Evolving systems in a learner-centered paradigm | Devin Vodicka | 4 Min Read

This article is republished from a blog post in Learner-Centered Leadership by Devin Vodicka, March 21, 2021.

During the course of my educational career, there have been many well-intended reforms designed to meet a wider range of student needs.  As a new teacher who received my credential through the Los Angeles Unified School District Intern program, I received an extensive amount of training on language development and early literacy.  Soon thereafter I immersed myself in learning about differentiation.  When I became a school administrator we implemented school-wide programs like Response to Intervention (RtI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).  We are now seeing an increase in the use of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).  

At the risk of oversimplification, just within my career I have seen an evolution away from the “one size fits all” approach that felt more common in the early phases of the test-driven accountability era.  I should also make it clear that I have been an advocate for these reforms and that there has been value in the shift away from the rigidity of an overly standardized model. 

“One Size Fits All” Reform Wave Recent Reforms
Learning Design Scripted curricular programs Differentiation
Variation by Product, Process, Content
Multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression
School Systems Rigid pacing guides RtI
Academic and Behavioral, 3-tiers
Academic, Social Emotional, and Behavioral with 3-tiers

While I have been enthusiastic about these systems for learning design and school supports, recently I have had the opportunity to reflect and to consider the next phase of improvements.  As a result, I have come to the conclusion that what is needed is not another system, but a paradigm shift and a reimagination of how these systems can be implemented through a different lens.  

Systems and Paradigms

Here it may be helpful to clarify the distinction between a system and a paradigm.  A system is “an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something – a function or a purpose.” RtI, PBIS, and MTSS are clearly “systems” organized to achieve something.  Differentiation and UDL are also systems focused on achieving learning.  

In contrast, a paradigm is a way of viewing a particular situation.  Thomas Kuhn popularized…

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Devin Vodicka

Devin Vodicka is the CEO of Learner-Centered Collaborative and the author of Learner-Centered Leadership. He is also three-time California superintendent of the year (2016 AASA, 2015 ACSA, 2015 Pepperdine), Innovative Superintendent of the Year (2014 Classroom of the Future Foundation), and nine-time White House invitee, both in recognition for district-wide achievement, and to advise and partner with the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Educational Technology and Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.