to and during the school year. About 100 people attended the sessions and talked through the ideas. Parent tours were conducted to help parents experience the learning environment.

If they wanted to change the way they thought about something, they had to change the way they talked about it. In addition to classrooms becoming learning spaces, the administration building was referred to as the welcome center.   The shift in language helped the community understand the differences.

Design39Campus discovered the more voice/choice learners have, the more agency. Learners take control of their behavior, thoughts, and actions. They take control of themselves, and changes are evident. For example, issues on the playground have decreased as a result of learners taking control, solving problems, and taking leadership – even in social situations. Learners are empowered with trust and ownership and they then want to make their learning space the best space possible.

Shifting the paradigm of education is not easy and it is not quick. It is hard work. In education, we need to build empathy for one another. We need to listen to understand where others are coming from in their thinking.

Design39Campus team members shared advice with our listeners. They encourage us to start small and make some changes with the learners in our schools. They encourage us to let go of control and share the leadership. We need to encourage teachers to fail forward and fail fast. The environment has to support this with strong trust.

Connections to Practice

  • The design thinking process is woven through this experience. We have been iterating our professional learning over the past few years. We have also iterated leadership team meetings and goals. Where else can we iterate? Where can we start?
  • It is essential to develop trust across the organization in order to provide the space for risk-taking and failing. As leaders, we need to be explicit about this expectation. How well are we communicating this across the organization?
  • To shift our mindset, we need to intentionally shift our vocabulary. As we learn and talk with other practitioners, our language is evolving. We will work with our Leading #YourSalisbury professional learning cohort to develop our own lexicon.
  • We need to provide opportunities for collaboration. Teachers work in PLCs through grade level teams, departments, etc. What structures do we have in place to encourage collaboration? How can we best support out teachers and leaders when they are working in these groups? How can we engage their voice and choice to cultivate ownership?

Questions Based on Our Context

  • Why are schools built the way they are?
  • How can we more effectively engage our parents/community through school visits?
  • What can we give up? Who needs to be involved in these conversation?
  • How do we build empathy for one other?

Next Steps for Us

  • Consider the above questions
  • Identify areas we can “give up”
  • Identify a strategy for getting started on our lexicon

Learner-centered leaders approach transformation as a design challenge

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

 

In Episode 11, we had a conversation with Salem City School (VA) superintendent, Dr. Alan Seibert and learner, Alayna Johnson. We talked about the complexities of bringing a learner-centered mindset to a system at scale, how internships and externships break down the walls of learning, and how learner-centered environments put less focus on grades and fixed response assessments and more focus on learning.

Key Competency

Learner-centered leaders approach transformation as a design challenge. Leaders “honor the complexities of our profession.” Analyzing all of the pieces of the complex puzzle, they determine how they best fit together to meet the needs of all learners. To do this, leaders need to model a growth mindset so they can engage in conversations and experimentation, but also get out of the way.

“We don’t have a people problem. We do have a design problem. We have people with a heart for children….We need a system to unfold the unique human potential of every child.”  ~Alan Seibert

Key Takeaways

Transformation is a journey of scale, moving entire systems to transform. If the goal is to personalize the learning experience for every learner K-12 in each of the schools, we need to help our policymakers and industry leaders understand personalization and competency-based learning.

Internships and externships are a common thread in transformation, representing the “open-walled” element. For example, in the early childhood program, some students have the opportunity to support learners in their previously completed courses, and others can actually work in elementary school setting.

Curriculum can be organized around the 16 nationally-recognized career clusters to help the learning become authentic.  Students begin academic career planning in 6th grade, and they begin to build their program of study.  Because children are interested in more discrete learning opportunities, the school is developing smaller unit, online elective courses  (with eDynamics) like The Holocaust, Women’s Suffrage, etc.

Transformation is slow and messy.  The people in a transforming system have a growth mindset – leaders and learners. Leaders have to shift mindsets and engage resources. For example, Salem engaged leaders in the Chamber of Commerce.

