Working with High Schoolers

I’m very excited right now because the Trailblazers team has gotten all of our info in for SparkHouse 2018!

Three years ago I attended the first SparkHouse held in Washington D.C. hosted by Education Reimagined. This gathering brought together learners from around the country for two and a half days of talking about learner-centered education. It was phenomenal and also the birthplace of the original idea for Trailblazers itself!

After a bit of work convincing parents and working out logistics, we have our flights booked and surveys sent in, and our team is ready for a new adventure!

I’m particularly excited about this because part of my dream for Trailblazers is for it to be more than just a magazine; it’s a platform for learners to grow their networks and develop business and design skills. I hope that the Trailblazers production team travels more often to expand the learner network and share learner voices to wide varieties of audiences.

It’s been challenging to lead a team of high schoolers and try to get them to take more ownership of their learning. We often struggle with communication and timeliness and what to do when things don’t go as planned. However, it’s been worthwhile as well when I get to see how proud they are with each new production we somehow manage to put together, or even the little accomplishments like getting our first draft of a production. I couldn’t be more excited to spend three days as their chaperone for our first conference appearance as a team!

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Forwarding the Movement as an Outsider

I was asked to write this article/blog post over the summer for a fellow learner-centered practitioner, though I’ll admit I’m not really sure what happened with it; however, I was thinking about it today and figured I could at least post it on my own blog!

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I graduated in 2017 from a recently turned learner-centered environment where I was fortunate to be highly involved in the process of transforming the school, but unfortunately higher ed is not so learner-centered. That was one of the biggest shell shock moments for me about entering college: going from a normal day involving working with clients from the CDC, City of Sandy Springs, and Chick-Fil-A to name a few, to a normal day now becoming sitting in long lectures and taking multiple-choice tests that make up 80% of your grade. As a learner now out of the k-12 system and in a non-learner-centered environment, I sometimes find myself feeling like an outsider in the Education Transformation Movement; however, as time passes I have come to realize that there are ample ways to forward the movement even as an “outsider.”

Despite moving into a less learner-centered environment, I always knew that I wanted to stay involved with this movement to transform education. I didn’t want to go into education as a major though because I believe part of the problem with our current education system is that we’re still teaching new teachers how to teach in a traditional way. Therefore, I’m studying Business Administration with a concentration in Leading and Managing Human Capital. I believe that if we think of schools as an innovative business it will help with the paradigm shift. I hope to learn more about change theory, risk management, social entrepreneurship, 21st-century leadership, and more to then apply that knowledge to help consult with schools trying to transform to a more learner-centered model.

Apart from my studies, I believe any educator wanting to transform the education system has a responsibility to stay connected with the larger national conversations happening on this topic – myself included. Being in college, it is harder to find opportunities to create change in my personal learning environment, but through social media, conferences, and writing articles I can still help effect change in other learning environments around the country.

I continue to stay involved with the national community primarily through Twitter and Slack conversations, attending conferences, blogging almost daily, and being Editor-in-Chief of Trailblazers, a student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement. I believe as a young learner who graduated from a learner-centered environment, I, in particular, have a unique perspective that needs to be shared. A few years ago I stated in a blog post, “When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, ‘Where’s the evidence of this working?’ but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working.” – The Life of Pinya This quote has kind of served as my north star for the past few years. People want to know about the evidence, so I need to share my stories to prove just how much learner-centered education is bettering the lives of all kinds of students.

Since going to college, I have realized just how much more prepared I am for the world due to my k-12 experiences in a learner-centered environment. I have a deeper sense of self and can articulate my passions and goals in a comprehensive way. I have gotten feedback from professors about how impressed they were with my ability to send professional emails even as just a freshman. I have had the initiative to set up dozens of interviews with advisors to help me figure out my major. I sincerely believe I wouldn’t have had any of these important life skills if it wasn’t for my learner-centered high school; in my experience, traditional schools don’t spend a ton, if any, time on educating students about things like self-awareness, goal setting, professional communication, and taking initiative.

My life has been bettered immensely due to my participation in a learner-centered school and I hope one day that all students get the opportunity to learn under a more innovative model of education. I stay involved in the world of education for the future of those students – the ones who may not even know there are other options of schooling available. I’d love to see higher ed change their ways too, but for now I choose to focus my efforts on k-12 where I have the most background knowledge, even if I’m not in a k-12 environment. I hope other learners, of all ages, can come to realize that your environment doesn’t determine the level of participation you can have in the Education Transformation Movement. It’s always possible to effect change; start by sharing your story.

