Smart Review | Learner-Centered Innovation

By Emily Liebtag and Adam Kulaas

Yes, this is an endorsement. Yes, you should stop what you are doing and get this book. There, we said it (and no, we’re not getting paid to say it). Now that we have that covered, let us tell you about Learner-Centered Innovation by Dr. Katie Martin. We’ll keep it short and sweet, because we’d rather you grab yourself a copy and dive in! It is a book that delivers value through multiple lenses and successfully sparks educator action, which as an underlying theme that is echoed throughout the book with an emphasis on continuous improvement.

What is it about?

Learner-Centered Innovation is about the schools and educators around the country that are walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to rethinking how we ought to “do school.” Dr. Martin has been a part of the movement for over a decade, and pools her experiences, as well as the collective experiences of those in these schools, and synthesizes what it means to truly be learner-centered. In the book, there are detailed processes for how one might start this work, as well as real-school examples to highlight successes.

The book is strategically divided into three parts, with the author, whose passion for personalized learning is evident in each sentence written, taking the reader (learner) on a journey that starts by defining the role of the educator through a purpose-driven lens. She successfully unpacks the “why, how and what” of creating an environment for learning, and the importance of designing a space for all (students and teachers alike) to “learn to improve.” It was in “Part 2: Learning to Improve” that we found our “re-read” moment. In every book, podcast or movie, there is always content, a moment or a snippet that warrants a pause, followed by a “rewind” for deeper learning. In this book, it was discovered in her delivery of chapter seven’s “Learning Is a Process, Not an Event.”

This chapter kicks off with clarity and deeper reflection behind the “why” of improvement, and seamlessly slides into the importance and power of “reframing the problem,” where Dr. Martin supports the reader with the tools needed to successfully identify the “real” task at hand. Brought to life through an example that includes an experience with her daughters class, this is a truly valuable takeaway in designing learner-centered innovations.

Biggest takeaways?

As highlighted above, it’s hard to pick our favorite parts, but if we could point you to even just a few…

Setting a vision. One of our favorite sections is about setting a vision and defining what you want learning to look like. While graduate profiles and learner outcomes ought to be flexible, Dr. Martin harps on the fact that it is incredibly important for there to be a common vision, and constant conversations about what student-centered learning should look like in schools. Without a vision or common belief, everyone ends up working towards different aims and goals.

Realities vs. Goals. We often see, in schools where there is a push towards more student-centered learning, that there are still inhibitors or barriers that get in the way of actually making those things happen. Most of this is unintentional–structures are causing progress to be slowed. Martin did an excellent job of calling attention to and surfacing those contradictions.

Reflect and Connect Challenges. Each chapter has thought-provoking questions that could be used as a group-think or on your own. The questions pushed us to think about whether we just agree with everything she was saying, or if, in fact, we were also helping to promote those ideas.

Who is this book for?

You, and you, and you and that guy over there. Truly, we mean it. This book is for:

  • Any educator seeking to understand how to rethink their practice and put learners first,
  • Any organization that works with young people and knows they need to refocus their mission or practices; and
  • Any parent/guardian who believes there has to be a better way to reach his/her daughter and is curious about what school can/should look and feel like.

Don’t wait and put it on your summer reading list, put it on your READ NOW list. We promise–you’ll thank us!

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Emily Liebtag

Emily Liebtag, Ed.D., is Education Reimagined's Senior Partner for Systems Transformation. Formerly, Emily served as the Vice President of Advocacy at Getting Smart.

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