The image of a traditional classroom is familiar to anyone with a modern education,and it often defines the limits of what we consider when we think about schooling. In this classic image of education, the teacher is literally front-and-center and what happens largely depends on her or him. Yet, it must be noted that there is nothing inherently student-centered in the organization of a traditional classroom. The focus is on the teacher and on the information to be passed from the teacher to the student through words. So, what is the role of ‘student-centeredness’ in a traditional classroom and is it possible to bring a student-centered perspective into a traditional classroom?
Beginning with a seemingly obvious premise, that a good education is for the benefit of the learner rather than the teacher or the district, there are several other principles that fall in line. In order to ensure that classroom activities benefit the learner, the teacher must have a deep appreciation for the wonder of learning, the uniqueness of each learner, the great variety of ways in which people learn, and the equally great variety of ways students express their intelligence. Most would argue that most great teachers in traditional classrooms do just that. In the methods of most effective teachers there is a set of basic principles at work that clearly reflect the perspective that the activity of teaching is primarily, if not entirely, for the benefit of students and must therefore be adapted to the needs of those students.
In order to create a student-centered focus in a traditional classroom, a teacher must have a flexibility of thinking and a willingness to treat each student as anew, uncharted experience. While great student-centered teachers maintain well-organized classrooms, managing and directing the physical and social qualities of their classroom, they do so with openness to the unique challenge that every new student brings. To be a student-centered teacher means to be a connoisseur of the variety of human learning.