The Gift of Feedback

I truly value people who can give good feedback. It doesn’t necessarily have to be positive feedback, but just people who can balance between praise and critique and make suggestions without sounding like a know-it-all. People who know how to both point out specifics and provide examples of new directions to go in, but can also give general overall feedback on the piece as a whole.

I had a conversation with my bestie tonight about this and we both agreed that knowing how to give feedback well is one of the best skills you can find in a teammate. Yet at the same time, teaching “how” to give feedback never seems to me emphasized enough in school. There are some people that are just horrible at giving feedback. There are two spectrums of the people you don’t want to give you feedback: the know-it-alls who sound like snobs that can only give feedback “obviously you should’ve…” feedback, and then the people who don’t know how to critique at all so they just say everything is great even when you know it isn’t.

Personally, I wish there was more teaching on giving feedback. I learned through experience in the Innovation Diploma (ID) but sometimes it would be nice to get more feedback on how we’re giving feedback. It’s one of those things I really miss about high school/ID- more frequent practice of giving and receiving feedback.

Also, especially in college but I suppose for some high schools too, I wish more teachers facilitated first drafts and peer review. Sometimes you need that nudge to meet new people in your classes and some people need more guidance on how to give feedback if they never had that learning opportunity when they were younger.

I happened to be partnered with someone today in my English class who I found to be a particularly helpful feedback giver. There was great balance in the type and style in which he gave feedback which I truly appreciated. It will now make my second draft much easier to write.

Honor the Rest

I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve been told, “Honor the rest,” on one hand. The first time I heard this was in band because there are times when the music calls for a rest or even just a breath mark is included, and if it is included, it’s there for a reason. The composer took the time to write that pause into the music and it needs to be acknowledged for its entire amount of time. If you skip the rest or don’t hold it for the right amount of time, it can completely change the song.

I’ve heard this again in theater. There are moments when it may be written or it may not be written in the script to pause for a moment, and it’s important to not just skip over that moment. A lot can be said in the silence. The pause provides emphasis. It draws attention to the bigger moment happening around the pause.

Even when working within the Innovation Diploma we would talk about pauses and silences. Whether we were giving a large presentation or just interviewing someone, we would often say, “Don’t be afraid of silence.” Sometimes we need a minute to think or to let an idea sink in, but if we try to fill the space up instead of letting it be, then the moment becomes washed over and cluttered and lost.

All of these activities are connected by the fact that they are modes of storytelling. Music, theater, presentations, interviews; there are all sorts of different stories being told within these arts.

I believe books can also share in this art of honoring the rest. I find that it’s natural to read a book and feel all the little moments happening. The moments where you catch yourself holding your breath because you’re in such shock, or you don’t know what will happen next, or you’re so excited you just don’t how to react.

Really I believe any art form values the ideology of honoring the rest. However, I think some storytellers do a better job at this than others and it makes a big difference.

For example, I often struggle with watching movies that are adapted from books because I don’t think they honor the rests and pauses built into a story nearly as well as the story did in book form. It’s hard to take a 500 some page story and tell it all in two hours. Things have to be cut, and often an easy way to shave off time is to cut the little moments; the pauses, breaths, and rests. It’s unfortunate though because those moments add so much to the story in terms of character development and how characters interact with each other.

The rests matter. They should be respected. Movies based on books can still be good at times, but it’s always unfortunate to watch those quiet moments skipped over.

Writing Beyond Authoring

My brother is entering the 7th grade, and today at dinner he said, “I don’t understand why we have to take English and grammar class; I’m not going to ever be an author of a book.” This comment gave me a mixture of feelings.

On the one hand, I was impressed with his willingness to question the nature of things. Part of me also could relate to him; I was never gifted in grammar and any teacher who I ever wrote for would testify to that. At his age, I would’ve probably made a similar statement about how I’d never write a book, but here I am years later with an outline and introduction to the book I keep saying I’m going to write… You never know what will happen, he may write a book one day, but even if he doesn’t we all tried to explain at dinner how important writing is to every job out there.

