What Does it Mean to be Truly Student-Centered?


In a recent Learning Counsel event in Minnesota, the Learning Counsel’s Dr. David Kafitz asked a panel of guests what excited them most about education’s seemingly new focus on student-centered Learning.

Panelist Nicole Abernathy, Innovation Facilitator at Warroad Public Schools asked “Why isn’t education student-centric? Isn’t that the intent?” Abernathy said, “The construct of how our education system is set up hasn’t been focused on ‘What does this learner need to find success?’ It has been set up on ‘All of these pieces are the content pieces I need to impart on that child, and because I have imparted it on that child, they are going to be successful in the world. There are examples I have heard in any conversation I have had about this, and all the negative experiences I have heard have been a result of a lack of student-centric thinking. People weren’t thinking directly about what that student needed to find success. Intrinsically, I think we can all agree that every single person is born with an interest in learning, and with grit. You watch a child learn to walk and he or she is the most grit-filled person in the world. But because of the system that we have, we have actually stripped that determination out of them. The excitement for me is that we are finally doing what we say we are doing by moving to a student-centric view of education. We’ve claimed it for a long time, and now we’re actually doing it.”

According to Jeff Plaman, Online and Digital Learning Specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education, “There is fantastic work happening. Teachers do care about their children. They do know their kids and they do try to do what’s best. What we’ve done for too long is we’ve tried to provide something for the middle. That concept of us trying to guess what’s best for each community, each family, each child, and deliver a standardized set of content for them. Some of the most exciting work I see with personalized learning is reconnecting and starting with the student and their family and figuring out what they really aspire to and being able to support them along the way. I think that has the potential to be a game-changer, but unfortunately, we have this entire system, which I am part of, that is really built around those ideas of keeping the system going. The other systems we have in place, business, etc, are systems that have profited by the inequities in the structures that we have in place today, and they perpetuate them. So, we have a lot of work to do as a society. It’s not just a simple education fix and certainly not just a simple EdTech fix.

Both Abernathy and Plaman take an honest assessment of the work that needs to be done to shift education away from a decades’ old system of institution-first thinking and towards a true, student-centric, personalized learning path. Click on the video below to see the discussion and learn about ideas today that you can use in your own district tomorrow.


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At the Learning Counsel’s Digital Transition Discussion events, there’s a lot to take in. At our one-day events, one of the highlights is the Panel Discussions where area professionals discuss key experiences.

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