Learner-Centered Education Group Comes to Minnesota

On October 13th, 58 education advocates from around the state gathered at the invitation of Education Evolving to hear Kelly Young, executive director at Education Reimagined, give a presentation on the new organization’s work promoting learner-centered education.

Young began by posing a question to the group: “What do you most want kids to experience when they are learning?” Audience responses varied, including: confidence, entrepreneurial spirit, excitement, cultural-competency, and joy. Despite the different answers, there was a general consensus that too many students do not currently have these experiences, and that education must be reimagined.

About Education Reimagined and Their “Transformational Vision”

Young explained that Education Reimagined was born from Convergence, a DC-based nonprofit that is “focused on solving social challenges through collaboration.” From April 2013 to October 2014, Education Reimagined brought together a diverse group of about two dozen high-level people in American education—including principals and teachers from various school districts; presidents of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA); the CEO of 50CAN; the president of LEGO; and many others—to rethink our current education system, which they concluded was designed “in and for the industrial era.”

After a rocky start—where participants argued about hot-button political topics like the role of standardized testing, teacher evaluations, etc.—they eventually came to common ground. “Through this process, we discovered that each of us, to a person, shares a fundamental commitment for all children to learn and thrive regardless of their circumstances,” wrote the participants.

The group agreed that education should be “by and with the learner”, not done to them, and that “All learners are unique, capable and wondrous. There is no such thing as an average learner.”

The group then drafted what became Education Reimagined’s Transformational Vision document, which lays out five interrelated elements that define learner-centered education:

  • Competency-Based
  • Personalized, Relevant and Contextualized
  • Learner Agency
  • Socially Embedded
  • Open-Walled

The group refrained from proposing action steps for how to implement the shift. This was intentional, Young explained, because each state, district, and school is unique and should implement it in a way that best fits the needs of their students. Instead, Education Reimagined’s theory of change is focused on finding, highlighting, and connecting schools and districts that are already doing learner-centered education.

Next Steps in Minnesota

At the start of the session, Education Evolving’s executive director, Lars Esdal, described two concrete next steps he often hears proposed for advancing learner-centered education in Minnesota:

  • Form professional communities where learner-centered practitioners can support and learn from one another.
  • Reshape state policy to be more conducive to learner-centered education.

Organizations including KnowledgeWorks, the Bush Foundation, and Education Evolving are currently launching initiatives in these areas, which we will be following on this blog in the coming months.

Young said she was excited to see many strong examples of learner-centered education already in existence in Minnesota. The next challenge she identified is to make those models more common and to increase the spread of the innovations that have occurred.

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