Leadership with a Focus on Student Learning

Another theme is evident: the critical role of leadership in galvanizing the community to action. Leaders have different roles; they lead from in front, from behind and/or from beside. However, no matter their sphere of influence or responsibility, there are salient characteristics of leaders in STEM reform. Simply put, they are persons with a keen appreciation of how new realities in science and society are challenging the status quo, they are persons with a vision of the future for undergraduate STEM programs and a commitment to make a difference. They are persons ready to tackle the hard questions coming from the public, from accrediting agencies, from prospective employers and parents and students...

What difference do your programs make?
What difference do your programs make to which students?
How do you know?

...that have served as catalysts for renewed interest in student learning in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) within the nation's institutions of higher education.

This interest is being played out in how academic leaders at the institutional, departmental and programmatic level make decisions about shaping curricula and facilities; recognizing, rewarding and nurturing faculty; and building budgets. Shifting the focus from teaching to learning has put a whole new set of questions on the table for those taking responsibility for leadership, including:

Do we have a collective vision for student learning on our campus? What is it?
Can our current faculty and curricula, program and facilities support that vision?

Answering such questions fairly and prudently calls for conscientious attention to the entire process of student learning. Faculty and their administrative colleagues carry questions about student learning through from setting goals at the institutional level, to translating their goals into programs to be implemented in classroom and lab, to monitoring and measuring how the thinking and understanding of the student are affected by his or her educational experiences. Wrestling with these questions is also woven into discussions about and planning for bringing new technologies into the learning environment, for making new faculty appointments and enhancing the scholarly careers of current faculty; and for building the physical infrastructure for the communities of learners at that campus.

 

...learner-centered environments include teachers who are aware that learners construct their own meaning, beginning with the beliefs, understandings, and cultural practices they bring into the classroom. If teaching is conceived as constructing a bridge between the subject matter and the student, learner-centered teachers keep a constant eye on both ends of the bridge. The teachers attempt to get a sense of what students know and can do as well as their interests and passions– what each student knows, cares about, is able to do, and wants to do. Accomplished teachers "give learners reason," by respecting and understanding learner's prior experiences and understandings, assuming that these can serve as a foundation on which to build bridges to new understandings.
– How People Learn. National Research Council. 1998 (http://www.nap.edu)