Transformed systems give up age-old thinking around grading and standardized, fixed-response systems of assessment. There is more focus on learning and competency. To do this, we need to think critically about some of our practices.  Using formative assessment, providing feedback, and attacking power standards will assist in the movement of the system towards transformation. We need to rethink grading practices and adjust procedures and policies for varying content areas and grade levels. Instead of working on policies, we need to reshape grading philosophy. Salem even revisited its class rank policy. There is no longer class rank in Salem; instead they honor every distinguished scholar who earned a 4.0 GPA or higher.

Thinking about ideas as tiles in a mosaic, some will need to be popped in an out. Tiles might include technology, grading practices, professional learning communities, and project-based learning. Technology can help to systematize – improve efficiency and communication or personalize. For example, at the middle school, there is a math teacher who has redesigned instruction to include individualized computer lessons coupled with conferring and self-paced assessments.  Each learner sets the pace of the instruction.Project-based learning can help students gain voice and choice in their learning.

Connections to Practice

As a small school district, the size of many schools, we feel that we can transform the system, given the time and resources. Transforming an entire system is challenging since there are many more moving parts than in a classroom pocket of innovation.

We really connect with the idea of creating authentic learning opportunities within and beyond our school walls. We are thinking critically about how we can design these learning experiences. How can we create internship opportunities for our learners?  We know we will need to navigate some of the same barriers that Salem experienced – time and logistics.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • What are the common challenges of changing an entire system and changing pockets of the system?
  • What are reasonable expectations for the first year of an externship/internship program? How will we involve our learners in defining these opportunities?
  • What are the particular challenges to internships/externships within our context?
  • How do we better engage with our Chamber of Commerce?
  • In what ways do we model a growth mindset? Are their fixed mindset practices we need to eliminate?
  • In what areas do we continue to view education as the transmission of information? Where do we need to focus our efforts an enrollment?
  • Why is transformation slow and messy? Have we identified explicit reasons or factors particular to our context? How can we address them?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations with leaders, learners, and teachers to explore the above questions.
  • Have we clearly articulated the components of the system we need to transform? Which components, once shifted, will unlock other parts of the system to move us more rapidly toward an authentic learner-centered environment?
  • Engage students in designing internship/externship programs. Also, tap into our Chamber of Commerce.

Learner-centered leaders effectively engage community

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D
In Episode 10, we had a conversation with Mesa County School District 51 superintendent, Steve Schultz. We discussed engaging community to design the “what” and “why” of system transformation, the importance of providing the space and time for community to shift mindsets, and the value of “walking the talk.”

Key Competency

The idea of community ran as a thread through the conversation. Steve includes what we would traditionally call “stakeholders” in the community – students, teachers, leaders, board members and community representatives such as newspaper reporters and Chamber of Commerce leaders. Learner-centered leaders leading a system transformation, effectively engage community. In Mesa’s work over the past 18 months, community has been engaged to develop a model of proficiency-based learning that best serves the unique context and needs of Mesa County.

Key Takeaways

Mesa County was strategic in how it engaged community. Board members were engaged in the question, “What does personalized learning look like?”

Community members visited model programs around the country. After being inspired by what they saw, Mesa County community members engaged in conversations about what it could look like in their own unique context. In a large system of 22,000 students, buildings have been given autonomy in terms of implementation and time.

Mesa County listens to the community to inform the change. This can be a challenge because everyone is an “expert” in the system by having merely processed through it. Encouraging others to suspend previous opinion about what school school be can be a challenge.

Transformation takes time and close attention to pacing. It cannot be forced. Leaders need to provide the time for community to struggle through the shifts in mindset required. Not everyone understands the detail, but people are asking constructive questions. The transformation is growing throughout the system through engagement and transparency.

