“Shape Valencia’s culture by making learning the chief value and design principle in every College policy, procedure, plan, and initiative.”

An Essay by Bill Castellano and Sandy Shugart

First is often used to signify “preceding all others,” “in preference to something else,” or, in the case of music, “having the highest or most prominent part among a group of similar voices or instruments.” Those definitions help clarify why LEARNING FIRST is the first among our seven equal Strategic Learning Goals.


Over the past six years, the College has been involved in a major transformational process. That process has led to new vision, values, and mission statements. It has led to new core competencies expected of the Valencia graduate and a new process of working, planning, and communicating with each other. The culmination of that systemic and revolutionary change in Valencia’s culture and infrastructure has been the collaborative development of a Strategic Learning Plan that puts LEARNING FIRST. At the center of that goal are the two questions that now govern our planning and decision-making deep within the organization: “How does this enhance student learning?” and “How do we know?” Asking those questions seriously and consistently is more than a statement of philosophy and the right thing to do; it is also a very practical response to those inclined to say “put your money where your mouth is.” We intend to do just that!



Does asking the two learning questions guarantee success? Certainly, it does not. We must be willing to seek out and assist areas within the College where practices do not reflect our vision, values, mission, and strategic learning goals.   We must be willing to value those who positively step forward to identify such practices. We must be willing to caringly and collaboratively work together to help all of us transition into this new learning-centered paradigm.


Putting LEARNING FIRST challenges notions long steeped in the academic environment in higher education inherited from an earlier agricultural and industrial society. Terry O’Banion has asserted that education today isn’t very different than it was 100 years ago. He views our educational systems as stuck in a world that is “time bound, place bound, efficiency bound, and role bound.” By putting LEARNING FIRST we break out of the artificial restraints imposed by the architecture and infrastructure of the past and create a new learning environment that celebrates lifelong learning and respects the notion that given the right time, place, and circumstances, most anyone can learn most anything.


Valencia’s commitment to putting LEARNING FIRST has already resulted in transformational change in the way we interact with each other and our students. It is exciting to realize that we’ve only just begun. As we expand our challenge to long held notions of the roles and behaviors of faculty, staff, the community, and our students, new pedagogies will need to be developed, new applications for technology created, new meaningful yardsticks to measure success and mastery determined, and restructured thinking about students’ engagement with course content and materials embraced. In addition, we’ll need to continue to re-think assumptions and practices, including:




application of current research findings in learning theory and design; recognition of the global nature and the present-day diversity of our local community; adaptation of the ever-increasing quantity of available information and speed of communication; accommodation to 21st century societal needs for skilled and flexible workers; and consideration of the overall relevance and unity of a curriculum anchored in development of student core competencies.


LEARNING FIRST must also translate into intentional budgeting and strategic planning, rethinking the physical and organizational architecture of the institution, and changes to the evaluation and rewards systems to reflect commitment to implementing Valencia’s learning-centered goals.


In addition to institutional initiatives, individual members of the Valencia

learning community have unique opportunities to put LEARNING FIRST. We can ask the two learning questions in all that we do.   We can challenge and work to change practices that are not learning-centered. We can support, celebrate, and reward our colleagues who use learning-centered practices. We can measure success in terms of student learning and make decisions based on data and other evidence relevant to our vision, values, mission, and strategic learning goals.


In “education years,” Valencia has evolved in a relatively short time from a collection of pockets of innovation to a collaborative College community committed to student learning and success.   This sea change in institutional culture is evidenced in many ways. It is appropriate that in the midst of moving forward on our important work that we pause for a moment to celebrate this impressive transformation. In just a few short years




we have moved from the traditional paradigm associated with most colleges to something new. This can be described as moving . . .

  • from focusing on valuing all FTE growth to valuing growth controlled for quality.
  • from being a more teaching-centered to a more learning-centered College.
  • from administrative efficiencies to learning effectiveness.
  • from hierarchy for management to collaboration for learning.
  • from budget dissemination to collaborative budget development rooted in learning-centered principles and targeted to achieve specific Strategic Learning Goals.
  • from input measurement to measurement of results.
  • from satisfaction in meeting numeric diversity goals to recognizing and marshaling the power of diversity to enhance our learning mission and the college’s impact in the community.


Perhaps, in another time and from a different point of reference, T.S. Eliot found the words to best sum up what we are about in putting LEARNING FIRST. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” The place: Valencia Community College, an extraordinary learning community.”