The conversation around reimagining education has gained momentum, particularly in the past several years. In previous blog posts, I have suggested organizations and web sites to learn more – visions for change as well as examples from practitioners working in the field. These organizations and sites include Education Reimagined, KnowledgeWorks, EdCircuit and Getting Smart. (This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but some of my go-to places.)
As I have worked to learn more about how others are reimagining education, the concept of a paradigm shift has helped me to reflect on the gaps in my own practice and the vision for change in my organization. Kelly Young, Executive Director for Education Reimagined captures the difference in this example from her article It’s a Paradigm Shift. So What?
…in a school-centered paradigm, when someone says “personalized,” they mean that you meet the child academically where they are in a subject and move them along a predetermined path to proficiency. In a learner-centered paradigm, on the other hand, “personalized” means that you co-create learning pathways with the child sitting in front of you—seeing them as a whole child and valuing their interests, passions, concerns, brain wiring, language, circumstances, family, and culture.
This means that an adult “personalizing” learning in a learner-centered paradigm will do things that would never occur to an adult in a school-centered paradigm, and vice versa. In each, they will start with different first steps, ask different questions, develop different tools, have different assumptions, and request different parameters for their learning environment.
She goes on to clarify:
The five elements [competency-based; personalized, relevant, and contextualized; learner agency; open-walled; and socially embedded] can be implemented in both a school-centered and a learner-centered paradigm. But, they will look and feel drastically different. This is because, if you haven’t shifted your view of the purpose of education, the learner, how learning happens, and the role of the adults, you will see the five elements as a means to make the current model of education run more efficiently.
In the school-centered paradigm, the focus is on system efficiency, so the learner adapts to the system. In a learner-centered paradigm, the focus is not on system efficiency, but shaping learning opportunities based on each learner’s individual “interests, passions, dreams, skills, and needs.” (“A Transformational Vision for Education in the US.” Education Reimagined, 2015. Pg 5.) In the learner-centered paradigm, the system adapts to the learner. We say the learner is the focus, and at the center, of what we do every day in our schools. I have no doubt that is our intention, but are we aware of which paradigm we are operating within – school-centered or learner-centered?
Let’s look a little deeper… How might aspects of learning look different – school-centered and learner-centered? Here are a few questions:
- Who is giving the feedback?
- Who is asking the questions?
- Who is clarifying misconceptions?
The answer is not an either/or (learning facilitator [teacher] or learner), but rather a partnership between the facilitator and “the child sitting in front of you—seeing them as a whole child and valuing their interests, passions, concerns, brain wiring, language, circumstances, family, and culture.” And since learning is social and open-walled, the feedback, questions and clarifying of misconceptions can also come from learning peers, both inside and outside the physical classroom. Yes, learners can be learning facilitators as well, if it meets a need. In a school-centered paradigm, on the other hand, these elements of learning are heavily directed by the facilitator and typically “done” to the learner. The role of both learning facilitator and learner change in a learner-centered paradigm.
Now that we have a clearer understanding of the differences between school-centered and learner-centered, let’s take this one step further and apply it to leadership. In 2015, the National Policy Board for Educational Administrators published an updated set of educational leadership standards: Professional Standards for Educational Leaders. The following domains, qualities and values represent the ten standards:
- Mission, Vision, and Core Values
- Ethics and Professional Norms
- Equity and Cultural Responsiveness
- Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
- Community of Care and Support for Students
- Professional Capacity of School Personnel
- Professional Community for Teachers and Staff
- Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community
- Operations and Management
- School Improvement
Is it possible to look at these standards through a school-centered lens (one focused on system efficiency) and a learner-centered lens (where all people in the organization are considered learners and the system adapts to the individual)? Could the current school-centered leadership paradigm be incomplete and ineffective, especially as we move to learner-centered learning spaces?
When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one.
In education, I will assert we’ve been tweaking the same school-centered model of leadership for quite some time. If we wish to reimagine education in the classroom, moving from a school-centered paradigm to a learner-centered paradigm, we need to do the same for leadership. We need to step outside our mental model of school-centered leadership and develop new competencies for a new paradigm of leadership. I am not yet certain what that looks like, but I suggested in an earlier post that futures thinking is one of those new competencies.
What are the steps in shifting our leadership paradigm? Boncheck suggests three:
- recognize the current paradigm is no longer relevant or effective
- find or create a new paradigm to achieve your goals
- ingrain the new mental habits
Let’s create a new leadership paradigm.
How does a paradigm shift from school-centered leadership to learner-centered leadership change the conversations we have online and offline? What might learner-centered leadership look like across the organization (i.e. family engagement, human resources, food service, facilities, etc.)?
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