The Learner First

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    The Learner First™ catalyzes and empowers school districts and educationsystems to create deep, systemic change that dramatically acceleratesoutcomes for the learners who need it most.

    The Learner First™ is NOT professional development for schools, its a systemic process that helps schools and districts look at the whole system. The Learner First uses four key assumption shatterers to help change both thinking and practice throughout the school district:

    • The only morally defensible target is 100% success.
    • Equal treatment leads to inequitable outcomes.
    • Parents are by far the best experts of their own children, and we need their expertise to get this right.
    • By focusing on the small number of the most vulnerable students, we can create deep system-wide shifts that benefit everyone.


  • What can we expect to achieve in the first year and beyond?

    Based on measured outcome evidence for The Learner First work to date, primarily with Title One schools (or international equivalent), a school can positively accelerate progress (i.e. more than one year’s progress in a year) for at least half of your focal students (and, in schools who embed the process fully, greater than that). 

    When a school takes a particular cohort of focal students, concentrating on them relentlessly for three consecutive years, 100% success is achievable for that group – the kids who many thought would never succeed. 

    Some students will accelerate and be succeeding by the end of the year; some will accelerate towards those goals and require additional support for following years. But they will be accelerating, not just progressing at the expected rate. Consider, these are the learners who have experienced the least educational success so far; they are not the kids just below a benchmark.

    How does The Learner First approach achieve significant shifts for kids?
    We are all shifting the whole system together, many of us without realizing it.

    Here’s how it happened in classrooms:

    In each classroom where a teacher has chosen to focus on just three to five focal students, they begin a deep connection with those learners and their parents, to know them as people, find out what interests them, what they already know, and then work out how to create learning experiences that bond with those interests and teach what they need and want to know next.

    Focusing on a small number in one class is manageable, with the benefit of escalating the mind shift across the class.

    What about standardized test scores?

    When test scores are used as the sole or primary measure for evaluating performance of students, teachers, and schools they feel pressured to “teach to the test”. That makes both learning and teaching uninspiring for everyone – and ineffective for most kids.

    The Learner First work is using Authentic Mixed Method Assessment to track student outcomes. Standardized test scores are but one data point used alongside all other evidence teachers have to understand where a student is aligned on the relevant outcome.

    President Barack Obama recently called for a capping of standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time and said the government shares responsibility for turning tests in the be-all and end-all of American schools.

    How will you track student performance and district progress?

    The Lighthouse digital data collection platform radically changes the way teachers, schools and districts measure and track student and district progress toward achieving target outcomes.

    Among other features, Lighthouse allows the district to do the following:

    • Determine and enter student success ratings using a range of student success rubrics, surveys and tools, as well as formal assessments.
    • Administer student, teacher, and parent surveys across the district for specific groups.
    • Output reports demonstrating where the district and individual is currently positioned and indicating areas that need to be accelerated.

    Rather than simply entering student ratings based on a limited range of performance indicators, teachers learn to take into account everything they know about each individual student when determining their ratings. This Authentic Mixed Method Assessment (AMMA) approach drives teachers’ understanding of each student’s current position in their learning progression, and is embedded within the Lighthouse system to guide teachers through the rating process.

Meet the Team

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    joanne mceachen

    Joanne McEachen

    President and Chief Destiny Changer

    Joanne is an internationally recognized whole system education change leader; originally from New Zealand. She, alongside Dr. Jane Davidson, co-founded The Learner First.




    dr. jane davidson


    Dr. Jane Davidson

    Co-Founder and Vice President

    Jane is an internationally recognized evaluation specialist and thought leader, best known for developing evaluation rubrics as a methodology for drawing conclusions about quality and value.