February 14, 2023

Learner-centered leadership, learner-centered instruction, or learner-centered anything is not a bad concept. In fact, school leaders that change their mindset toward being learner-centered will start to make strides toward transforming the school system.

The concept of learner-centered is summarized in the idea of a learner-centered ecosystem.

But there is a problem with the learner-centered ecosystem. A problem big enough to derail all of the good intentions of educators all over the United States that purport to be advocates of learner-centered.

See last week's post to see a review of the issues with focusing solely on learner-centered.

The Problem

School leaders become so focused on "learner-centered," they forget there are competing interests in the swirl of public education.

There are other ecosystems school leaders must navigate to do their job effectively. In a seeming contradiction, the more a school leader concentrates on the learner-centered ecosystem, the less learner-centered change will occur in their school. The reason is simple...although learner-centered is the most important ecosystem in your mind, it might now be in other important stakeholder minds.

There are two other ecosystems that school leaders must "live in", understand, and navigate: The Education Ecosystem and The Schooling Ecosystem.

The Education Ecosystem

The education ecosystem represents what the policymakers and politicians believe is important about public education. It begins with the purpose of education according to those in charge of determining such things...the politicians and those with influence over the politicians. Over the past 100 years, the purpose of education has not strayed too far from the idea of vocational and college preparation.

The education ecosystem also consists of the mandates and policies forced upon the bureaucracy of public schools.

The Schooling Ecosystem

If the education ecosystem represents what the policymakers and politicians believe is important in public education, the schooling ecosystem reflects what the local communities and parents believe is important about public education. The most important facet for this constituency is the rituals associated with the school. Think of proms, homecoming, sports, and other extracurriculars. These functions, for this group, are more important than the components of the other two ecosystems combined!

What Is A School Leader To Do?

1. Be Aware Of Your Priorities. You are a learner-centered leader...great! Now you must realize that other important constituencies in public schools do not share your enthusiasm for being learner-centered. While learner-centered may be the MOST IMPORTANT lens through which to view your job for you, it may not be for other people.

2. Be Respectful. Do not get on your high horse and state that people that believe homecoming is more important than senior English are wrong, backward, or don't care about their kids. Their perspective is just as legitimate as yours. 

3. Find The Commonalities In Each Ecosystem. Each of the three ecosystems is symbiotic. Thoughtful learner-centered leaders work to find the common ground between all three ecosystems to make their schools better.

I am still working on the concept of the three ecosystems and welcome your thoughts on the idea. It could be a non-starter because it does not explain things well.  Let me know what you think!

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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