The Importance of Modeling Student-Centered Professional Learning

This was originally posted on the Students at the Center HUB on July 7, 2017 by Matthew Drewette-Card. I am reposting it here because: (1) I think it’s an important read, and (2) being that I am Matthew Drewette-Card, I am fully supporting this reposting and all appropriate attribution should be noted for and accounted.


Modeling Matters for Student Centered Learning

Creating student-centered learning environments is no easy task.  One of the major reasons is that teachers do not often receive enough quality professional learning that provides them with the time to design, the opportunity to actively provide choice and voice into their school systems, and are put under too much pressure to meet curriculum and assessment needs based on statewide testing mandates.  In short: professional learning doesn’t often “practice what it preaches.”  I remember sitting in a differentiation workshop once, with 300 of my close colleagues, and the person talked at us all day… about differentiation.  This is no good.  Professional learning opportunities must be intentionally and explicitly designed and implemented to model the desired behaviors and learning extracted from those opportunities.  Period. If the goal of the school and/or district is to transition to a student-centered and personalized model where transitioning can be messy, difficult, and requires the burden of the learning to be put onto the shoulders of the learner (while the educators maintains the role of the environmental facilitator and learning certifier), then professional learning environments must mirror those same design aspects.  This realization and need brought us to a recent Maine School Administrative District #46 (a part of Alternative Organizational Structure #94) full day of professional learning, focused on and around student-centered learning.  Here’s how it was designed:


Step 1: Listen to your learners

I did some data collection using a Professional Learning Needs Survey several weeks before the May 26 workshop day.  I have also been engaging in conversations and listening to teachers struggle with the many challenges they face concerning student engagement, mental health challenges, ensuring equity for all students, progress monitoring, and more.  After listening, hearing, and attempting to understand the challenges facing our teachers daily, the Professional Learning Needs Survey encouraged our staff to rank topics in the following areas:

  • Student-Centered Learning
  • Proficiency-Based Grading and Reporting
  • Student Engagement
  • Special Needs
  • Technology Integration
  • Teacher Evaluation

Understanding that different grade spans and grade levels have different struggles and needs, we looked at those data through multiple lenses:

  • Pre-K-4
  • 5-8
  • 9-12
  • Pre-K-8
  • 5-12
  • Pre-K-4, 9-12
  • Pre-K-12

Breaking down the data this way helped us uncover common areas of need from a district level all the way down to a grade-span level, and helped us to create environments and opportunities for our teachers to solve the problems that they face.


Step 2: Empower, Embolden, and Energize

Based on the survey data, the staff was separated into two different groups: PreK-4 and 5-12.  The Pre-K-4 group’s teachers guided by the instructional coaches, used a design thinking process to restructure the way they “do” Pre-K-4 school,specifically in how we group students.  Traditionally, Pre-K-4 students are grouped by age, but our teachers have been facing challenges like meeting the needs of all learners effectively.  So, the teachers came together and pushed the administration, who thankfully said “go for it”,to design something new,  which included settling on common language for  “student-centered,” “continuous and flexible grouping,” and “meeting the needs of all learners,” and  developing common instructional and personal educational values.  The teachers were given the the entire day to collaborate, dream, problem-solve, and design and were not rushed through this process, because it was clear that without a common language, nothing effective could be designed..  By the end of the day, the staff had developed proposals and those proposals are going to the building leadership and administrative teams to put them into effect for the 2017-2018 school year.  Click here to see the day’s agenda for the PreK-4 team.

  • The staff in grades 5-12 wanted to focus on their  issues with curriculum and assessment, and to collaborate on similar  challenges..  So, the  5-12 group participated in  PD designed to be  an “(un)conference”, a more flexible model of professional learning.  The morning was organized by content areas and they  worked together to align curriculum and assessment, and share grading and reporting strategies (the state of Maine has shifted to proficiency-based education).  There were no outside experts brought in, or expected tasks, instead groups were given these goals to achieve with the freedom to decide how to attain them:  identify accuracies and inaccuracies of standards, assessments, and instruction at both classroom, grade-level, and content area;
  • develop and share prototypes of common reporting mechanisms and strategies to improve student achievement and learning.  

Given the  precious gifts of time, collaboration, and trust to name the problems of practice they were grappling with and to develop (and own) the solutions our teachers  came out of the workshop with a better understanding of what to do next,equipped to tackle challenges, and energized  to perform better and be happier in the classroom.  Sounds just like the outcomes we would want for our students from student-centered learning right?  Click here to see the day’s agenda for teachers in grades 5-12.


Step 3: Learner-first mindset


Maine School Administrative District #46 and Alternative Organizational Structure #94 is focused on providing its professional staff with a simple goal: create student-centered learning environments to improve the learning and achievement of all students.  To build the culture of learning, of intrinsic motivation, and of ownership into our schools and buildings, our professional learning opportunities for our staff must be designed, implemented, and reflected upon using the same methods a teacher would use in a student-centered classroom. It wasn’t all perfect, and there were many 5-12 teachers frustrated by the seeming “lack of leadership” in the sessions… but that’s ok.  They are beginning to feel what the students feel when we begin to unravel the tangled web of learned helplessness we have unintentionally instilled in them during their schooling.  The staff are beginning to understand that compliance is not the same as engagement, and that instead of looking for someone to give them the answer, they are empowered to lead be the expert we all know they are.  The staff are learning the power and the feeling of true empathy for our students, and there is no more powerful change agent in the world than a motivated educator.


For more information on Matt Drewette-Card, follow him on Twitter, or check out his website:


For more information on Maine School Administrative District #46 and Alternative Organizational Structure #94, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or check out their website:

Fall Conference 2017: Pathways to Proficiency

Join us on October 23 in Lewiston for our annual Fall Conference focusing on the Whole Child, Learner Agency, and Proficiency-Based Learning.

This year we are excited to welcome Mike Anderson, author of Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn:The Key to Student Motivation and Engagement.

Participants will explore:

  • What effective student choice looks like in the classroom
  • Why it’s important to offer students choices
  • How to create learning environments and teach specific skills that enable choice to work well

Register here: Pathways to Proficiency