• Tom Butler

A Learner-Centered Thinking Mindset



This post is "Part Two" to last week's blog post about a moral imperative that school leaders have to society. Since last week, I have had time to reflect a little more on the topic. It is so important for us as school leaders to shift our mindset to reflective thinking because that is the start to thinking about our moral imperative to society. But, there are two reasons thinking like this is hard for us to do.


The schooling system that we have grown up in (especially since 2002 when NCLB was passed) encourages compliance and managerial excess. I say excess because it is very difficult to accomplish anything but managerial tasks when faced with the burdens of compliance issues brought about by NCLB and The Race To The Top.

The perverse incentive for education leaders over the last 25 years or so is to be myopic and focus on "checking the box" of compliance issues. Creativity, innovation, and learner-centered thinking are not encouraged by our current system of schooling. Thinking about issues beyond test scores and other compliance issues is simply not rewarded.


The mindset shift is a shift to thinking. Thinking beyond the short-term compliance issues. Thinking beyond learner test score data. Thinking FOR the best interest of society.


Learner-Centered Leadership Strategies To Encourage Thinking


Let me be clear. Thinking is not a partisan political act. It's just thinking. Taking the time to gather relevant information and purposefully considering how to make sense of that information...in your context, based on your values, and in a way that will benefit people. Period. Let's not be afraid of thinking.


Here is what you can do today in your school or school district as a learner-centered leader to encourage thinking and move beyond short-term compliance thinking.


  1. Carve out 30 minutes each day for "thinking time" for yourself. Just you and a book, a podcast, an article, a blank piece of paper, a meditation practice, or whatever works for you. All of us can carve out 30 minutes for this time. If you cannot, then you need to reflect on your career choices.

  2. Lead a conversation with a group that challenges their perceptions and yours. I love book studies for this purpose, but any excuse you can make to get a group of people together on a regular basis to discuss important issues is a good thing. What is "important" reflects your community, your school, your beliefs about education.

  3. Encourage teachers to embed in their instruction that gathering different viewpoints is all right. Researching a differing viewpoint than your own does not mean that you are a "sell-out". Learners must see adults engaging in the intellectual exercise of understanding a point of view that differs from their own. More than having a model, learners need to be instructed on how to do it. Again, this is not partisan, this is just thinking.

So, there you have it. Shifting your mindset, and that of your school, to one of thinking encourages learner-centered leaders to move beyond compliance issues and increase our awareness

of our moral imperative to society.

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