What is Learner-Centered: SparkHouse Conference 2022

by Hazel Hales & Owen Quinn

What does learner-centered mean and why is it important to us?

This is a question that we explored more deeply in the SparkHouse Education Reimagined Conference. Eleven different learner-centered environments from around America gathered together in Washington DC to discuss how to change education.

These are the top 3 things we learned and took away from the conference:

  1. Learner-centered education honors each person for who they are. 

One of the defining components of a learner-centered environment is learner agency. Education Reimagined defines agency as: an individual’s capacity to take purposeful initiative in shaping themselves, their relationships with others, and their circumstances. They make a point to say that agency is the opposite of resignation, passive compliance, and helplessness. 

At TVS, we call this taking responsibility for our own education. This allows each learner to shape their education to fit their own needs. We are proud to share that taking responsibility for our own education is a part of all three of our studios’ learner-created contracts! 

  1. Learner-centered doesn’t have to be the same everywhere.

On the first day of the conference, we did a sharing fair. Every environment set up a little presentation explaining things about their program and what made their programs unique. We had prepared a little list of things, but we weren’t quite sure how different we were from other schools.

When we presented -and looked around- we realized that we were very different from the other environments. In fact, none were the same! Even though we all had the similarity of being learner-centered, everyone did it in their own way.

One that stood out to us was Rock Tree Sky, an extra-curricular program (why we aren’t saying schools -instead saying environments- is for programs like these) that is learner-centered. Rock Tree Sky was like a maker space, but with mentors in the different subjects, and it was specifically geared towards homeschooled kids. There are many studios in the building, ones you can walk into at any time, as there are no held classes. You decide what you want to do then you ask a mentor for help. There is a studio for blacksmithing, music, art, sewing, and much more. This was a cool example of another learner center environment that stood out to us.

  1. Everyone was eager to share their own ideas and about their own programs.

There were more young people at the conference than there were adults, and everyone, but especially the young people, were eager to share. In our small groups, which were organized to intentionally connect learners from different backgrounds and programs, each person had opportunities to share their ideas about why learner-centered is important, what we each bring to our own programs, and more. 

The sharing fair was another chance for each program to explain what made their school unique, and what made it learner-centered. The chance to share TVS with young people and adults from across the country was awesome and inspiring. Many people were interested in our school as we were in theirs. And a couple of the environments mentioned how they wanted to use some of our ideas in their schools, especially the apprenticeships. 

You can read more about the conference here. We are excited to take what we learned from this experience to make a difference in learner-centered education. The conference reminded us how grateful we are to be a part of this school and this movement. We are part of something bigger than we ever imagined, and that is inspiring to us, and we hope it is inspiring to you.

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