My Views on Creating a Student-Centered Classroom

@MrBrettClark 4 Comments

Recently I worked with a team of coaches (@twilhelmus, @lawilhelmus, @MrBrianBobbitt, @juliesteve4, @TechECoach, @mrg_3, and @stacymath7) and put on a days worth of professional development on creating the student-centered classroom.  I was honored to kick off the day with a short talk about creating the student-centered classroom.  Here it is: It's about 10 minutes long.  Go ahead and watch it, I'll wait.

10 minutes later...

Thanks for watching it and I hope you enjoyed it. You can find my Jux presentation here. There are a couple of things I'd like to expand on if you don't mind. Even if you didn't watch the video, these will still make sense to you...I hope.

I can not tell you how to create a student-centered classroom...but please don't stop reading.

This is crucial to me because I have found that most people want somebody to give them the answers.  The reason why our students suffer from can-you-please-just-give-us-the-answer-itis, is because they are human.  It's the same reason adults suffer from the same problem.  I hate being told by the doctor, "Try taking this and if there is still a problem in a couple of weeks, come back and see me." Wait! You mean this might not fix me!  We like certainty and comfort.  So lets not get upset when our students ask us to just give them the answers because we tend to do the same thing.

However, back to my point, creating a student-centered classroom is a lot like parenting.  There are a lot of right ways to do it and a lot of wrong ways to do it.  The one thing is, there isn't just one way to do it.  So, you have to just look at what other people are doing and see what applies to your students. 

However, this would be a useless blog if I didn't at least give you, what I think, are a couple of great places to start.

A great place to start is by asking yourself this question, How long can I talk about my students without bringing up appearance, test scores, or academic ability?  The longer you can talk about your students without bringing these things up is a great test of how well you know your students.  Now yes, those things I mentioned are part of who our students are, but are they the most important things? To me, creating a student-centered classroom is about relationship and not just about creating assignments around students' interest.  The quickest way to lose a classroom is to reduce our students down to a number.  The kids we are entrusted with are people with hopes, dreams, fears, and doubt.  They want to know that you are just as interested in them becoming the best than can be as a person as much as you are interested in if they pass your class or not.

Three things that tell me if a classroom isn't student-centered. 1) The majority of the lessons are exactly the same as they were last year.  2) The teachers only idea of being student-centered is having a story problem with a basketball in it because one of his or her students is on the team. 3) The students have no choice or voice.

Creating a student-centered classroom requires the teacher to relinquish control.  

Noooooo!  If I relinquish control I'll have anarchy in my classroom! They'll never do anything!  It'll be a free-for-all!  Ok, I'll put away my mocking voice, and move on.  Yes, I know this is hard.  It's hard for teachers people to relinquish control and it's hard for students people to take control.  Again, for the most part, we are happy to let people tell us what to do.  Some of the best behaved classrooms are full of teachers who are great at setting clear expectations and students who more than happy to "play school".

My friend Tim Wilhelmus is great at talking about giving students choice and voice.  This is where the work is to be done.  What can we do to give the students choice and voice in their own learning? To me this depends on the students and the teacher.  Again, there is not one way to create this.  Choice can be given to students by allowing them to pick how they learn the material and what direction they go in their learning. Voice can be given by allowing students to pick how they are assessed and who they share their work with.

Make your classroom like a birthday party for your students.

If you took the time to watch the video above and have made it this far in this post, thank you. At the end of my talk I mentioned my nephew Gentry and how his birthday party screamed Gentry. Everything about it was centered around him.  In a few months his twin sisters will get the same treatment.  Every kid deserves his or her day! I have no doubt that my nephew isn't the only kid in this world that received a Star Wars Lego set for his birthday.  However, I doubt no two gifts were wrapped the exact same way.  Every 7th grader in Indiana might be taught how to "write and solve two-step linear equations" but that doesn't mean that knowledge has to be wrapped the same way.  

Every thing we do should speak to our students that we are honoring them as individuals.  

I wish I had more for you.  I wish I could tell you exactly what to do to make your classes student-centered.  I really did because I have struggled with the same thing.  You won't succeed every time, but you will fail if you never try.  It won't be easy.  You'll fight to give up control and the students who love to "play school" will fight you about being asked to take control.  However, in the end, the fight will be worth it because you'll be able to go home and rest knowing you did what was best for your students and they will leave your classes with a greater grip on what it means to be a life-long learner.

So, help me out here in the comment section.  What have you done this year to make your classroom student-centered? What are some ways you have given your students choice and voice? 

Also, for a great example of a student-centered classroom, check out Josh Stumpenhorst's Innovation Day. 


  1. Gosh, you just couldn't tell me how to make my classroom student-centered. :) Now, I have to do my own research to discover what student-centered classrooms are all about. This sounds like a blog-reader-centered post.

    Just kidding around.

    I try to offer choice with whatever projects I "make" the students complete. Still, is it completely student-centered. No, I wish it was, but I try. One project I ask the students to complete is a Learning Quest every quarter. With these projects, students research a topic of their choice, create a project, and present what they have learned to the class. This is an extremely difficult concept for students and parents to grasp within the first quarter. "So, what should I research?" Of course, not perfect but it's my attempt at promoting at least student-choice.

    1. I like that name "Learning Quest" and I imagine you get a ton of questions from students and parents about it. Which is great because great conversations are the beginning of great change. I think all of us have those moments when we feel we are student-centered and then there are those days where we have to admit that it wasn't "all about the kids". I think the key is to recognize those days and work to make them as few as possible.

      Thank you for taking time to read and comment!

  2. Student centered is impossible to duplicate by it's very nature. If you have a student centered classroom, it will be ever changing...ever evolving to meet the needs of--students! This is why it is so hard to show exactly what a student centered classroom looks like. They all look different and that is okay, necessary even.

    I like the tie into your nephew's b-day party. Nice analogy

  3. As I am not a teacher, I can't explain it either... I know what I see though. Check out: