Enhancing Learner-Centered Culture at CCS.

The Mission and scope of Crestone Charter School explicitly states that the school will serve each student.  Yet, our students learn in different ways and at different rates.  A learner-centered culture is a critical component of creating an environment where each student can thrive.  

The core of a learner-centered culture is to keep the focus on what each student is learning rather than what the teacher is teaching. Within a learner-centered culture, the teacher becomes a guide to each student’s learning rather than providing a one-way delivery of information in a one size fits all format. Students have choice in how they learn and, to some degree, what they learn in hitting specific learning targets. The charter school has made intentional steps to enhance the learner-centered culture and to provide students and teachers the skills and knowledge to maximize learning.

Transparent learning targets, sometimes called standards, are a key component of a learner-centered culture. Students, teachers, and families need to know the expected outcome for what students are learning and where they will go next. The targets may be academic or non-academic in nature. Student choice comes in how the learning occurs and what specific tools are used for learning. Some students in our middle school science prefer a computer-based learning platform, some prefer paper and pencil, and some prefer direct instruction.

Another key component is creating shared expectations for why and how students and teachers learn together in this environment. This year at CCS, each class has collaboratively developed a Shared Vision for what the classroom intends to accomplish throughout the year and how they intend to accomplish it. The Shared Vision is essentially the student’s translation of the School Mission Statement and the ‘why’ for a positive classroom culture and individualized experiential learning.

Each class followed the development of Shared Vision through working together to build a Code of Cooperation. Class Codes of Cooperation focus on the specifics of how students and teachers ensure that the Shared Vision happens in the class. Codes of Cooperation incorporate our school-wide virtues of Respect, Integrity, and Creativity, while including other virtues that the class may need to develop. This is the first year that each classroom has worked together to develop Codes of Cooperation and use these as a tool for monitoring class behaviors and enhancing learning.  

Charter School teachers and students are developing authentic ways to continually monitor Codes of Cooperation. Some classes are choosing to pick a small piece of the Code and monitor that small piece daily. Our Early Elementary students vote on which of the pieces of the code they will work on that day. Not all teachers are implementing this step yet, but in those classrooms where this monitoring is in place, we are seeing significant shifts in the culture.  

Each classroom has also developed procedures for how students and teachers complete specific tasks within each class. Standard Operating Procedures, or SOP’s allow students and teachers to have shared expectations for specific procedures that are regularly done in the classroom to help students to work without the direct oversight of the teacher. We have SOP’s for lining up in Elementary, computer use, math problem solving, and getting started on a writing assignment.

To promote authentic student leadership, the charter school has developed a Student Leadership Council where two students from each classroom are elected to form a council of mixed age students. These students are responsible for running our All School Gatherings that occur once every other week and for conducting mediations between any two members of the school community. This model has proven highly effective and successful in building student leadership in an authentic way.  

Working systematically towards authentic learner-centered culture has created some wonderful shifts in our student culture so that all students are able to work more harmoniously and independently from the teacher. Yet we still have a ways to go. One student cited that one of their teachers basically has all students doing the same lesson at the same time. That student could see how students could be working on different learning targets throughout the classroom depending on interest and pace. Having students work in this way requires the student to have skills in independent learning, a solid school culture, and clear S.O.P’s.   

Creating and maintaining a learner-centered culture is a complex and ongoing process. CCS is intent on developing systems such that students and teachers step into a culture where the systems for learning are clearly articulated and support each student. CCS will continue to make intentional steps as we work to guide each student in reaching their full potential.