The power of listening to learners: Three important questions to ask right now

What’s working? What’s not working? What should we do differently?

Devin Vodicka

Listening to learners is at the heart of learner-centered education.  In my own experience, conducting student forums was a transformational experience as a superintendent.  More recently, as schools and systems have been adjusting to a variety of modes of schooling through the pandemic, feedback from students has helped teachers and administrators to have a better sense of what’s happening and how to make adjustments.

Now, as vaccination rates are increasing and new guidance regarding social distancing is providing for greater flexibility, the end of the most restrictive era of the pandemic appears to be in sight.  In addition, an influx of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding is relieving resource constraints and promoting expanding learning options.  As I wrote about recently, this is the “blurry neutral zone” where creativity and innovation are possible.  

Right now is the time that every educator should be asking students for feedback. 

In my experience, a modified “start/stop/continue” protocol can be a very helpful guide for these conversations.  I recommend switching the sequence to “continue/stop/start” which seems to be a helpful way to begin with appreciative inquiry and end with expansive thinking.  

Once input is received, using a wordcloud generator can help to identify common themes and to inform next steps.  Here is an example of input that we recently received in a forum with educators.  

What should we continue? Wordcloud of input from educators, March 2021

While listening and receiving input is an often overlooked and critical step, the key to building trust is to be responsive.  In Learner-Centered Leadership I shared how student input informed the Blueprint for Educational Excellence and Innovation, a strategic plan that focused on implementing a whole-child, personalized learning approach.  

Finally, these questions should also guide important conversations with our teachers, classified staff, administrators, and families.  After all, we are all learners, especially during this pandemic, and the collective wisdom from many perspectives is most likely to inform compassionate and insightful decisions that will best help us to engage and inspire one another.  At a time when much of our lives may feel overwhelming and complex, the elegant simplicity of asking questions and being responsive to one another is the best way to accelerate the shift to learner-centered education for all.  

Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.

Use #LCLeadership to share your ideas

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