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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Shifting the Focus

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #121

"Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it daily, and at last, we cannot break it."

Horace Mann – American Educator, 1796 - 1859

Can we reimagine education where learning remains constant and time becomes a variable? This issue of Leadership Thoughts explores the need for a shift in mindset. It discusses the potential of Pennsylvania House Bill 1507, introduced by Representative Jesse Topper, to make the days (180) and hours (900 elementary, 990 secondary) of attendance a more flexible requirement of education. By examining the purpose of schools, the components of effective learning, and the importance of cultivating lifelong habits of the mind, we can begin to envision an educational system that prioritizes learner-centered outcomes over time in the seat.

Redefining the Purpose of Education:

To embark on the path of learner-centered education, there needs to be a shift in mindset from time being the constant to learning being the constant; we must establish a shared understanding of the purpose of schooling. Rather than merely preparing students for further schooling, the primary objective of schools should be to instill the joy of learning, equipping students with the necessary skills to navigate both future educational pursuits and real-life challenges.

Components of Effective Learning:

To design a school system that achieves its primary purpose, we must consider what students should be able to do, know, and be like as they transition through different stages of their education. Three fundamental components of learning emerge: complex reasoning (the ability to think critically and solve problems), content knowledge (the acquisition of subject-specific information), and habits of the mind (the disposition to approach problems intelligently).

Moving Beyond the Profile of a Graduate:

While the concept of a "profile of a graduate" has gained traction in education, it tends to overlook the crucial element of habits of the mind. The book, Street Data by Safir and Dugan's definition of a graduate profile, encompassing what students must know and be able to do, provides a starting point. However, it is essential to apply the same scrutiny to all transitional phases of a student's educational journey, including the development of lifelong habits of the mind.

The Significance of Habits of the Mind:

Habits of the mind encompass a broad range of skills, attitudes, cues, past experiences, and a disposition for learning. Given the significant impact of schooling experiences on shaping these habits, it is logical to prioritize learning over time-based requirements. With students spending approximately 2,340 days in school during their elementary and secondary education, schools act as crucibles, subtly influencing students' habits of mind through formal and informal experiences both inside and outside the classroom.

Establishing Learning Outcomes and Progressions:

To foster a learner-centered system, we should envision schools that clearly define outcomes for content, complex reasoning, and habits of the mind. Additionally, each outcome should be accompanied by established learning progressions, serving as stepping stones toward mastery. These progressions should not be seen as mere checklists but as guides for developing ideal learning experiences customized to each student's needs. Each learning experience should integrate components of content knowledge, complex reasoning, and habits of the mind.

In contemplating the possibilities of shifting educational focus from time-based requirements to learner-centered approaches, this issue of Leadership Thoughts has explored the purpose of education, the components of effective learning, and the significance of cultivating lifelong habits of the mind. By addressing questions surrounding the primary focus of schools, the purpose of education, and the creation of ideal learning opportunities, we can pave the way for an educational system that truly nurtures learners. By embracing this shift, we open doors to transformative educational practices that empower students for a lifetime of learning.

For further information on creating strong educators and learners, the Habits of Mind Institute has identified sixteen skills that serve as a framework:


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