“Fasten your seat belts, our staff meeting today is going to be another dreary and unimaginative 80-minute-long assembly-line of paperwork review. Yup, you might want to poke your eyes out with a pencil when you see the agenda we have planned. If you manage to pay attention for more than 15 consecutive seconds, it will be a miracle.”
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? If a school or district leader stood in front of a room full of educators and made this proclamation, we would look around the room at our colleagues with nervous eyes and either wait for the punch line, or wonder if our leader had suddenly lost their mind.
Of course, we would never say something like this to the people we were working with in our schools. Yet there are times when the activities that we have in our faculty meetings might send this message for us, despite our best intentions. While memos, policies and the managerial tasks on our to-do-list might be important, sometimes the WAY we ‘get through’ them demonstrates the very opposite. Indeed, if something is so important that we need to use our precious faculty meeting time to bring it to a group of highly educated people, then we need to ensure to present it in such a way that they will actually LEARN it. Otherwise, the gatherings we call “faculty meetings” might be more accurately described as “a slow transition to the afterlife.” #notgood
District improvement plans aren’t immune to this pitfall of monotony. While these plans tend to look glossy, with colorful logos, promising mission statements, terminology-laden SMART goals and are filled with strategies to improve teaching and learning, they are all-too-often prematurely shelved on office bookshelves once the fanfare to complete them has subsided. Sadly, improvement plans are often created by few, read by fewer, followed by even fewer and remain uninspiring to most.
My dear friend and colleague once shared, “if white papers are the ticket to saving the world, then it would already be saved.”
As school and district leaders in the field of education, wherein effective and cutting-edge pedagogy is the name of our game, at what point did we make the collective decision that it is acceptable to expect our teachers to create dynamic and engaging learning environments to stimulate children in their classrooms, but in our monthly "classrooms,” we were ok to stand and deliver?
In short, when did we decide that it was acceptable to be boring?
As school leaders, our focusing question should be: How can we go from “microscope” to “mirror,” and examine our own practices in order to model the experiences we’d like to see in our schools? What if we could transform those staff meetings into learning labs to which our teachers always wanted to come, and never wanted to leave? What if our teachers left professional development (PD) days inspired, and empowered, with the learning experience? But more than that, what if we could see evidence of the strategies they learned about in the PD just days earlier being practiced in their classrooms the following Monday and in our staff meetings on Monday afternoon, by us, because we all learned together? What if school and district plans were so interesting that they became a regular topic of conversation with our community over coffee on a Saturday morning?
It would be impossible to think that any one school leader can do this by themselves. Not even one who tears their shirt open to reveal the red suit with a large “S” for “Super Principal” on it can transform the school experiences for their educators or their schools on their own…..nor should they. A system that is dependent on a single person’s vision, skill, charisma, or creative mind is one job transfer away from disaster.
But what we CAN do is lead with Learner-Centered Design.
In PBLC’s model of Learner-Centered Design (LCD), school leaders do not work alone. School leaders become process designers and facilitators. They create teams of curious and empathetic listeners that appreciate the current pedagogical challenges in schools because the teams are made up of the very people experiencing those challenges. Learner-Centered Design involves the co-creation of ideas, that utilize the resources we already have in our schools, while embracing the reality of the day-to-day parameters that surround us. LCD prompts the testing of those ideas with people that will actually USE those ideas. And it involves taking those school-tested ideas and sharing them with others, so that we can help to inspire solutions for all of our classrooms, our schools and our districts.
To put it plainly, when we become leaders with Learner-Centered Design, we work with our community to generate solutions that aren’t boring because we are collaborating with the very people that will be affected by the solution!
Based in the idea of human-centered design, which has been used extensively by organizations such as IDEO and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (aka: d.School) at Stanford University in the creation of innovative solutions to a wide variety of social challenges, Learner-Centered Design is a powerful extension of human-centered design and participatory action research where the end-user is actually involved in producing solutions rather than just giving voice to the problem.
At PBLC, we support leaders in framing powerful Learner-Centered Design experiences that empower solutions from within, leading to the creation of tools, strategies and solutions that increase connections, efficacy of educators and powerful learning for students.
Imagine that as a school leader, you are sitting in your own faculty meeting, and one of your teachers who helped design the learning for the day using the LCD model is standing in front of the rest of the staff with a huge smile on their face.
“I am so excited about today,” they say, “because what we have planned for you is going to totally blow you away! By the time we are done, you are going to have practical strategies that you can use in your classroom tomorrow. So let’s get to it!” A bit different than poking eyes out with pencils.
Choosing to lead with Learner-Centered Design is choosing a better, more practical, alternative.
Visit our PBL Consulting Services Page to learn more about our immersive workshop on Learner-Centered Design and other Project-Based Learning professional development workshops.
Start shifting your design now with our free Learner-Centered Design resources.
Learn more about the authors: Charity Allen and Cale Birk