In education, how do we know when a campus or classroom has transformed from a managed teaching environment to a genuine learning system? There are so many voices in education. So many good things being done. All moving us toward transformed learning.

Maybe it’s a little disjointed right now. That’s ok. We’re still a little removed from the unified, organized effort to change everything. So let’s keep talking and let’s keep changing.

Educators can be competitive. Everybody has their own “team” and they believe their team does the best job. Every teacher, every leader and every community truly wants the best for their students.

And there are numerous non-educators injecting valuable assistance, counsel and guidance for us. Highly organized, energetic and visionary, these individuals and groups have joined the movement to transformed learning environments in a big way. Often, these may also believe they know the best route to transformation and their voices are just as important as any school board, superintendent or teacher.

None of us have it perfected. No voice alone has every answer.

In my work, I’m constantly meeting with superintendents, CEOs, doctoral students and teachers. As an architect for transformation, I’m consistently hearing the best of the best we are doing for kids. I have the privilege of studying, listening to and meeting some of the most incredible people. Third grade teachers, state leaders, concerned parents and district superintendents. We have wonderful people doing wonderful things for kids.

I’m humbled to be a part of it. I’m always reminded of how much I don’t know and how much I haven’t done when I listen to those who are creating change for students.

We’ll get there. Just as we created the system of teaching years ago when it was necessary, the day is coming when our paradigms about teaching and learning will change and the necessary transformation will become a natural part of our education efforts.

Meanwhile, we aren’t there yet. Let’s keep moving.

In this stage of change for better environments, we have to be as clear as possible about the immediate goals we should aim for in our classrooms. There are so many voices telling us what to do, so many programs demanding our attention. Sometimes, the most difficult element of change is not knowing how to recognize success. Not knowing where we are when we get there.

We may not know how to articulate the changes we are seeking because everything sounds the same, just slightly tweaked here and there. What are we going for and how do we know when we get it? If we burn everything else away and are left with nothing but the most defining elements of transformation, what does that look like?

Test scores, better attendance rates, happy kids, more graduates, more money, greater choices, peaceful recess, state awards, computer proficiency, less discipline, brighter children and brighter days. What does success look like?

As we stay on the course of transformation from managed teaching systems to learning system environments, we have to step carefully. But, in our transition, we should be able to give some reliable guidance for teachers and school leaders.

Until the day arrives that these learning systems are just a natural understanding, I think we should be able to make it clear for those that want the change but might not benefit from being in a large system. Maybe they suffer from not being cool enough to draw attention. They may not be serving in a district, school or community that has high visibility. These want transformation, too. So, what’s the target for that educator?

If you’re one of those thousands of wonderful educators working every day and waiting every year for the help, look for this:

There is a double edged sword that defines a transformed learning system in your classroom and on your campus. That double edge is equally sharp and has a balance that marks the change. And it’s easy to spot. It takes both edges.

1. A transformed learning system in a classroom will have engaged educators. Not professional directors of the content. Not pseudo professors with all the knowledge. Not “computer monitors” who do nothing more than manage the technology and stay out of the way.

This takes engagement. A transformed learning system in a classroom requires an intelligent teacher focusing on every student. Not managing computers and not managing content. Engagement requires work and that work is defined as engagement (thinking about, planning for, focusing on) with every student.

It’s easy to engage with the engageable kid. You’ve seen those. But a transformed learning system is the opportunity to ask the teacher to do what the teacher does best………engage with every learner. That engagement can be measured and can be expected.

2. A transformed learning system in a classroom will have empowered learners. Not a free for all where students have no structure or guidance. Not a rigid, confining environment that sucks the air out of the room. Not a confusing, aimless wandering through their studies.

This takes empowerment. A transformed learning system in a classroom requires empowerment for students to make decisions and be highly involved in their learning. It seems risky but, if it’s coupled with engagement, it’s possible and significant.

We certainly aren’t expecting the very young to have the same empowerment as the adolescent. And we can’t just set them free without consistent engagement. There is a balance of freedom and structure for every learner.

For those working hard every day to change the lives of kids, keep working because it works. For those waiting for a major shift across the board when managed teaching and testing systems transform to measurable and effective learning systems, it’s coming.

Meanwhile, do everything the way you’ve known you could do since the day you knew you wanted to be in education. But, sharpen that double edge sword. Both edges. Engage with EVERY student. EMPOWER your learners.