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Article by Robert Low, 10/09/19
Shifting from an industrial-age education model to a post-industrial learner-centered model is an essential part of preparing students for college and 21st century careers, and the process works best when the learner-centered approach is applied to the professional learning of teachers and administrators, as well as the education of their students.
During a recent edWebinar, Katie Martin, Ph.D and Symon Hayes of Altitude Learning explained how using a learner-centered process prepares administrators and teachers to implement the same approach with their students. Kimberly Hatten, Ed.D. discussed how the approach had worked successfully in the Futures Academy network of schools.
The learning model Dr. Martin presented is known as competency-based learning, and one key aspect is that learners “articulate” their own progress toward competencies. This is important because with today’s diverse students and educators, learners have different timelines and trajectories and the pace of the learning may vary. Deep collaboration between the learners and the people guiding their progress is therefore necessary, and ongoing evaluations should guide the process as well as determine mastery.
Application to professional learning
Based on input from educators, a learner-centered approach to professional learning can help educators develop a shared vision of their goals and how to achieve them. They can identify and proceed with their personal learning pathways, and develop or obtain the resources needed to implement a learner-centered approach with their students. Coaching and feedback should be provided on an ongoing basis to guide the progress that is occurring, and there should also be “collective efficacy” so that teaching or learning are not isolated experiences, but instead occur as part of a collaborative process.
Hayes explained how these goals can be reached through a professional learning process designed to increase educator effectiveness and positively impact all students. This process includes establishing professional learning communities committed to continual improvement, and integrating theories, research, and models of human learning that are aligned with desired outcomes.
To make the process effective, professional learning needs to occur over time, with everyone moving in partnership and in the same direction, rather than it being a brief, isolated event. The process needs to be learner driven, with support provided to individuals and to the group as a whole, and it should be inspirational and interactive. Through this type of meaningful professional learning process, educators become engaged and motivated, develop transferable skills, and increase the capacity of their schools and districts.
Implementation at Futures Academy
Dr. Hatten explained how this approach worked at her schools, which specialize in providing one-to-one and small-group instruction to students for whom a traditional school is not the right fit. She noted that one of the most influential factors in the success her students achieve is “the partnership they and their teachers forge,” so that made a professional learning organization with a similar emphasis on partnership and collaboration an especially good fit.
The process at Futures Academy included defining the specific traits to be developed and demonstrated by students and teachers, and creating rubrics with indicators to evaluate the attainment of those traits. Research-based instructional strategies were aligned with the indicators to create a roadmap to becoming highly effective educators.
Another key aspect of the process was designing a professional learning experience across the school year, in order to achieve long-term improvements. This started with the campus leaders and included book studies and regional trainings with campus teams. There was a focus on making the learning meaningful and relevant, so educators could bring it back into the classroom and apply it effectively in ways that were aligned with the work they were already doing.
The result, as one teacher observed afterwards, is that “teachers will take more ownership…learn new strategies, and most importantly become even better teachers.” And, these processes will now become part of a professional learning cycle, with educators continuing to evaluate and celebrate what they achieved, while also developing effective new plans to achieve their evolving goals.
About the presenters:
Katie Martin, Ph.D. is Vice President of Professional Learning at Altitude Learning where she supports schools and districts in their shift to learner-centered education. Before joining Altitude Learning, she served as Director of District Leadership at the Buck Institute for Education, which prepares students for the future through project-based learning. Katie began her career as a middle school English language arts teacher and also served as an instructional coach and led a mentoring program for new teachers in her district. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in middle school education, and her doctoral studies focused on new teacher induction. A leader, teacher, and speaker, Katie believes that if we want to change how students learn, we must change how educators learn. She is the author of Learner Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion, and Unleash Genius.
Kimberly Hatten is dedicated to serving students through transformational teaching. In her role as the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Futures Academy she serves all 16+ campuses and their exceptional teaching teams. Her areas of expertise include teacher preparation and curriculum development with a focus in equitable learning for diverse students. She holds a doctorate in education in educational leadership from the University of Southern California where her research focus was on multimodal composition and teacher preparation. Prior to joining Futures Academy, she taught English language arts at the middle school and high school levels.
Symon Hayes is the senior learning designer at Altitude Learning where he designs and facilitates professional learning experiences that support educators shifting to learner-centered practices. With over 25 years of experience in education as a classroom teacher, school-based and district-wide instructional coach, learning designer, and professional learning facilitator he has a deep understanding of instruction and assessment practices for learners of all ages. His work is informed by extensive collaborations with schools and districts across the country, his tenure at Eagle County School District in Colorado, teaching in the UK where he is from, and degrees in art, education, and education design technology. He also presents at conferences and is a regular at the annual Deeper Learning Conference at High Tech High.
Robert Low has worked in educational publishing for more than 30 years. His experience ranges from editing and product management to online advertising and content development. He also works with edWeb.net to write articles on their professional learning edWebinars.