Randy Ziegenfuss on Learner-Centered Leadership

On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast, Tom is joined by Kelly Young, President of Education Reimagined to chat with Randy Ziegenfuss, podcast host and former Superintendent, about his multi-decade influence in the education space.

Randy recently retired from the role of superintendent in the Salisbury Township School District (PA) where he served for the past 15 years. He also teaches as a Clinical Adjunct Professor of Education at Moravian College and Delaware Valley University. You can read his blog and listen to his podcasts: Shift Your Paradigm and TL Talk Radio.

Let’s listen in as Tom and Kelly reflect on Randy’s influence and experience on leadership and learner-centered education.

Randy has been learning out loud for decades and has been a staple of Pennsylvania since he was young. As a child, he thrived in band class, playing the trumpet and eventually becoming the director of the band — the beginnings of a career in leadership.

“The arts about doing. There is a public product and there is oftentimes community at the organization level,” said Randy.

After a few years of being a music teacher, he made the shift to edtech as a result of learning a number of digital tools in the classroom. On this podcast, Kelly and Randy reflected often about their parallel rises in the education space. “The [Education Reimagined] lexicon, learning labs and stories really helped solidify learner-centered education for me,” said Randy.

On learner-centered leadership: It starts with a practitioner who leads from inquiry. And, for Randy, the biggest takeaway from the learner-centered experience was just the “wow” factor from conversations with young people. “Every single human being in our system, young and old, have something inside of them. It is our jobs as leaders to help them release whatever that gift is to their communities,” said Randy.

On restructuring education: Randy called for a need to reframe the notion of transformation, citing language as one of the biggest challenges. “‘Relationship’ is a word that seems superficial — it’s two way. The learners need to understand who the adults are as well, as people and as learning designers,” he said. “We’re really talking about a totally new system. A system that doesn’t need the people in the system to feed the beast — it’s the other way around. How does the system rethink its structures to serve the others in the system?”

Kelly Young added that learner-centered education is a community effort. “It’s being a learner yourself […] and starting with the end in mind.”

When asked to talk more about a learner-centered ecosystem, Kelly and Randy agreed that it would be about a redefinition of success and dissemination of learning. Then Kelly said made a push for student voice: “Learners actually experienced learner-centered education — I didn’t.”


Key Takeaways:

[:09] About today’s episode with Randy Ziegenfuss.
[:55] Tom Vander Ark welcomes Randy Ziegenfuss to the podcast!
[1:05] Tom thanks Kelly for joining as a co-host in this episode.
[1:58] Many people know Randy as the Salisbury Township School District’s Superintendent, which is in Allentown, PA. Did Randy grow up there? Where did he go to school and what did he excel in?
[3:56] Tom and Randy highlight the huge role extracurricular activities and the arts often play in being powerful learning experiences for people in their formative years.
[5:33] Why every young person deserves an experience in music and the arts in high school, and why these experiences are especially powerful and important.
[7:02] Did Randy plan to be a music teacher? What were his early aspirations?
[9:50] Did Randy ever take a school group to Broadway?
[10:27] When and how did Randy make the shift from music to ed-tech?
[12:20] How Randy was first introduced to Education Reimagined and the powerful collaboration that they’ve had over the last several years.
[14:05] When did Kelly first hear about Randy?
[14:55] What Kelly really likes about Randy’s podcasts.
[15:52] Randy reminisces on what led to the creation of his podcasts.
[18:24] Tom shares what he really appreciated about Randy’s podcasts.
[18:50] The benefits and challenges of having learners involved in many of Randy’s dialogues throughout the years.
[19:53] Kelly shares why she believes listening to learners is so vitally important.
[20:18] What Randy sees as being really powerful in hearing from young people and what he thinks listeners gained from listening to them.
[23:17] Kelly and Randy reflect on learner-centered leadership, what they’ve come to learn about it, and what makes a learner-centered leader.
[29:28] What Randy and Kelly would hope to see in a learner-centered ecosystem.
[32:30] Would Randy say that last year was the toughest year of his professional career? What would he say was the most challenging aspect?
[35:32] Randy highlights some of the cracks, openings, and opportunities that came from this tough last year.
[37:50] Tom and Kelly thank Randy for his incredible contributions to the education space.
[39:00] Randy gives his thanks to Tom and Kelly.
[40:13] Getting Smart thanks Randy and Kelly for joining the podcast!

Mentioned in This Episode:

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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