By Rae Ann Knopf, Executive Director of CCER

As school doors open across the state to welcome Connecticut students back, now is a great time to take stock of all that has happened this year.  If you have been following the new laws, policies, and actions that the state has taken to reform public education in Connecticut, you might be finding yourself wondering how all the pieces fit together.  You might be wondering how all of this will impact the young people in our schools.  You may agree with me that of all of the stakeholders in the education system, none are as important as the students.  Unfortunately, caring about children and knowing they are important is not enough to guide a student-centered education reform philosophy.

This notion of “student-centered” learning is still a new and often misunderstood paradigm. Student-centered learning is based upon recognizing that each child has differing learning needs and strengths.  It means the reforms we pursue must be designed to optimize each child’s abilities so that every individual receives the necessary supports to accelerate learning in areas of strength and effectively address the areas in which each child faces challenges. A student-centered paradigm requires a learning community of educators, support staff, parents, and the students themselves, to work together towards the same end goal—personalizing the learning experience so that all students excel academically—with the support of the larger community. From the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver to No Child Left Behind requirements to the state’s new educator evaluation guidelines the reforms that Connecticut is undertaking all point to a shift in thinking.  If we do this correctly as a state, the result will be a more student-centered, personalized learning environment.

In order for educators to understand and respond to the various learning needs of our children, they must have the capability, the tools and the resources to do so.  In this paradigm, student learning is the number one focus for allocating education funding resources, for preparing teachers and administrators for the workforce, for evaluating their ability to create an environment conducive to learning, and for supporting them in taking responsibility individually and collectively for the outcome of their work. This is the type of systemic mindset that will create a student-centered learning environment. Whether the school in your town is working to implement a new educator evaluation system or undertaking a new district-wide improvement plan, the purpose of these endeavors is to provide every Connecticut student with the knowledge, skills and resources to pursue his or her dreams.