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Aurora Institute

A Powerful Letter of Reflection and Gratitude

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Engage Community

David Theoharides, Superintendent of Sanford Schools in Maine wrote a beautiful reflection in his June 7th op-ed Vision pursues ‘student-centered, proficiency-based learning‘. The piece also brilliantly served to further engage the community in the transformation towards the Sanford Vision: Learning for Life with its focus on student-centered, proficiency-based learning.

Here are a few of the highlights of his opinion piece:

Rooted in the vision of the community:

Two-and-a-half years ago, a group of 35 Sanford educators and citizens came together and with the input of over 700 others shaped a vision for Sanford’s schools. This Vision was grounded in a commitment to ensure that every young person in Sanford is engaged in meaningful learning from the time they enter preschool to the time they reach adulthood, so that Sanford and its next generation of leaders and citizens are prepared for a complex 21st century global society.

What does it mean for learning to be student-centered?

The Sanford Vision was informed by the most up-to-date theory and research on how young people learn and what makes them eager to learn. One of the important findings from neuroscience and developmental theory is that students learn and demonstrate what they have learned in very different ways. Learning, therefore, must be customized or personalized to the strengths and needs of each student. We are exploring ways to put this research into practice in orderly and creative ways that will ultimately benefit all of our students.

In addition, we know that the brain is learning virtually all the time, in both formal and informal settings, and that meaningful learning occurs when experiences are more active and hands-on. We are exploring using student-centered learning opportunities to offer our students a range of non-traditional learning experiences, such as after-school enrichment, internships and apprenticeships in the community, and community service projects. Students will also be able to earn credits through these experiences, which are designed to be just as rigorous as traditional class coursework.

What does it mean for learning to be proficiency-based?

Today our economy and society demand that we have a much bigger talent pool of graduates than ever before. All young people must become proficient in a wide range of subjects. Graduation must be based not on how much time students have spent in school, but rather what they can demonstrate that they have learned.

Proficiency-based learning also encourages students who have mastered a subject and are ready for new challenges to move forward, and for those students who need extra time to reach proficiency, they will be given that time. Another key feature of proficiency-based learned is continually monitoring student progress. In SCPBL, students typically work with their teachers to design how to measure their progress, whether a test, an exhibition or portfolio, or some other regular form of feedback. Our goal is that all students in Sanford will maintain a Personalized Learning Plan or educational portfolio that will record their goals and the ways they have chosen to reach them.

Concluding with an invitation:

In recognition of the second year of Sanford Vision 2015: Learning for Life, I extend an invitation to all citizens of Sanford to attend a “Celebration of Learning,” an open house that will take place on Monday, June 11, from 3 to 6 p.m. at Sanford High School. You will see examples of SCPBL as the Vision begins to become reality in our classrooms and in our community at large. Educators from every school building will be on hand to present exhibits and videos, and to answer questions about our Vision and explain how SCPBL will help better meet our students’ educational needs. We will also recognize our students and staff who have participated in community services projects in Sanford-a great example of student-centered learning.

All in all, a brilliant way to continue to raise awareness,  engage, and create community pride. It may be too late to do it in your community for the end of the year. But it isn’t too late to start the fall semester by inviting the community in to see all that students know and can do. (And one of these days the next semester won’t necessarily be in the fall!)

Chris Sturgis is Principal of MetisNet, a consulting firm that specializes in supporting foundations and special initiatives in strategy development, coaching and rapid research. She is strategic advisor to the Youth Transition Funders Group and manages the Connected by 25 blog.