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It is time to embrace learner-centered leadership

Hear more from Randy Ziegenfuss and other innovative analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC), January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. Learn more here.

by Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D and Lynn Fuini-Hetten

What happens when school leaders understand the idea of learner agency? What happens when school leaders release student voice? What happens when leaders create an audacious vision for learning by including all community stakeholders in the design of that vision? Something we call learner-centered leadership!

painting of child holding balloonsOver the past several months, we’ve partnered with Education Reimagined to explore the distinctions of and competencies for learner-centered leadership through a series of interviews on the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: From School-Centered to Learner-Centered. Throughout early episodes, we engaged school leaders and learners working in transformed learning environments to help answer these questions: What is learner-centered leadership? What new sets of knowledge, skills and dispositions do school leaders need to lead a transformation of the current school-centered paradigm to a learner-centered paradigm?

Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve started learning to answer these big questions. In Episode 1: What is learner-centered?, we interviewed Kelly Young, executive director of Education Reimagined. The episode focused the conversation on what learner-centered means and what learner-centered leadership might look like using Education Reimagined’s A Transformational Vision for Education in the US as a guiding document.

We followed Episode 1, interviewing Allan Cohen, strategic consultant, and Anya Smith, learner at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, with Episode 2: What is learner-centered leadership?. Transformation, learner-centered and learner-centered leadership were the key topics of conversation. We learned that transformation can come in many different forms, but for purposes of our inquiry, transformation occurs when we let go of the past and create something entirely new. True transformation is about breaking from what has been done, not just improving the current model.

student writing on boardOnce we established context for our action research in Episodes 1 and 2, we began speaking with school leaders and learners about the learning transformations happening in their environments. Dr. Kevin Brown, superintendent, and Dr. Frank Alfaro, assistant superintendent of the Alamo Heights Independent School District in Episode 3.  Our most powerful takeaway was that learner-centered leaders engage the voice of the learner. We got a glimpse into how Alamo Heights has created a Profile of a Learner and how students played a significant role in the process. In Episode 4: Learning rocketry in a learner-centered environment, we interviewed Erick Castillon, a graduate of Alamo Heights. Erick’s story provides a rich example of how learner-centered leaders treat learners as individuals.

We continued the conversation in Episode 5: Iowa BIG. We spoke with Dr. Trace Pickering, executive director; Shawn Cornally, co-founder; and Jemar Lee, learner. From Trace, we learned the importance of learner agency to the leader. “Learner agency is that secret ingredient, that secret sauce that unlocks the other four elements – competency, kids in the classroompersonalization, open-walled and socially-embedded.” Our major learning from this conversation was that learner-centered leaders have a clear understanding of learner agency and the role it plays in shifting the paradigm from school-centered to learner-centered.

We’ll outline the next stages in our journey to distinguish learner-centered leadership from traditional educational leadership in future posts! Check out the Shift Your Paradigm podcast site for all episodes and accompanying blog posts that deconstruct some of the learning from each episode. And join us for a new conversation every two weeks as we uncover what it takes to lead a learner-centered learning environment. It’s not what you think!

Randy Ziegenfuss will be speaking at 2018 FETC conference

Further Reading

This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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