In over two decades in public education in British Columbia, I have witnessed a misunderstanding of sorts. One of the basic tenets of successful learning that we, as educators, want to believe is that our learners develop a lifelong love of learning. Not matter their passions. No matter their paths. But in our attempts to reach this highest of public educational platitudes, I think that we may have been deceiving ourselves simultaneously. At least I know that I have.
Pedagogically speaking, the deeply ingrained collective belief that our public schools have been progressive and support(ed) a learner-centred approach to education may be true. However, the notion that the learning occurring in these public institutions is learner-led is, quite honestly, ill-conceived and misunderstood.
In an attempt to clarify the contrast offer my current school and one of its basic pillars. From a humble homeschooling beginning in a teacher’s house with a ‘class’ of four children to its inevitable adoptions of the program by the local school district to becoming a very popular program of choice for families, Wildflower School, has held fast to the importance of learner-led pedagogy. The community focus is on the whole child; addressing the social, emotional, physical, intellectual, and, yes, spiritual growth of each of its learners.
Learner-Led versus Learner-Centred
In a learner-centred approach, the student is at the centre of everything; support, resources, the learning environment itself are all organized to make this happen. In a learner-led approach the student well…takes the lead. Through support from their family and teacher the student determines what (and often how) they learn; the ‘how’ and ‘why’ is not the responsibility of the system. The former: the system organizes itself to provide support for the learner to meet needs; in the latter: the student determines the what, the why, and often the how. A marginal difference on paper but in practice, these viewpoints are clearly contrasted.
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
Learner-Led In Practice
I recently wrapped up nearly two and a half days of meetings with my students and their families. The purpose of this four-times a year meeting is to come together to brainstorm, plan, revised, and commit to supporting each individual learning realize their home learning plan. (NOTE: My school has a four-day, in-class week, and reserves or earmarks the fifth day for a student-led, family supported home learning component; more on that in a bit). As their interests in learning evolve we revisit the home learning plans throughout the year (a minimum of three times) as they serve as a jumping off point to support our learners and their families.
The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’
A Familial Investment
Hundreds of articles have documented the powerful role that a strong supportive family can provide its learner. And even when we know that this approach should work, we still see learners with supportive families stumble through our education system. I feel much gratitude to the learning community of which I am a parent, educator, learner, mentor, and leader. Familial commitment to support is part of the deal. It’s a safe bet that most educators are invested and committed to the learning successes of their students, and to varying degrees either by intrinsic or extrinsic motivations. But the missing piece in many cases is an invested family component. Modeling, support, and the odd gentle push represent healthy and effective parental investment as part of a learner-led home learning program.
Our parents are, no doubt, elemental in assisting with this 20% requirement. Their belief in this part of the school’s ethos is unique and often difficult for new families to wrap their collective heads around. With 27 students, I suspect there will be 27 unique learning plans. And while some plans will be designed towards meeting specific writing goals, social-emotional benchmarks or developing independence and personal organizational habits, others may contain a large community volunteer component and other learning opportunities within our local community. Still many will desire a focus around the three Rs through an enrichment in mathematics, an increase in the variety of writing or pursuit in a personal passion or inquiry project. And since the process and experience of learning also happen outside of school, most students claim up to one and a half hours towards their pursuits in athletics, music, visual arts, and other related activities outside the prescribed curriculum.
The ultimate outcome of our learner-led environment is towards supporting our learners in their cultivation of a joyful, healthy, and balanced approach as lifelong learners.
[As if the teacher wasn’t even there.]