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The Learning System... Through the Eyes of a Student

By Learning Forward — December 13, 2012 3 min read
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A few weeks ago I reported that Learning Forward is currently writing a follow-up to our seminal text Becoming a Learning School. Whereas that book focused on the school as a learning organization, Becoming a Learning System will focus on school districts, charter management organizations, and other networks of schools. Our goal is to explore how systems can create environments that foster effective teaching and learning in every classroom and every school. In essence, it’s about taking learning schools to scale.

During a thought-leader session Learning Forward’s annual conference in Boston, I shared our early thinking about the book. I asked the question, “What would a learning system look like from the perspective of a student, teacher, and principal?” I chose this approach because we often default to a system’s perspective when we discuss these big ideas, but it’s rare to examine new structures and initiatives from the perspectives of those who will experience them. So below, I offer the “learning system” from the perspective of the student.

As a student, in a learning system...

1. My school is safe and has a clear picture of what I need to learn. While Common Core and other college and career readiness standards may have been adopted by my state, my system has contextualize them in a way that makes it very clear what skills I’ll have when I exit.

2. My teachers understand that their love is important but not enough. I love that my teachers love their job and love me, but I need more than that. I need them to be highly effective and able to help me learn all the things I need to know.

3. Responsibility for my learning is held by all, and I have access to everyone’s expertise. I know my teacher is smart, but I want to benefit from all the smart teachers at my grade level and throughout my building. I know they are much smarter collectively than any one of them might be alone.

4. A commitment to continuous improvement permeates my school and system. I notice that everyone is trying to figure out how to make everything better. I can tell the teachers and principal are constantly learning just as much as I do, and I can tell that things keep improving.

5. If at first I don’t succeed... I hate when I don’t figure something out the first time, but I love that my teachers keep providing me more opportunities to learn. I never heard one of them say, “Well I taught it, not sure why they didn’t learn it.”

6. My teachers and principal are paying attention to various forms of the data I generate, and processes exist to analyze and respond to those data. Yeah, I know those tests we take are important, but I generate a lot more data than that. How often I speak and in which classes is data. Do certainly learning environments seem to stimulate me more? Are there times of year I appear to be more motivated? All these are but the tip of my data iceberg.

7. My school and district attend to the learning needs of my teachers and principal, and all are evaluated and supported. When my friends and I don’t seem to be learning, my teachers get help so they can help us. My one teacher said she has a coach who helps her the same way my soccer coach helps me. In both cases, she said, we are working to make our goals.

8. My friends and I graduate college-and-career ready with the skills needed to compete against top students from around the world. I know that it’s great to graduate and be ready to go to college or get a nice job, but I’ve learned enough about the world to know I’m competing against other kids in Finland, Singapore, etc. Being the best in my system or even my province isn’t enough. I have to be able to compete against the smartest kids from across the globe! Please prepare me for that!

What have I forgotten? I’d love your thoughts on other ways a student might experience a true learning system. Perhaps by viewing more of our change efforts through the eyes of our students, we might find ourselves reaching our very SMART goals more effectively.

Frederick Brown

Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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