Entrepreneurs start their journey to solve an existing flaw or a problem. To achieve a solution, they bring together a team of professionals and create innovative and foolproof products/services. This is filled with a lot of hurdles, responsibilities, and competition, testing the spirit and dedication every step of the way.
This edition is dedicated to some of the most enterprising women of the year. One of those inspiring women leaders in business is Joanne McEachen. Joanne and her company, The Learner First, have showcased themselves as one of the leading companies in their space, gaining them a strong reputation and a dominant place in the market.
Changing the Learning Curve – The Learner First
The Learner First was founded by CEO Joanne McEachen (Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe, and Ngāi Tahu) in 2012, with its base of operations in Seattle, Washington. They are a successful team of diverse international education experts that bring decades of educational experience to change the lives of teachers, learners, and their communities for the better.
Based in three countries—the United States, Australia, and New Zealand—The Learner First works with educators and school-system leaders to focus every action and decision on who learners are and what’s best for their lives.
With the educational landscape in the United States rapidly evolving from technological, political, and societal changes, teachers and administrators need the proper tools to meet the increasingly complex challenge of educating students.
The Learner First and its team believe in using technology to enhance the processes of teaching and learning to improve the educational experience for students. By incorporating technology into meaningful learning experiences, teachers and administrators can do their jobs more effectively and students can achieve the best outcomes possible.
Factors that triggered The Learner First’s growth, and established their long-standing success?
They aim to provide full service for system transformation. One of the main challenges is that system transformation is slow and messy. As a business, they needed to take a step back and find ways to offer their clients multiple entry points into their work. Once they were able to do that, their growth took off.
The idea for Contributive Learning is learning to add to the world. In 2020, they launched Contributive Learning to transform the way social-emotional learning is understood, measured, and delivered to students.
Never before have teachers been able to engage in such a clear and purposeful process for integrating academic and social-emotional learning and developing the teacher-student connections that allow student, professional, and personal growth to occur.
Its effect is not only seen in the academic and holistic development of students who learn to contribute to the world in personally relevant and meaningful ways, but in the positive changes to teacher behavior, practice, confidence, and well-being that stem from a reconnection to their work and the students they serve.
The team never tells a client what success will mean for them—that’s something only they can determine. When they work with someone, they develop an open and honest space to have those hard conversations about where they are, where they want to be, and how to get there as a community. They work collaboratively to identify challenges and root causes and then determine their goals, evaluate opportunities, and support them to measure what matters.
These are some of the many reasons, along with their exceptional and innovative services, that make The Learner First one of the best in their field, and Joanne a leading woman entrepreneur. Here are some statistics showcasing the tremendous growth of the company:
- Started with a single US-based company and has opened two international branches in the last four years—Queensland, Australia in 2018 and Christchurch, New Zealand in 2020.
- Since getting started, The Learner First tools and processes have been implemented in eight countries and over 2,500 schools.
Key service offerings, and what takes The Learner First ahead of the competition?
The Learner First embeds a social, emotional, and cultural commitment to all students and educators, reflecting their identities, cultures, and aspirations in what, how, and where they learn. To achieve the same, they provide some of the best services in the field!
Recently, they developed the Contributive Learning framework to help school communities design purposeful learning experiences, measure the outcomes that matter, and guide every student to academic success and well-being.
Contributive Learning differs from all other educational programs and initiatives because of its (1) holistic, underlying well-being framework built around the learning outcomes of self-understanding, connection, knowledge, and competency; (2) set of rubrics, guides, and other measures and tools designed to guide and align schools’ improvement process at multiple levels; and (3) proven, sustainable process for improving the learning and well-being outcomes of students, teachers, school leaders, families, and school communities at large.
The team is always there for its clients and constantly listens to their clients and the world. As needs and opportunities arise, they respond and get ahead of them. They listen to what educators are asking for!
These are some of the factors that keep them ahead of the competition, contributing to their success and established position in the market.
New additions, and exciting news!
In 2022, The Learner First is launching the Contributive Learning Workshop Series to support any school to help their students discover who they are, connect with others, and develop the knowledge and competency they need to contribute as creative and successful citizens of the world.
Through a step-by-step process, the workshops support teachers in seamlessly integrating SEL and academic goals in lessons designed for the students in front of them, resulting in increased student agency, efficacy, and outcomes. Teachers will learn to design, assess, and adapt to students’ social-emotional learning needs while working within the context of their academic curriculum.
The Enterprising Entrepreneur – Joanne McEachen
Joanne is a celebrated author, speaker, change leader, and executive coach. Her 30 years of experience span time as a teacher, principal, Ministry of Education leader in New Zealand, and now a globally recognized pioneer in the fields of educational assessment and well-being.
