Learner-centered leadership begins with an orientation to relational trust. It is through our interactions that we serve others and promote ongoing learning and development. With that said, we also know that the work of transforming a school district requires a multi-faceted approach. Here are the three essential components to achieve dramatic change across a system:
- Listen: Slow down, spend time with students, and truly listen to our learners. If we truly want to be “student-centered” or “learner-centered,” we need to put students at the center of decision-making within and beyond the classroom. Surveys can be helpful to get input, however the most powerful approach is to create forums for conversation. While superintendent for Vista Unified, I engaged in a listening tour that led to more than 60 such forums with students. Their comments and emotions inspired me to act with urgency and to continually advocate on their behalf. Plus, I was far better informed about the realities of our challenges as a result of the unexpected suggestions that surfaced through the process.
- Set Strategy: Leaders must work with their communities to create a vision for the future, be clear on their “why,” and also develop shared values to empower others to act. With those elements in place, being clear about success, how it will be measured, and defining a learning model are essential. While I was superintendent in Vista Unified School District, we used a “personal learning star” that helped us to make shifts to be more learner-centered. Dr. Katie Martin uses a model with ten characteristics of learner-centered experiences. The specifics of the model are less important than having a clearly defined approach that orients the learning community in the context of change.
- Accelerate and Steer: With clarity on where you are going, the key is to get moving so that you can learn through experience. Know that the way forward is not a straight path. Making adjustments is inevitable. To help, use a learning orientation to bring teams together to understand progress, set plans, analyze impacts, and set next steps. Using guiding coalitions or steering committees is imperative to ensure that multiple perspectives inform the journey.
Transformation is defined as a “thorough or dramatic change” and in order to better empower all learners for success we need to listen to them, be clear on how we’ll improve, and have a bias to action while being open to making adjustments.
For more, check out this EdDive post — These Three Ingredients Are Key to Districtwide Transformation — and this EdTech Magazine article on leading district transformation.