The 8 Question Litmus Test

Our nation has an increased focus on rigorous standards and high expectations for all students. At the same time this focus is intersecting with increasing disparities in social mobility, income, and education. The last 2-3 years in education have been stressful and at the same time exciting. As a national consultant I get to work with amazing teachers, leaders and students every day that remind me why I entered the profession and why I love it so much. The current educational climate makes it easy to forget the true reason why we are called to the profession of education.

As educators we have a moral purpose, to make a difference in the lives of our students. Michael Fullan (2002) uses the term “moral purpose writ large” to indicate that we are talking about principled behavior connected to something greater than ourselves that relates to human and social development. Instructional leaders and teachers are devoted to this goal. Schools and systems must put students back at the center and let our moral compass lead the way.

The Core Collaborative uses the 4 tenets of student centered learning to remind ourselves that we do this work to make a profound difference in the lives of students. We use the 4 tenets as filters to focus our work on the “right work” in schools and systems. The 4 tenets are:

  1. Learning is personalized
  2. Learning is competency/criteria based
  3. Learning happens anytime and anywhere
  4. Learning is student owned

As your schools and systems are laying out plans for next year – reflect on these 8 questions to determine what shifts you need to make to put students at the center of your system:

  • Is learning in your school and system personalized? Do students know where they are at in the learning process and can they articulate their next steps?
  • Is learning competency/criteria based? Can students articulate the explicit criteria that they need for mastery of the learning?
  • Do students in your system engage in learning anytime and anywhere? Are the tasks so motivating that students want to learn outside the school day?
  • Do students take ownership of their learning? Do your students understand how to get “smarter” by applying effort strategically?

Reflect collaboratively on these questions. The questions can serve as a litmus test to determine strengths and next steps as you refocus your school’s learning goals to propel students to the center!

Works Cited:

Fullan, Michael (2002) Moral Purpose Writ Large, “The School Administrator Web Edition”.

Hinton, C., Fischer K., and Glennon C. (2013.) “Applying the Science of How We Learn” In Anytime, Anywhere Student-Centered Learning for Schools and Teachers, eds. Rebecca E. Wolfe, Adria Steinberg, & Nancy Hoffman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Hess, K., Gong B., Bayerl K. (2014). Ready for College and Career?: Achieving the Common Core Standards and Beyond through Deeper, Student-Centered Learning.

Putting Students at the Center, a reference guide by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, 2013.