Joanne is on the Executive Committee for Karanga: The Global Alliance for Social-Emotional Learning and Life Skills, on the Education New Zealand: North America Advisory Board, an Edmund Hillary Fellow, a Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar, and co-founder of New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL).
She believes in creating opportunities for students, educators, and communities to learn who they are, how they fit into the world, and how they can contribute their gifts to humanity.
During her tremendous journey as an inspiring and motivating entrepreneur, Joanne has been honored with many distinguished achievements, here are some of them:
- 2020 – Founded Kia Kotahi Ako, a charitable trust, educating for a thriving planet and people in New Zealand. https://www.kiakotahi.org/
- 2020 – Became a Fellow in the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, a New Zealand Fellowship focused on tomorrow’s jobs, future-proofing our economy by accelerating climate innovations, and building a confident and internationally connected nation.
- 2018 – Executive Committee member for Karanga: The Global Alliance for Social-Emotional Learning and Life Skills, which advocates for SEL and Life Skills education that provides all the necessary skills for learning and life. https://karanga.org/
- 2018 – Fellow at Salzburg Global Seminar, an independent non-profit organization founded in 1947 to challenge current and future leaders to shape a better world.
- 2012 – Opening of The Learner First in the USA.
- 2009-2012 – Ministry of Education in New Zealand – Managed and led teams of 500+ educators and policymakers in the Ministry of Education organized in four distinct divisions: Whole of Country Leader/Manager of four major education portfolios: Student Achievement Function, Professional Learning and Development, Programs for Schools, and Learning and Change Networks.
- The Depthvale Detectives and the Great Education Crisis: A Guide to Contributive Learning in Schools (2020)
- Dive into Deep Learning: Tools for Engagement (2019)
- Measuring Human Return: Understand and Assess What Matters for Deeper Learning (2018)
- Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World (2017)
- Making the Important Measurable, Not the Measurable Important (2015)
The Learner First Team
The Learner First team recognizes the humanity in each other and treats each other with respect and dignity. They don’t have set schedules, and encourage each other to have a life beyond work.
Joanne never expects someone on her team to ask to take time to go to the dentist or an appointment. She respects that her employees have lives and families beyond work, and supports them to balance work with their life. The core of the team has grown and evolved together over the last seven years. Everyone recognizes and works to their strengths, and they work together to get the job done.
With such a nurturing environment, the team at The Learner First strives for the best possible outcomes, working wholeheartedly to contribute their maximum while revamping and innovating their service offerings constantly.
“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” – Simon Sinek
Joanne talks about one of the special client experiences of The Learner First!
We worked with a large school district in the United States and experienced tremendous successes over our three-year partnership. At one district-wide end-of-the-year celebration, a teacher shared a story about her experience working with The Learner First.
“I didn’t want [The Learner First process] to work, because I wanted to stay the same. I wanted to stay the same, so I didn’t want it to work. But every time I came to the [The Learner First] meetings, I had to admit—it worked.
[A parent and I] began to develop a different type of relationship, and one day I just talked to [her] and I said, ‘Look, you’ve got to do something different for your son, and I’ve got to do something different for your son because it’s not working.’ And we just had conversations, and we met sort of in the middle. We just started talking with each other. We found out that we had things in common. We found out what [her son] liked to do.
He likes to draw. He wants to be an architect. He likes to design. He likes to study how things are made. I had never asked him that in class. When [I] came to the [The Learner First] meeting, I said, ‘I’ll be part of the change as long as I get to keep doing what I’m doing.’ And I am a pusher—I push the information, you receive it. You don’t tell me; I’m telling you. You’re the student; I’m the teacher.
Well, that wasn’t working, so I became a receiver. Now it’s push and pull; it’s give and take. Now the mom waves at the end of the day from the car window. The son, the student—oh, he’s not my son, but I feel like that—he escorts me down to my room sometimes with his arm. He still has bad days, but he enjoys school more.
Because he enjoys it more, he gets to discover what he likes, and then I teach in the context of what he likes.
Right now, we’re building a community. “I very seldom have a bad day at school.”
Teachers share so many incredible stories like this one about connecting with their students, re-engaging their work, and feeling empowered to make a difference in the lives of their kids.
Joanne’s take on the rat race out there, and how she deals with it?
Because we prioritize people and the planet before prosperity, we don’t engage in the rat race. We remain focused on the reason we do what we do, knowing that it has a positive impact on students and teachers. With daily feedback about how lives have been changed, the rat race doesn’t exist in those moments.
“We experience the greatest sense of meaning and fulfillment when we’re able to contribute to people’s lives and the world. We contribute to the greatest extent when we know who we are, feel connected, and pair knowledge with competency.” – Joanne McEachen