While traveling across the globe for a recent event and meeting with diverse groups of education leaders, I was struck with the long-reoccurring awareness that we, as adults in education systems globally, have been incredibly arrogant in our approach to student learning. We define learning and academic success, we measure students on a narrow range of outcomes, and then we blame students when they fail in the system.

This adult-centered, arrogant narrative has to be turned on its head: Students aren’t failing in the education system––the system is failing its students.

I’ve written articles and books and speak often around the world on the importance of, and on school systems’ early successes with, deeper and decidedly student-centered learning. But my stomach still drops on a regular basis with awareness of the persistence of education’s inhumanity. It’s time to create a system-wide culture of learning and belonging, of meaning and purpose, and of humility before our diverse student learners.

With a change in the narrative comes a necessary shift in the way we define and measure success. The Learner First has developed tools that support schools to measure their own capabilities and conditions for deeper learning. This poses a significant shift––the traditional paradigm promotes the conditions that elevate rote academic achievement over lifelong human success.

It’s a similar story with measures of learning design and student outcomes––teachers’ design of deeper learning experiences, and students’ development of deeper learning outcomes (e.g. self-understanding, connection, and competency), are de-emphasized when achievement in academic subjects is the be-all and end-all of students’ education.

While these shifts are significant, the need is still greater––we have to put aside adult-centered excuses and finally give learners the education they need.

So my challenge today, to educators everywhere, is to examine your conditions, design, and outcomes in light of what learners actually need:

  1. Conditions. Are your school or school system conditions the optimal conditions for the learner (i.e. the unique human being) in front of you? If not, deeply consider what needs to change.
  2. Design. Are your students’ learning experiences designed to develop curricular knowledge alongside the full range of deeper learning outcomes? If there’s room for improvement, consider what you need and move mountains to get it.
  3. Outcomes. Is all your activity, each and every day, directed at developing all deeper learning outcomes (self-understanding, knowledge, competency, and connection)? Everything done in an education system is wasted when working toward anything less.

What we are doing in school systems globally to a great extent simply isn’t working for kids. Until we embrace a new narrative in schools, along with new tools that promote deeper learning, the options available to so many after school will be limited, tragic, or gone.