Designing a student-centered learning program

Teacher-powered governance is the most effective way to create student-centered learning programs and ultimately increase student success. By moving the decision-making to those closest to students, teachers are better able to meet the unique needs of their school community. As Krista Kaput writes in Evidence for Student-Centered Learning, “It’s time to design a system that not only sets all students up for success but that is also equitable and meets their unique needs.” Teacher-powered governance allows teams to do just this.

Your team might design an entirely new learning program and instructional approach, select from existing options, or mix new and existing elements. The Discussion Starter on instructional approaches as well as the following series of design questions will be useful:


  • What is your overall philosophy about teaching and learning?
  • How is that philosophy reflected in your learning program and instructional approach?
  • How will these choices meet students’ needs?
  • Are these choices different from options that students can access in other schools? If so, how
    and why?
  • Is there research that backs up your choices?

Role of teachers

  • What is the role of teachers in relation to student growth and learning?
  • Is this role different than that of teachers in a conventionally managed school? How?
  • Will teachers deliver instruction in traditional ways? Or will they act more as learning
    facilitators and guides? (Or a combination of both?)
  • Will teachers use their time differently than teachers in conventional schools? How?
  • Will teachers personalize students’ learning? How?
  • How will the learning program impact teachers’ daily activities? (For example, some teachers
    create self-directed learning programs in which they occasionally deliver instruction in traditional
    ways but mostly move around the room to speak one-on-one with students who are making
    their own learning choices.)

Role of students

  • Will students have a different role than in conventional schools? How?
  • Will they be active learners, passive learners, or some of each? How?
  • Will they be expected to learn non-academic as well as academic skills? What about non-cognitive and cognitive skills? How will students learn these skills?
  • How will students use technology?
  • Will they have access to blended learning (online learning with some control over time, place,
    path, and/or pace)?
  • Will students make use of community and natural resources? How?
  • Will they have homework?
  • How will students use their time differently than in conventional schools?
  • Will students have an extended day? If so, how will it be connected to the regular school day
    and core academics?
  • Will student voice be incorporated into the learning program? How?
  • Will students have any responsibility for co-creating and co-enforcing community norms?
    How will that relate to their learning? (See designing an approach to discipline and meeting
    social needs
    for ideas. Many teacher-powered schools consider their disciplinary approach to be part of their school’s learning program and approach to instruction.)

Author tip

Revisit the Forming stage step finding inspiration and motivation for the work to learn more about teacher-powered schools’ learning programs.


Designing a student-centered learning program

EdVisions Schools: Self-directed, Project-based Learning Program

Video series. EdVisions Schools breaks down how a self-directed, project-based learning program works in practice.

A Toolkit for More and Better Learning Time

Website. If your state, district, or school has a More and Better Learning Time or Expanded Learning Time initiative, you might be able to use it as an entry point for transitioning to a teacher-powered school. This link contains tools for assessing current reality and resources for redesigning learning time that will be helpful for any teacher-powered initiative.

Seven Principles of Student-Centered Learning

Report. Learning must be designed with students at the center. That is, learning must be personalized to students' unique needs, interests, identities, and aspirations—and designed with their ideas and voices at the table. Education Evolving identified seven common principles of learning that are present when students are at the center of school design decisions.

Rethink: Planning and Designing for K-12 Next Generation Learning

Toolkit. Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) created this resource for K-12 district, charter, and school leaders to use in the very early stages of conceptualizing and designing a next generation learning program, initiative, or whole school.

Instructional Approaches: Discussion Starters for Creating a Teacher-Powered School

Discussion Starters. Teams starting or improving a teacher-powered school should use this resource to explore how to collegially manage the teaching and learning program in a school and resist the pressure to conform to traditional school structures and instructional practices.

Innovative Schools Network: Wisconsin Teacher-Powered Schools Sample Resources for Curriculum

Website. This website contains links to a number of sample project-based learning documents from teacher-powered schools (High Marq, Valley New, and Wildlands), including project checklists, justification guides, reflection guides for students, and spreadsheets for reporting students' credits to district central offices. For teachers, there are advising guides.

Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, Chapter 6: on teachers’ roles (pp. 76-78)

Book. When teachers design and run schools, they tend to do so with an eye toward accommodating students’ needs and interests. This requires teachers to expand their own roles.

Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots Chpt 6: students’ means of learning (pp. 78-79)

Book. Teacher-powered schools accommodate varying levels of readiness, aptitudes, interests, and rates of learning.

Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, Chapter 7

Book. Chapter 7 discusses the learning programs teachers designed and selected in 11 teacher-powered schools, all of which personalize student learning to some extent.

Finding Your Path: A Navigation Tool for Scaling Personalized, Competency-Based Learning

Toolkit. This resource is designed to help learning communities understand the conditions for sustainable systems change and to develop and advance a strategic plan for district-wide transformation to personalized, competency-based learning.

Making the Case: Compelling Data

Inventory. This growing library features data points that describe the impacts and outcomes of student-centered and competency-based approaches to teaching and learning. The data is sourced from research studies, evaluation reports and journal articles, as well as evidence collected directly by classroom, school, district and state leaders using student-centered and personalized learning approaches.

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