By Adam Kulaas
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complex.” – Confucius
Author Kyle Wagner is a “Doer.”
In his book, The Power of Simple, he delivers a roadmap that addresses a myriad of program design tasks directly associated with creating a learning experience driven by student voice and individualized learning.
The Futures Academy of the International School of Beijing provides the canvas and is an exciting model that boasts rich experiences in multiple learning environments (see Chapter Six: Real World Experiences).
With a committed focus on innovative approaches to student-centered learning, Wagner outlines the creation, design and implementation of the model, with highlights that weave in his “why” through specifics that fuel relevant application for any educator with a desire to increase student access to genuine ownership.
The Power of Simple begins with Wagner describing a decision to pack all of his belongings to embark on a journey sparked by landing “the job of his dreams.” This decision meant departing his current position, armed with the task of creating “an adaptive ‘future school’ within a school.”
With an evident connection to his previous position, Wagner demonstrates a solid ownership of the coveted “yes if” outlook that educators across the globe continually strive to integrate into their classrooms and schools. With an artistic tie-in to the realities of change, he identifies the power of choice and the weight that it holds in catapulting and condemning decisions that “hold us back” or free us to make “radical changes.”
The format of the book follows suit with glimpses of Wagner’s personal journey in connection to program design and his charge as a change agent for each and every student. With fluidity and intentionality, the book is firmly anchored around 21st century learning accelerants for student-centered pursuits of learning standards and expectations.
While grappling with innovation can be intimidating, Wagner structures the book in a way that lends to fairly common “building blocks” of innovative school design and brings it to life with tangible examples that could be translated into a variety of classrooms, programs or schools at different places on the continuum of innovative design.
Differentiating between the various components, the book is structured with the following design element chapters:
- Flexible Scheduling and Space
- Integrated Learning
- Individualized Opportunities
- Creating a Community
- Real World Experiences
As the text continues, Wagner’s seamless transitions continue to hook the reader through experiences and provides insight into his inspirations that set the stage for each reader to explore their own motivations. The push to travel outside of the norm is present in placing emphasis on student feedback as a conduit for continuous redesign, adjustment and growth. It provides each reader with outlets to begin individualized dismantling of “boxes” that lend to comfort in not having to completely demolish existing systems.
In Chapter Two: Flexible Scheduling and Spaces, his writing comes to life as he details some of the rationale for looking at learning environments as a critical component to relevant connections for students. Each of the following chapters follow suit and support visual learners like myself with examples of flexible schedules (see images pg. 17 and 33) and describe how they transformed existing spaces.
I found a deep connection to “Creating a Community (Chapter Five)” with emphasis on an excerpt entitled “Becoming a Facilitator of Learning,” in which Wagner delivers vulnerable acknowledgment around his beginnings as an educator, “…I valued the demands of my content over the needs of my students.” This realization stood as a pillar for reform and prerequisite for reflective growth and sustainable change.
Integrated into each chapter is a consistent message of balancing technology as a valuable tool and a constant persistence around pushing learning beyond physical and metaphorical walls. Wagner shares countless epiphanies and “light bulb” moments of clarity that ignite a sense of urgency to redefine the student teacher relationship in regards to the 21st-century learner.
In the end, The Power of Simple affirms the importance of differentiation for each learner by modeling it for each reader. It presents a marriage between philosophy and pedagogy that fuels decisions to implement change and truly supports the discovery of each reader’s personalized “why.”
It is a book that would be a powerful addition to change initiatives in both traditional and nontraditional learning environments and would support small and large scale change.
In every aspect of educational reform, there is theory and there is application. There are dreamers that imagine how they would transform learning, designers that “draw” up plans and change agents that deliver.
In my review of The Power of Simple, it takes each reader on a journey that highlights all three. Kyle Wagner demonstrates a talent for storytelling and supports the reader in desegregating complex reform components by breaking them into comprehensible pieces.
It sets a stage for novice and advanced change agents to examine and assess the various aspects of transformational action, with a charge to simply take that first step.
For more, see:
- Parent Checklist: Is Your Child’s School Student-Centered?
- Getting Smart Podcast | Student-Centered Learning & Smart Parents
- Smart Review | The Visual Edge
Adam Kulaas is principal at Bryant Montessori in the Tacoma School District and an ASCD Faculty Member. Follow him on Twitter: @AdamKulaas.
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