Implementation of the vision is through demonstration schools across the system. Mesa County is hiring people with experience in the work and creating the infrastructure of tools necessary.  Mesa County has had to push back on aspects of the traditional system: organization of central office (learning to be a more agile and responsive organization). High school has been the most challenging. Grade levels will not be abandoned until the system is ready.

Although the demonstration schools are implementing specific components of the vision (piloting a LMS, etc), all stakeholders across the organization (and even community organizations) are focused on development and growth mindset through this process.

Leaders need to shift their practice: practice what you preach; realize there are many ways transformation can happen – be open to listening to others; developing partnerships in the community is necessary and a long-term investment; transformation requires courage.

Connections to Practice

We followed a similar process of developing a shared vision. We engaged multiple sets of stakeholders and are now working to shift mindsets as we implement the transformation. We have also realized that this takes time. We had hoped to spend 2016-17 building a common understanding of language, but now realize this was not enough time to engage everyone and to build the understanding.

We have begun to identify areas of the system that need to be challenged: grades at some levels, agency as ownership, and use of time. Additionally, we understand we need to enroll our stakeholders in conversations about what is possible, and why we need to shift our thinking.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How does what we have learned in the Pioneer Lab help us manage those of a dissimilar mindset?
  • How can we look at community differently? What can we do when engagement and commitment is low?
  • How do we help our board understand the distinctions of personalized learning?
  • What are the behaviors/competencies we need to articulate for each grade span/level? When is appropriate to begin this work?
  • What structures of “school” will we need to re-evaluate and change for better implementation? Are there areas that need support but don’t currently have enough?
  • As leaders, what personal areas of development can we focus on to fuel the transformation?

Next Steps for Us

  • Help our leaders, teachers, board members and students understand the processes shared in the Pioneer Lab to engage community.
  • Make engaging students in the conversation around transformation a greater priority this school year.
  • Engage in conversations around behaviors/competencies for teachers, leaders and learners.

Learner-centered leaders have an audacious, future-focused vision

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

 

In Episode 9, we had a conversation about developing a positive student-centered learning environment with Dr. Cederick Ellis, Superintendent in the McComb School District in McComb, MS.

Key Competency

McComb School District “empowers students to change the world.”  Most of all , leaders in a learner-centered environment need to set an audacious vision. To work towards that vision, the leader needs to be invested, have a future-focused mindset for building something that cannot be seen at the moment, and plenty of patience.  Relationships with other leaders, teachers, students, and parents are critical in this journey. Learner-centered leaders need to rely on others and build passionate people around them to ensure everyone is on board for the journey to a learner-centered environment together.

Key Takeaways

McComb school district has an audacious vision and mission. The mission of the McComb School District is to become a premier, world-class school system where student success is inevitable and each student is cultivated to become a fierce competitor in a global society.

Learning spaces matter. Classrooms have been transformed into learning laboratories, and traditional grade levels have been eliminated. Each student has a personal learning plan. The teaching and learning environment also looks different. McComb has dynamic furniture so learners can feel comfortable and ready to learn where it is most appropriate. All students have a mobile device which is utilized to enhance instructional delivery.

What does a learner-centered environment look like at McCombs?  Student-centered teaching and learning is centered on 6 pillars. Students are grouped by readiness, assume ownership for their own learning, work at their own pace, show evidence of mastery, receive continuous feedback. In this model, teachers serve as teacher practitioners.

McComb knew the model they had was not working for students. The collective community wanted to personalize learning for every learner so that learning was more meaningful and authentic.

Learner-centered education affords McComb learners possibilities. Learners, or scholars as McComb calls them, can have more authentic opportunities to show what they know in various formats. Educators can provide importance to the students’ cognitive and non-cognitive for human behaviors. The scholars can develop an interest and motivation to learn.  This is more than differentiated instruction or blended learning. Learner-centered education also provides equity across the system – they system truly meeting the specific needs of all learners.

