Within learner-centered spaces of inquiry, balance presents itself through the interconnected relationship of the learner, facilitator, and learning environment. When symmetry exists between each essential element, dynamic opportunities for growth on behalf of all stakeholders transpire. In the process, learners are guided on a life-long journey of building comprehension, authentically experiencing the world through the lens of meaning and purpose. In essence, the world becomes their learning environment, moving them beyond a mindset that has limitations to the constructs of a school building. In reflecting upon the vital role relationships play in moving any vision forward, recognizing the importance of placing learners at the center of all decisions is a necessary step. From that vantage point, social emotional and academic learning can be fostered through daily experiences built into everyday interactions.
By embedding communication and collaboration learning opportunities into the framework of experiences, learners are provided with the immersion needed to actively engage in the process of constructing meaning. To advance our efforts in moving a progressive vision forward, we must ask: Would this sense of responsibility positively impact our communities and connect learners to the role they play in contributing to society? Is it possible that facilitating effective communication strategies, along with providing deep-learning experiences can support learners in becoming more empathetic and accepting of others? What if from the time learners entered school, they were expected to think independently, ask questions, and elaborate on their ideas? Would these abilities improve the quality of relationships they have with others? Can equity be attained through the culture of communicative thought? In posing these questions, we are pushed to examine the balance needed to shape learner-centered environments through the dependent relationships built from within. We then begin to reimagine fluid educational systems founded upon trust, acceptance, and competency. Places where learning is tailored to meet the needs of each individual learner, leading to the greater good of our communities.
Over this past year, a simple, yet complex analogy was shared by the late Montessorian, Dr. Paul Czaja where he beautifully compared learners to flowering plants growing in a garden, facilitators to the gardeners, and learning environments to the garden itself. He spoke eloquently about the connection between balanced and optimal conditions within learning environments, resulting in learners thriving. In retrospect, when faced with intense conditions, asymmetry develops causing learners to wilt and become stunted in their growth, just as weeds can easily overtake a garden and crops can be lost due to negative forces impacting them. In acknowledging the significance Dr. Czaja’s comparisons hold, we are reminded of the flexibility, close observation, and care needed on behalf of the facilitator to attain flourishing results. As we strive to transform educational settings that promote social emotional learning, application of these life lessons can support us in identifying key attributes of each interconnected force.
From the perspective of the learner, active engagement plays a critical role in securing foundations built upon mastery and the construction of long-term connections. When learners are intrinsically motivated to engage in the process of building understanding, for the sake of curiosity and engagement, success can be attained as resiliency develops. While engaging, responsible learners earn the autonomy needed to transition throughout experiences based on their developmental, social, and academic needs.
Metacognitive: Reflective in experiences
Responsible: Navigates learning by choice and interest
Innovative: Creative in thought processes
Accountable: Actively Engages as thinking is made visible
Stewards: Uncovers the significance of contributions
Communicators: Expresses ideas with clarity
Collaborators: Engagement in actionable feedback loops
As educators, our primary role is to support each unique learner in attaining optimal levels of application and thought. If we strive to cultivate cultures of equity within strong, foundational learning spaces, we clearly model communicatory attributes for our learners. In return, we fulfill our role in providing the necessary skills needed to think independently, express ideas clearly, and respectively persuade others as a sense of acceptance develops. Through the craft of observation, learners are followed closely, as adjustments are made based on individual and cohort needs.
The Guide: Supports each unique learner
Socratic: Utilizes questions to activate thought processes
Respectful: Models equity through interactions
Alignment: Symmetry between words and actions
Observation: Closely observes learners and tracks progress
Autonomous: Applies the freedom for flexibility
Compassionate: Nurtures the whole child
The Learning Environment:
The resources provided and culture of permeating thought, support learners and facilitators in authentically interacting. Educational landscapes provide real-world applications where learners raise and release brook trout and quail, engage in phenology as they tend to their native garden, communicate virtually utilizing digital platforms, and make their thinking visible as ideas are presented upon. Environments encompass the constructs needed to think independently and foster growth within communities of learning. As specific milestones are met with confidence, individuals transition through learning cycles, ensuring mastery of concepts, strategies, and skills.
Integrated Initiatives: Alignment of subject areas in inquiry-based endeavors
Competency-Based: Individualized and cohort based learning plans
Spaced Practice: Retrieval of concepts spaced out over time
Communication & Collaboration: Ideas fostered through expressive thought
Real World Applications: Active participation in stewardship initiatives
Thinking Routines: Embedded implementation of applicable thought
Fluid Spaces for learning: Transitions between physical and digital environments
The essence of learning is in striving for harmony through a clarity of purpose.
Opportunities to gain insight are abundant and merely need an open-mind by which to take advantage. Possibilities for transformational learning exist when we seek to align a culture with need as a means to unlock potential within all learners. In doing so, we apply a mindset for progression which supports our communities in preparing for and responding to unprecedented times. Security can be found in the authentic vision that becomes the learning culture, allowing for seamless transitions when unforeseen events present themselves. Striking a balance between the defined attributes of the learner, facilitator, and learning environment is essential to progressive and sustainable growth. It is within this realm of thought that the universal transformation for authentic learner-centered experiences reside.