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5 Cornerstones of Student-Centered Learning

I've participated in numerous Professional Development sessions that involve “unpacking the standards.” I always walk away from these sessions with a better understanding of the critical content and skills students need to be successful. However, sometimes I feel like we're leaving something that's equally important to chance.

Just as it's important to unpack the standards, it would be really helpful to do a deeper dive into how exemplary educators are getting relationships right. Deeper, lasting learning requires clear standards and an environment conducive to student-thriving. That's why I decided to "unpack the relationships" that had a huge impact on one of our students recently. This short story epitomizes the critical role of relationships and serves as a poignant reminder that creating student-centered learning is an intentional process.

Our teachers have always done an incredible job connecting with kids and encouraging their passions. Recently, we welcomed Phil Bildner to our school for an author visit. On the day of his visit, a couple teachers arranged to have Phil meet 1:1 with one of our students who is an aspiring author. Phil took about 15 minutes out of his time to look at the student's writing, provide feedback, and mentor this young man. The fact that our staff had noticed and nurtured the student's passion all along is important to point out. The pictures below show a special moment where Phil was able to provide the student some specific feedback about his writing. (Pretty cool...right?!)

The story doesn't stop here. After Phil left our school, he reached out to another author/friend of his, Dav Pilkey, and told him about our student (the aspiring author). Dav was gracious enough to send a special care package to our student that included autographed books, a special note, and even some additional feedback on the student's writing. Talk about an authentic audience for this student's work!! How cool is that?! The video below captures the special moment when that package was delivered. I believe the entire video is magical because it encapsulates what amazing teachers do every single day. They get to know the hearts of their kids, so they can impact students' thinking. Lasting learning happens when a heart-to-head connection is made.

I smile every time I watch that video. It's a pretty neat moment, but the most powerful thing for me is knowing it was more than a moment. It was a sustained team effort over this particular student's educational career. The team effort involved all staff, students, and the community. For example, several teachers who had worked directly with the student (or who had connected with the student in the past) made this particular story possible. And they will continue to create new possibilities for this student and all the other students at our school. Because that's what they do.

I love how this student's experience was not limited to the confines of the classroom walls. Several of our teachers supported this student over the course of many years, and others reached out to Phil, who subsequently reached out to Dav Pilkey. Talk about some amazing relationships and limitless learning! Tucked away in this heartwarming story are five cornerstones to student-centered learning.

Before I highlight the five cornerstones of student-centered learning, I'd like to thank the classroom teachers who supported this student's passions starting with Mrs. Westman, Mrs. Petersen, Mr. Vrudny, Mrs. Hembre, and Mr. McAuliff. I'd like to thank our school's Media Specialist, Mrs. Gibbons, for facilitating the connection with Phil. I'd also like to recognize the Media Specialist at Meadow Ridge Elementary, Mrs. Kirchner, for her constant collaboration and sharing with our team. Special thanks to Phil Bildner and Dav Pilkey for going above and beyond! Finally, this team of authors and teachers is part of a larger team that's impacting lives every day at our school. Thank you.

Without further are those five cornerstones. These are the timeless truths that I believe we need to unpack alongside the standards. I’m also curious what you might add to this list…

5 Cornerstones:

1. Notice and nurture student talent.

2. Provide a listening ear and an authentic (e.g. caring, meaningful, safe) audience for student talent.

3. Get to know each student's heart, so you can reach each student's mind.

4. Relationships in a school are a team effort.

5. Kids win when their relationships and opportunities are not limited to the confines of their classrooms.

As an added bonus, here are a few more pictures taken from the day that Dav Pilkey’s surprise package of books arrived. I totally love the last picture because it underscores how relationships are truly a team effort (including relationships with peers).



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