When transitioning to this learner-centered environment, the leadership has had to reflect and rethink some of its practices. Principals, or lead learners as McComb calls them, need to rethink how they allocate resources. The team has had to rethink how to administer professional development. Central office has needed to rethink how it serves the lead learners. That means the superintendent needs to meet with lead learners more and listen. All leaders need to reflect on what has been done and modify as needed.

Connections to Practice

Learners need to feel comfortable and safe in their learning environments. Some of our teachers have requested additional furniture to provide learners with some options. For example, some teachers requested standing desks. Our middle school staff spent a year researching and piloting a flexible learning space in order to better meet instructional needs.

We need to provide learners with opportunities for choice and voice, not only in what they learn, but how they learn it, and how they demonstrate their learning.

We have been thinking about developing our own lexicon.  McComb was very intentional about its vocabulary. The community is a community of learners. Teachers are teacher practitioners, and classrooms are learning labs. Using this vocabulary is important because it more accurately reflects the work and encourages people to shift their mindsets. The teacher practitioner needs to diagnose the needs of every scholar, and provide the proper prescription.

Many schools are using software which is designed to personalize learning. When selecting software, we need to be critical about what it does to enhance the teaching and learning. Does it provide for individualization? Does it differentiate for students? Does it personalize?  McComb uses Compass Learning to personalize learning for its scholars.

This process will take time and many iterations. We need to understand we will make mistakes, and we will improve as we move along this journey.  We need to be patient and engage our community in this meaningful process.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How often do our students have choice in content and/or path for their learning? Choice in showing mastery of learning?
  • How could we group by readiness? Where do we already use that practice?
  • How often do our students receive feedback? What does that feedback look like, sound like, and feel like?
  • Is our system meeting the needs of all of our learners?
  • How do we do a better job supporting our lead learners (principals)?
  • How are we future-focused in describing/communicating our vision?

Next Steps for Us

  • Look at aspects of the organization through the lens of learner agency. And ask the questions outlined above.
  • Intentionally schedule time with learners to talk about the above questions.
  • Talk to principals about the supports they need. Add an agenda item to our monthly principal meetings.
  • Develop our own lexicon.

New Year… New Goals…New Expectations!

This post first appeared in the PASA Flyer – September 2017.


The temperatures are dropping and leaves are changing.  Summer is over, and fall is upon us.  This is a great time to finalize our personal and professional goals for 2017-18.  This year in Salisbury Township School District, my colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D. and I are expecting all Act 93 and contracted leaders to develop two significant stretch goals and one action research/passion project.  At our August retreat, we shared our goals as a model for our leaders.  Throughout the year, each of us will link evidence and artifacts that support the attainment of our goals.  At the end of the year, we will reshare the document with our Board for evaluation purposes.  
      Once everyone’s goals have been created, there are several questions to consider: How can Randy and I best support our leaders in the attainment of their goals?  How do we engage in thoughtful conversations about the action steps needed to complete the goals?  How might we encourage our leaders to take risks, reflect on their work, and embrace the iterative process? How do we carve out time for this significant work when the urgent, operational work looms overhead?   Recently, Google shared tools their managers use to support department members in goal attainment in the article – Google Is Giving Away Its Best Tools for Managers Absolutely Free.  I especially liked the “One Simple Thing” worksheet in which managers openly discuss non-work goals with their team members, and the 1:1 meeting agenda template in which managers create regular opportunities to provide feedback and guidance.  Both of these templates are easily customizable for your system in Google Docs.
      In addition to two stretch goals, our leaders are developing an action research/passion project.  Modeling the way, as our passion project, Randy and I are investigating competencies leaders need in order to lead a learner-centered environment.  To complete this research, we began a podcast – Shift Your Paradigm. Through this podcast, we are interviewing practitioners across the country who have implemented facets of Education Reimagined’s transformational vision.  Education Reimagined has published several resources to help us better understand a learner-centered environment. (Learn more in A Transformational Vision for Education in the US  or  It’s a Paradigm Shift. So What?)
     The first two episodes of our podcast are already available: Episode 1: What is learner-centered?, with Education Reimagined Executive Director, Kelly Young, and Episode 2: What is learner-centered leadership?, with Allan Cohen and Anya Smith. I hope you will join us on this learning journey.  There are some amazing leaders across the country who are truly implementing elements of the learner-centered vision. So much to learn!

