Am I ready for this? Beneficial Strategies When Implementing Learner-Centered Practices

by Shawn Galvin, Principal, Lincoln Elementary

At Lincoln Elementary in Janesville, WI, we have been working to implement learner-centered practices for the past 6 years. During that time we have gone through many ups and downs as we have tried to change long held practices. We have a lengthy list of strategies that we tried that didn’t work or at least didn’t work as intended (this could be a topic for another post). We also have a list of strategies that have worked and that we have found helpful with our efforts. 

We have found like with many initiatives, there isn’t a one stop shop for resources to assist on our journey towards creating learner-centered environments. When reflecting back on where our biggest supports have come from, the list includes the following: The Institute for Personalized Learning, informal collaboration with colleagues across our district and in our region, work with consultants from G & D Associates, formal field experience/site visits in districts across the region and nation, conferences, and our own action research. The depth of learning from each of these could be expanded upon to list more specifics on how each has impacted our practices. For now, I will focus on four strategies that have made noticeable impact on our journey.

A few strategies that we have found to help with implementation efforts:

  • FedEx time for professional development.
  • 30 Minutes at a Time: Find 30 minutes in your day to focus on and find one thing to work on for six weeks.
  • Deliverables: Break down the larger vision into actionable areas to “deliver” on.
  • Shift the learning environment.

FedEx Time

The concept of FedEx time was adapted to our professional development model. The way that we have used this concept is by providing a concept or skill we want staff to learn or implement during staff development time. We then allow them time to plan individually or in collaborative small groups. At the end of the planning time, the whole group comes back together and each person or small group does a brief share out of their plan. In the sharing, they are “delivering” on the plan to implement. This format balances a few concepts that often come up in professional development. This model allows teachers time to plan for implementation, versus being provided the professional development and then expected to find or make time outside of the work day to figure out how to implement. We’ve encountered additional benefits from this model in that it allows for both providing professionalism and accountability. Teachers are trusted with the freedom to plan and apply concepts. The share out time provides opportunities to expand the possibilities teachers can try by hearing the ideas of others. The share out also provides accountability for those that might be concerned that the time provided will be used as intended.

30 Minutes at a Time

This concept came about from efforts to find ways to support change and help prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed. When implementing change staff can find themselves in a place of all or nothing. Either they try to take it all on and change everything or they are overwhelmed by all the possibilities and it is hard to see an entry point. Our challenge for staff is to find 30 minutes in their day that they feel could be improved. They pick one new thing to try during that 30 minutes. They commit to do that for a few weeks, making changes and adjustments until that is going well, and then pick another 30 minute time and try something else new. This strategy breaks the change down into manageable chunks and has helped staff who feel overwhelmed by all the things to implement.


This is about delivering on our vision. This process took us from creating a shared vision to then identifying the top 10-15 items from that vision to focus on for the year. Each of those items has a project leader who “owns” that item and develops a strategic plan for accomplishing it. We hold a weekly check-in for all the project leaders to report on progress for each of their goals. Since this is intended to be a brief check-in, I am committed to limiting the time to 15 minutes. After a bit of practice, our project leaders have adapted well to this expedited meeting format. We do an end of year review of progress and determine what we have delivered on. We also then identify the goals for the upcoming year and repeat the process.

Shift the Learning Environment

One of the first changes we made in our efforts to move toward learner-centered practices was changing the learning environment. There is some debate if changing the learning environment should be one of the first things to change, but it is what we did. Here is what we learned. Creating a flexible learning environment was so much more than getting rid of desks and throwing some bean bags on the floor. We really examined what kind of learning was happening and then created learning zones to support that. As we arranged furniture and created flexible spaces, we worked with learners to define the expectations for those zones. An unintended outcome for changing the learning environment first was that when staff and learners walked into an environment that looked much different than a traditional environment it was a reminder that what I am doing should look different. That was a daily reminder that instructional planning, the ways students were learning, and how we were thinking about education should be different.

Shawn GalvinDr. Shawn Galvin is the principal of Lincoln Elementary in Janesville, WI. He completed his doctoral work in the area of teacher supports for implementing personalized learning. During Shawn’s 10 years at Lincoln Elementary, the school was recognized as a WI School of Recognition 5 years in a row, voted the Wisconsin winner for Scholastic Parent & Child’s Coolest School in America, a PBIS School of Distinction, and recognized as a WI School of Promise. Shawn was named Administrator of the Year two years in a row and has developed a culture where it’s safe to take risks in innovation. He is passionate about enabling people to be the best version of themselves, and he is committed to inspiring and supporting them to achieve this. Find Dr. Galvin on Twitter at @galvin1821.