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Cultures that Support Learner Centered Environments

April 1st, 2013




Last week, MLTI school leaders discussed the influence of school culture on learning.  We began with participants sharing a few words about what comes to mind when they hear the words “school culture”.  This brief introduction segued into an exploration of an example of Challenge Based learning  focused on Reducing Food Waste (https://www.challengebasedlearning.org/solution/view/23) and a discussion of what a school culture would need to be like in order to support this learner centered approach. Some reflections include:

  • Collaborative, Full-time Culture of Learning
  • Focused yet Flexible
  • Less Lockstep
  • Guided by an Essential Question
  • Teachers Collaborating
  • Beyond the School Walls

We also explored the three necessary elements for learner centered cultures (Seashore-Louis & Whalstrom, 2011) and the challenges school leaders have in making sure these elements are continually nurtured and reinforced in their schools.

1.  A Culture of Excellent Instruction

2. Shared Norms and Values

3. A Culture of Trust

Participants talked about the systemic/structural barriers that teachers encounter in moving towards a learner centered environment.  For example, rarely does professional development model adult learning that is reflective of the learner centered models that we are discussing.  Teacher evaluation systems rarely recognize the importance of risk taking, and the “messiness” of learner centered environments.  In fact, many still emphasize an assembly-line model of instruction. Participants also shared how difficult yet imperative it is to remain focused on whose needs are being met in our structuring for learning: the learner?  the teacher?  the community? Sometimes these audiences may have conflicting views/needs and that leaders must be committed to a shared vision and be willing to take risks to lead, even though it may be (and likely will be) fraught with resistance and conflict.

We also explored the changing role of the teacher/mentor in learner centered environments where technology is a key driver of change (http://gettingsmart.com/cms/news/digital-learning-is-critical-for-move-to-learner-centered-instruction/):

  • Facilitator of Learning
  • User of Data and Assessments
  • Collaborator, Contributor, Coach with Peers
  • Curriculum Adaptor and Designer

Many agreed that teachers struggle with these shifts. Leaders are often challenged to help teachers “connect the dots” and provide support in ways that enable staff to adapt to these new roles.

This led to a lively discussion on how the notion of school leadership  (with a principal as the main and/or only leader) needs to change to a more shared/distributed model of leadership.  We also recognized that this view of leadership is also a major shift/change and there are very few examples to point to where it is happening in our schools.

As we ended the discussion, we left with a thought from Jim Collins: Great leaders have the ability to confront the brutal facts. Participants shared their thoughts on how they might use their collective learning and sharing from this session on culture in their own leadership efforts “back home”!

Slides from the Leadership Session     LeadershipSession3REVISED


Our last MLTI leadership session for this year will be on April 10th.  The topic is the role of technology in supporting staff/professional collaboration. We will also discuss future topics and meeting formats participants might want from future leadership sessions.

What: Using Technology and Social Media for Staff/Professional Collaboration.

When:  April 10   8:30-11:30 Burton Cross Bldg. Room 500, Augusta and via Adobe Connect Webinar

Please use this link to register:















students define if the leadership/staff doesn’t.


school culture word: from-the-top


williness to do what it takes for student learning





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