Learner-centered leaders create culture grounded in the community’s vision, mission and beliefs about learning

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 8, we had a conversation with Dr. Suzanne Freeman, Superintendent of Pike Road Schools, and Ryan Kendall, a K-6 principal. We discussed developing a culture of learning grounded in the community’s vision.

Key Competency

Leaders create the conditions for those in the system to learn. They do this though a strong understanding of a vision, mission and beliefs about learning as articulated by the community.

In order to develop this vision as well as a shared understanding, leaders need to be open-minded and anchored in the school’s beliefs. What is right for the community? What is best for our students? Who are our students? Leaders need to ask, “Who is my ‘who’?  How do I design experiences that are both intellectual and for the heart?”

Leaders need to realize each other’s talents and leverage those talents for the greater good. Through openness and humility, the leader needs to engage in candid conversation to figure out what is best for students.

Key Takeaways

Leaders must engage the community when developing a vision and mission. Pike Road conducted eleven meetings with community members. During the meetings, leadership worked to help community members understand the possibilities. They asked, “What if…” questions. “What if your child experienced….?”  Teachers and leaders were also brought into the conversation, and they all worked together to breathe life into the vision.

Language matters. Pike Road Schools has changed its language to reflect a more learner-centered environment. Teachers are now lead learners, and classrooms are learning communities.

The school is developing lifelong learners where children own their learning. Students are encouraged to pursue their interests and passions and learn beyond their school community. A group of 6th grade students used donated sewing machines and learned how to sew. They used the sewing machines to make Bags of Love. Kindergarteners made homemade lip balm while they studied bees, and the lip balm was added to the Bags of Love.  The students then took the bags of love to a homeless shelter and helped serve a meal. Facebook posts and phone calls from parents to the school convey enthusiasm and excitement for these passion projects.

Learner-centered leaders acknowledge when things aren’t going so well. Dr. Freeman and Mr. Kendall shared that last year many classrooms were more teacher-driven, and this year there is more student voice. They have conversations about failure – everyone in the system is a learner. Leaders acknowledge that everyone has something to contribute and value. They celebrate both “mountaintop moments” – Wow! This is great! – and “valley moments” – This is messy, and not going right! Leaders have to keep each other going when things get tough through those valley moments. It’s not about being right – it’s about getting it right.

Conversations are characterized by candor with empathy.  While these conversations are often difficult, they are needed to determine what to do for the learners.

Connections to Practice

  • We are progressing along this journey. We need to affirm our successes and embrace our failures.
  • Visioning needs to occur with the full community (leaders, teachers, learners, parents, community members). We all need to be clear about direction and ensure everyone understands and embraces the beliefs.
  • Sometimes we have to go slow to go fast. We spent a year developing a vision, and a year building a shared understanding.  We now know we need another year to continue to build a shared understanding.
  •  While we know our learners, we need to better understand them so we can design experiences which will engage students’ hearts and minds. Learning more about personalized learning and understanding our learners will help us design more powerful experiences for our learners.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How often do our parents get excited enough to call the school or post about their child’s learning on Facebook/social media?
  • Do our teachers and learners discuss failure?
  • What is our language? How do we want to re-shape our language about teaching and learning?
  • Do we have learners who are “obsessed” with their learning?
  • How do we work together to find opportunities for our students?
  • Are we planning or designing?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations about agency, student choice, and student voice with the leadership team.
  • During monthly principal meetings, participate in walk-throughs where the conversation centers on the learning beliefs and the concept of agency.
  • Engage in conversations about failure and progress with teachers, leaders and learners.
  • Encourage principals to talk to students during observations. “What are you learning?”

