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Aurora Institute

Crucial Mindsets

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Courtney Belolan

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

love-of-learningIn order to transition to an effective learner-centered proficiency-based community, we have to make some important shifts in our stances as educators. Sometimes these shifts are subtle and nuanced. Other times they are clear and straightforward. Focus on and change in instructional practices will only take a learning community so far if the underlying philosophical stances do not change.

Before we go any further in exploring some of the crucial mind shifts, take a moment to check in on your own stances using the following survey. Take your time with it, and be completely honest. This survey is completely anonymous and for reflection purposes only. Emails and names are not being collected. You will be able to see a breakdown of how people responded.

Personalized Learning Check In

Now that you have checked in, honestly, with your educational stances, let’s talk about where we really need to be operating from in order to truly have a learner-centered proficiency-based learning community.

  1. They Are Learners, Not Students. Did you notice how often the word learners showed up in the survey? The difference between thinking of the young people in our school as students versus learners is subtle, yet very important. Student has a more passive connotation, and implies a certain level of compliance. Learner has a more active connotation, and implies a level of engagement and agency. We want the young people in our schools to wonder, explore, and learn. We do not want them to simply study. One of our Guiding Principles even states: … a self directed and lifelong learner. How would that statement feel different if it read: … self directed and lifelong student.
  1. A Teacher of Learners. In a learner-centered proficiency-based system, the professionals are no longer teachers of specific grade levels or subject. Without a doubt, people specialize in certain ranges or areas; a teacher with strengths working with primary learners should continue to work with primary teachers, and we need professionals with strengths in different disciplines. All of us, however, must be flexible with knowledge in a range of targets and subjects in order to meet the needs of the young people in front of us. Further, all of us must be consciously teaching those young people to be learners, a set of skills and dispositions that span all disciplines.
  1. The Learning Belongs to The Learners. If the young people in our rooms are to be learners, then they need to be a part of the planning and decision-making around their learning. We need to believe that they can, insist that then can, and support them until they have the confidence that they can. This means making targets crystal clear, connecting activities and practice to the targets, and making learning pathways accessible. This means giving learners, and supporting learners with, choices in how they learn, how they practice, and how they demonstrate their learning. A powerful question to ask yourself as you make lesson and unit plans is: What decisions am I making right now, and how much of these decisions can students do on their own or with my support?
  1. What Matters Most Is What Matters Next. Our only job as educators is to figure out where our students are as learners, what they need to learn next, and how to support them in getting there. This is how we nurture the young people in our schools to become self-determining adults. We are not preparing them for college. We are not preparing them for high school. We are not preparing them for middle school. We are not preparing them for the next grade level. We are preparing them for a future of their own designing. This is the only way to meet them where they are and support their growth forward.

This has been adapted from a post prepared for educators at RSU2.

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Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.