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Learner-Centered School and District Leadership

At the core of learner-centered leadership is the ambition to empower all learners to know who they are, thrive in community, and actively engage in the world as their best selves. To this end, very much like learner-centered learning success metrics are anchored in students discovering their unique strengths and interests, solving real-world problems, and collaborating with others as they persist through challenges, district and school leaders can engage in the same collaborative and authentic process to co-construct their ecosystem’s Framework for the Future. Using Simon Sinek’s (2011) “Start With Why,“ Golden Circle Theory, the following paragraphs detail the “why”, as well as the “how” and “what” of the Framework for the Future.


The “Why”: Defining and Aligning on a Framework for the Future

Our Approach

At Learner-Centered Collaborative, we partner with school systems to design their Framework for the Future and define the organization’s “why”, as well detail the priority outcomes, experiences, and conditions. It is co-constructed with community input and serves as a communication tool to articulate the school system’s north star. Included in the Framework for the Future are traditional guiding statements, such as the organization’s mission, vision, and core values, but what is unique to a Learner-Centered Framework for the Future is that the community also defines the skills and dispositions it expects learners to develop and command, as well as the educator competencies needed to design the learning experiences that support learners on their academic journey.

The Framework for the Future is also leveraged to bring coherence to an education system and strengthen levels of collective efficacy. The importance and positive influence that clearly operationalized guiding statements have on designing purpose-driven organizations is supported by a plethora of references and many authors including Fullan and Quinn (2016). Additionally, the Framework for the Future increases levels of collective efficacy by providing a shared understanding of the organization’s purpose, strengthening commitment to a common vision, and fortifying a strong sense of teamwork among all education partners.


The “How”: Leveraging Design Thinking

Our Learner-Centered Collaborative facilitators use the human-centered Design Thinking protocol to support partners in co-authoring their Framework for the Future.

  • The empathize stage begins with listening to those who are at the center of any education system: the students. Listening to students is at the heart of learner-centered education and is imperative when seeking a redesign initiative. The “Continue-Start-Stop” protocol is a practical strategy to guide students through a discovery conversation allowing them to reflect on their personal academic experiences and then work collaboratively to summarize their collective academic experiences and journey.
  • Once students’ voices have been recorded, the findings are presented to the Guiding Coalition, a cross-functional team composed of school and district leaders, teachers, parents, central office leaders, and labor partners. Guiding coalition members work to identify successes to celebrate and scale, as well as opportunities to improve and refine.
  • The next phase is to ideate as many learner-centered solutions as possible that respond to the needs of the learners. This can include innovation in the areas of use of time, space, and events, or reimagining rituals, incentives, or use of finances.
  • Continuing in a collaborative effort, the Guiding Coalition concludes the interactive design effort by prototyping and testing the organization’s Learner Profile and Learning Model.

The Escondido Union School District (EUSD) Guiding Coalition consists of 60 plus team members co-designing the EUSD Framework for the Future.


The “What”: Learner Profile and Learning Model

Going beyond the traditional guiding statements that define an organization’s “Why,” which includes the mission, vision, and core values, the Framework for the Future also includes a Learner Profile and Learning Model, which help put the why and how into action.

The Learner Profile clearly defines the priority of whole-learner outcomes and serves as a catalyst to transform the organization’s systems, processes, and structures to support the new metrics for learner success. In short, the Learner Profile is a shortlist of interdisciplinary learner outcomes, such as Effective Communicator, that are accompanied by succinctly stated associated competencies to ensure everyone in the ecosystem grasps with clarity how student success is defined.

To support the development of the priority whole learner outcomes is the methodically crafted Learning Model that is also co-authored by the Guiding Coalition and found in the Framework for the Future.

The Learning Model shapes the path for the learning experiences needed to achieve the defined whole-learner outcomes. In the same spirit that the Learner Profile shapes the organization’s systems, processes, and structures, the Learning Model serves as a GPS and guides educators to support students in developing and demonstrating the Learner Profile outcomes and serves as a framework for pedagogical change.

Let’s partner in designing your ecosystem’s Framework for the Future. The co-design process will bring clarity and coherence in defining your organization’s mission, vision, and core values, along with detailing the priority competencies you seek for learners to command and the learning experiences needed to yield those outcomes. Your district’s or school’s Framework for the Future will serve as a north star and influence your team to effectively use your time, energy, and resources. We invite you to preview the Mesa Union Schools, Compass Charter School, and Deer Lakes School District Frameworks for the Future and begin to imagine what is possible for your organization.


Fullan, M., & Quinn, J. (2016). Coherence: The right drivers in action for schools, districts, and systems. Corwin.

Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Portfolio Penguin.

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