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The Learner First - Repurposing education to contribute towards a better society

The Learner First - Repurposing education to contribute towards a better society

Most often, students aren’t getting what they need to succeed. No wealth of knowledge, distinctions, or pathways can guarantee meaning, fulfillment, or well-being. The traditional schooling system is getting less relevant with every transformation going on in the world. To improve our lives, The Learner First aims to enhance traditional academics with contributive learning. Contributive learning develops self-understanding, connection, knowledge, and competency, which finally contributes towards a better society. We interviewed Joanne McEachen, the CEO and Founder of The Learner First, to know more about her vision and the company. Here are a few excerpts of the interview:

Q. What do you feel the most exciting or effective learning environment would be?

The most exciting and effective learning environment is one in which students learn about who they are, how they fit into the world, and how they can contribute their gifts to humanity. In this environment, teachers and students—along with students’ families and the community—are partners in engaging and meaningful learning experiences that use curricular standards as a springboard to self-understanding, connections with others, and the knowledge and competencies that help students meet their goals. When students are supported to succeed in their way, there’s no limit to their success while in school and beyond. 

Q. In your experience, can an innovation that works in one place work in another?

Effective innovations should be shared, but it’s critical to understand that all innovations won’t work in all places. The most effective innovations are the ones that stem from listening to the people who are impacted by and actually doing the work—in this case, our children and teachers and their communities. In schools all over the world, teachers and students are asking for help. We all know that the current school system is outdated and together can make the changes we need.

Q. How does the Contributive Curriculum support the development of purposeful teaching and learning environments?

The Contributive Curriculum was developed after years of working with school communities globally to collaboratively determine what it means to succeed. Everywhere, we found that success is a function of self-understanding, connection, knowledge, and competency. These outcomes help people contribute to others’ lives and the world in ways that bring meaning, fulfillment, and lifelong well-being. The Contributive Curriculum enhances school curriculums by providing the social-emotional learning (SEL) outcomes that students need in addition to academic knowledge and linking curricular and SEL goals in ways that lead to rich and purposeful learning experiences. Across classes, schools, and school systems, it inspires cultural changes that create equitable environments centered on all students’ well-being. 

Q. What, according to you, is Contributive Learning?

Contributive Learning means learning to add to the world. Through Contributive Learning experiences, students develop self-understanding, connection, knowledge, and competency. When these come together, we add to the world, leading to well-being, meaning, and fulfillment. Because no matter our goals or pursuits, the very best outcome we can hope for from any action or decision is that it makes people’s lives and the world better.

Q. What are the perks of using the method of Contributive Learning?

In the schools and communities we’ve worked with, an emphasis on Contributive Learning has improved outcomes and engagement for students, teachers, school leaders, and families. Students are more deeply connected to their learning because it’s relevant to their lives and interests. Teachers and school leaders feel a deep connection to the work because it’s holistic—it gives them the tools and opportunities they need to teach the child and to design learning and assessment that’s centered not solely on academic performance but on improving well-being. By giving students choice and agency and engaging as co-learners within their learning environments, teachers’ personal well-being and enjoyment levels are rising to new heights. Contributive Learning develops tremendous connections between and among students and teachers. It makes a real difference in learners’ lives and teaches them to make a real and positive difference in the lives of others.

Q. How does ‘The Depthvale Detectives’ connect readers to the change that is essential in education?

The Depthvale Detectives is the story of a whole-school community that commits to Contributive Learning. We wanted to show readers what Contributive Learning can look like and its impact on communities and felt that the best way to connect readers to the need for educational change was through storytelling. The book includes a cast of characters that people in all schools and communities can relate to, and it embeds a five-phase “Change Team” process that guides school communities to Contributive Learning. Hopefully, it illustrates why Contributive Learning is so important and how to make the commitment in any school or place of learning.

Q. How does your suggested education culture fetch more results?

We talk about creating a culture of learning, belonging, and high expectations for all. For all students to learn, they have to feel that they belong— can be themselves in their learning environment and valued and cared for. All students can be successful in an equitable environment that values their identities, languages, cultures, and aspirations and where teachers are supported to develop trusting relationships built on deep understandings of their learners and their goals. Contributive Learning revitalizes classrooms by making learning more meaningful and relevant. When learning is connected to students’ lives and interests, they meet their academic goals in the ways best suited to who they are and who they want to be.

Meet the CEO

Joanne McEachen is the CEO and Founder of The Learner First (USA/Australia/New Zealand), an Edmund Hillary Fellow, a Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar, on the Executive Committee for Karanga: The Global Alliance for Social-Emotional Learning and Life Skills, and a Board Member for Partners for Youth Empowerment, and a co-founder of New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL).

Joanne creates opportunities for each person to learn who they are, how they fit into the world, and how they can contribute to humanity. She has spent over 30 years working as a teacher, principal, superintendent, and school-system leader and now offers insights and strategies that reconnect students, teachers, families, and communities to what matters most. She started The Learner First in 2012 to take a systemic approach to developing academic + social-emotional learning.

“The purpose of education is to learn who you are, how you fit into the world, and how you can contribute your gifts to humanity.”


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