Jess Millard is an elementary school principal in the Northern Tioga School District. He has been working hard over the past six years to help the school become uncompromisingly learner-centered. His journey is filled with a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of him and the staff at Clark Wood Elementary School in Elkland, PA. A few years ago, when I was talking to Jess at a conference our conversation turned toward the difference in attitude that his school’s journey has created. It is hard to claim only one difference among many throughout the journey his school has taken, but Jess did mention something that I thought was profound. He said that his school no longer believes in “acceptable loss”. Let me explain.
In the industrial age model of learning, there is acceptable loss…much like there is acceptable loss on the factory floor, there has been acceptable loss in our school system. There have been students that do not quite fit the mold for the industrial age learning system. Those students were marginalized or, in the worst-case scenario, allowed to drop out. Unconsciously, educators turned away from the fact that the educational system simply was not meaningful for some students. These students were often allowed to drift away from schooling.
Acceptable loss is not something that we want to talk about in education. We use other terms to explain the phenomenon. We talk about kids that “just don’t get it”; doctors encourage drugs to help kids cope with the system; at times, we blame the kids for not learning; we blame “out of school factors” for student disengagement and the list can go on. Acceptable loss also occurs with students that finish the system. Many students stay disengaged throughout their school years but since they stay compliant and do not bother the adults in the system, they are allowed to matriculate through the system. Jess believes (and I agree with him) that the systemic change required to customize learning for students simply does not allow for acceptable loss.
Becoming uncompromisingly learner-centered requires the learning system to change in significant ways. The most underrated aspect of is that the new system is radically learner centered. Radically learner centered is a mindset. A mindset that moves adult convenience to the periphery of the learning system. A radically learner centered approach allows for possibilities for learners and learning facilitators. Empowering learning facilitators to create lessons and learning experiences that place learners at the center unleashes innovative programs and learning opportunities. The goal of learning is that a learner will actually learn, not just be presented with material! Anything less is unacceptable. The system cannot hide behind the excuse that “we taught the lesson, it is up to the student to learn”, or “the learner was not prepared for my lesson, those darn teachers in the lower grades did not prepare them…oh well, I am moving on”.
Actions create systemic changes. When a school recognizes that they will not allow “acceptable loss”, the system of learning quickly changes.
In closing this post, I have one simple question for you. In your school, do you allow acceptable loss?