Over the past few years, we’ve put forth ideas believed to be the
necessary components of transformational growth within evolutionary
learning environments. From embedding integrated stewardship initiatives to individualized and cohort-based learning plans, we have proposed a progressive vision for learning. These ideas are not simple suggestions of application but spirited grains of thought grounded in a belief that disruption is the key to advancement. This is evident in our own craft as we have used the mechanism of “unlearning" to dismantle, recalibrate, and grow as practitioners. In the quest for improvement, we have attempted to break down institutionalized practices by building open-walled fluid spaces of inquiry that would meet each unique learner where they are in their development. In our efforts to create optimal environments of thought, we’ve moved further into research shared by influential organizations such as Project Zero, Education Reimagined, and Retrieval Practice. When examining these repositories of integrated thinking, the common thread that emerges is the importance of enhancing learner agency. In acknowledging this essential component, we must reflect upon the deeply interconnected relationship between teacher agency and leadership.
As many educational institutions move back toward traditional models of instruction, educators are being boxed into teacher-centered approaches without the autonomy needed to facilitate learner-centered initiatives. Even with current advancements in neuroscience, the system of education continues to rely on faulty assumptions regarding learning. With little emphasis on proven research, those holding administrative roles often apply metrics under the guise of research-based practices. The result is a reliance on numbers to generate decisions that are at odds with the findings offered by scientific communities of thought and skilled educators. Ultimately, this cycle leads us back to curriculum mandates that drive instruction solely from the one size fits all state assessments and adopted progress monitoring programs. Within this truth, we find ourselves asking, “If educators are not provided the freedom to utilize their expertise in facilitating the growth of each diverse learner, how can a culture of evolutionary thought be cultivated or learner agency take hold?”
At this point in time, we turn toward leadership as a source of hope in navigating this question. When we think of leadership, our minds gravitate toward individuals that have inspired us to uncover our own potential, which is what we continually strive to do in our relationships with others. From our earliest moments in this profession, we’ve been fortunate to connect with influential leaders ranging from the learners we’ve facilitated to select educators and administrators with whom we’ve had the honor of crossing paths. Those who have touched us have recognized and shared a passion for implementing learner-centered practices. That being stated, we have always understood that leadership is contextual and comes forth in various forms through the relationships of invested individuals. In its presence, transformation becomes possible when the trust to move forward gives way to autonomy.
Rather than the administration sitting at the top of the hierarchical system giving directives, we suggest that the playing field be leveled and partnerships are established. Meaningful growth can transpire through a willingness to differentiate and support educators committed to transformational change. Failure to progress will be the outcome if this shift does not occur. It is unfortunate that this is the current place we find ourselves locked into with our district’s decision to departmentalize at a fifth-grade level. If learner agency is central to active engagement and building long-term understanding, we must first look at how independent thought can be harnessed within our educators and the environments they facilitate. The acceptance of a status quo mentality must be broken down to pave the way for those committed to building learner-centered ecosystems.
Years ago, in our efforts to lead a collaborative group of respected educators, we looked at whether or not one individual could make a difference. It was then and continues to remain our belief that one authentic leader can make all the difference in bringing a progressive vision to life. First and foremost, a transformative vision must be internalized, followed by a willingness to push back and ask tough questions that will disrupt traditional policy implementation. The broken pieces that can never be fixed within our educational organizations will continually disturb the flow of progress if we do not confront them all together. Advancements in scientific research suggest that the implementation of neuroscience in educational settings is necessary to understand how emergent minds process, retain, and retrieve concepts. We believe many answers reside in providing professional educators the freedom to enhance learner agency while applying research-based methods that support optimal growth. As Educator Sir Ken Robinson has suggested, "imagination can provide the opportunity to visit the past, contemplate the present, and anticipate the future.” At this juncture, we have found meaning in reflecting upon the past and present as we push forward to integrate the missing pieces into future learning environments.