 

Learner-centered leaders build mindsets and skillsets!

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 6, we had a conversation about competency-based learning with two leaders and a learner from Regional School Unit 2 (RSU 2) in Maine –  Bill Zima, Superintendent; Mark Tinkham, principal; Bryce Bragdon, learner.

Key Competency

In Episode 2, Allan Cohen describes transformation as a letting go of the past and creation of something entirely new -breaking from what has been done, not just improving it. In RSU 2, the leadership team has provided the space for teachers and learners to thrive in a competency-based system where diplomas are awarded based on proficiency. They’ve done this through a focus on building the mindsets and skillets of all stakeholders.

Bill suggests the role of leadership in this transformation: “My job is to set the right conditions in the right context. As superintendent, I’m trying to set conditions so the principals can work with the teachers to create what needs to happen inside the building.” Learner-centered leaders build mindsets and skillsets in ways that model the expectation for learning in the classroom. Bill later shared the “right conditions” include resources (budget, professional development time and structure) and mindset (supporting innovation and dialog, embracing a rigid philosophy but flexible thought).

Key Takeaways

Teachers and leaders in RSU 2 believe it is important to teach learners how to take advantage of a proficiency-based system. Learners are in contol of the pace of their learning – they can move faster or slower than their classmates. Learners have a tremendous amount of choice and voice. The capstone project was shared as an example of high quality learning in this competency-based system.

In RSU 2, all teachers and leaders are focused on cultivating hope in learners. Agency is defined as “the perceived ability of the individual based upon their capacity to shape their own future.” “Perceived ability” is the mindset. “Based upon their capacity,” is the skillset. RSU 2 believes in building both the mindset and skillset of every learner so they ultimately have the capacity (agency) to do whatever they hope to do. Students feel confident as learners because they have cultivated agency supported by strong mindsets and skillsets.

The biggest challenge for teachers is letting go of control. Teachers are no longer the sages on the stage, but rather facilitators, supporting students to build hope, deep thinking and agency connected to their passions.

RSU 2 supports teachers in shifting to the “letting go” mindset by providing proficiency-based professional development. Strong mentoring for teachers new to RSU 2 is also provided. Professional learning models learning throughout the system.

Another challenge shared by the leaders of RSU2 was shifting the mindset of parents. It’s important to meet parents where they are. Parent groups provide the opportunity to re-induct parents into the mindset. Parents begin to see proficiency-based learning as more constructive than the traditional model.

Connections to Practice

  • Agency is such a keystone in transformation. Who owns the control? Once again, we hear from our friends at RSU 2 that giving up that control to the learner is one of the greatest challenges. We wonder how much agency we are giving to our learners and our principals.
  • Many aspects of our professional development are proficiency-based. Certainly, they reflect the learning beliefs in many ways. Teachers and leaders provide feedback that supports this kind of design for professional learning.
  • From a leadership perspective, we feel we model the kind of learning we want to see in the classroom – active, engaged.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How do we intentionally focus on agency as a key lever of transformation? What happens when learners and leaders resist agency? How do we overcome that?
  • What are our mindsets?  How do we need to help build the mindset for powerful, deep learning experiences in teachers?
  • How often do our teachers confer with individuals or small groups? Or is most of the instruction whole group?
  • While our professional learning models good learning practices, does it provide the opportunity for learners to embrace agency? To what level are they ready to do so?  How does our professional learning build and re-shape mindsets?
  • How do we create the conditions for more agency among our leaders?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations about agency with the leadership team.
  • During monthly principal meetings, participate in walk-throughs where the conversation centers on the learning beliefs and the idea of agency. How does the conversation during the walk-throughs model and highlight the kinds of learning we would like to see in the classroom?
  • Engage in conversations about agency and mindsets with teachers, leaders and learners.