This made me realize two things:

  1. As a rising seventh grader, how is it that my brother doesn’t understand the importance of writing? I asked myself this question, but I’m not even sure if I understood the importance of writing in eighth grade for that matter. I don’t know if I ever understood the importance of writing until I became a part of the Innovation Diploma and had to write emails, scripts for conference talks, professional write-ups, and started my blog which lead to a few articles for magazines. I was writing on a daily basis, but it wasn’t ever five paragraph essays or eleven sentence paragraphs which is what I remember being shoved into my head as “the way to write” in years leading up to me joining the Innovation Diploma. When do we teach why we learn to write? When do we teach how to enjoy writing?
  2. Realizing the moment when I came to appreciate writing made me realize a second observation: why don’t we spend more time learning the different ways we need to know how to write? School spends a lot of time about writing essays, and in high school that turns into more specifically: how to write essays that AP graders and college admissions will like. We write narratives sometimes as the “fun creative writing time,” and we learn about what persuasive writing is, we even read and attempt to write poetry or plays from time to time. But most of my peers in college still don’t know how to write an email. Lab reports were always something English teachers expect you to learn in science classes and science teachers typically just tell you to “look up a template online,” so who really knows how well I ever learned how to do that… I’m now working on a team wanting to write a professional documentation of our recent project to potentially try publishing and as I’ve started to write it I’m feeling like my closest experience to ever doing something like this is the way I reflect about projects on my blog; this seems like the kind of writing most people will do so it would be nice to have more practice and feedback in school. I could even imagine a project of buying a bunch of random items and having kids test them out and write reviews for them, learning to write feedback on a product is a huge skill for so many professions. It just seems like in education we talk about a lot of styles of writing, like persuasive, narrative, expository, etc, but I don’t recall talking much about different forms of writing like emails, essays, write-ups, surveys, talks, product feedback, notices, articles, memos, etc.

I by no means think English class is irrelevant as my brother seems to believe, but especially after our dinner conversation, I do wonder about ways English classes could foster a better understanding of the importance of writing perhaps by having a wider variety of types of writing taught. I’m sure one day my brother will learn the importance of writing, but it just seems like by the time a kid enters seventh grade they could have already learned this.

Trailblazers: Issue 3!

It’s finally here! Issue 3 of Trailblazers, our student-driven e-magazine about the Education Transformation Movement, is available for viewing now! Hope you enjoy these remarkable articles written by spotlight learners from around the country including one global perspective. Congrats to all involved with the process of creating this latest issue!!!

View Issue 3 

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Spotlight Learners:

Sophie Haugen – SMforSM: An Educational Partnership 

Bridges by Empathy and Friendship

Lucy Conover – Insπiration

Hannah Bertram – What Learner-Centered Education Did For Me

Innovation Diploma Update – SPARK: A Playground for Creative Thinkers

Summer Projects

Working on a design/project team over the summer can be very challenging. The hardest part is trying to make sure everyone is adhering to deadlines and being able to communicate well with each other even without having consistent times where the team is face to face and without having everyone on the same schedule and sometimes not even the same time zone.

It can be hard enough working on a non-school specific project during the school year while everyone has various assignments and other activities going on, then it seems summer comes and everyone really just wants to take a break which makes it even harder to keep working on a project.

As we get ready for Trailblazers Issue 3 to come out (later this month!), our team has been struggling a little with communication and getting those last tasks done. We did a much better job communicating with our spotlight learners to make sure we got their drafts and edits done in a timely fashion, now we’re just working on those last design edits which can sometimes feel tedious. It’s amazing how all the little changes together make a big difference in quality, and when your lead designer ends up in Japan it can make for some interesting challenges which our team has been working through.

I’ve been trying to brainstorm ways we can make the process of going from working on article edits to design edits smoother because it seems to be what’s gotten us stuck most this year.

For one matter, hopefully, we can finally keep the same platform to create our magazine on because so far each issue has been on a different platform which wastes a lot of time trying to transfer and learn how to work the new platform.

The reason we keep switching platforms is that most high-quality magazine design platforms cost money, or at least the premium version which has the functions we would like costs money. However, at this point in time Trailblazer’s is a non-profit, and no one on our team has had real experience with trying to turn a project into a for-profit or even just experience with raising money to fund a project. We wanted to make sure we were really committed to this project before trying to worry too much about money, but now it seems we’re at the point where we may need to start spending some brain power designing for that challenge. I’m hoping as we get two new members joining us this summer for the coming school year, the enlargened team will allow us to divide up roles in a way to take more time brainstorming this platform challenge. (We’ve already created the roles, now we’re in a process of accepting applications for the team.)

Another thing I’m hoping will help our design process, is to create a “Trailblazers Brand and Style Guide” this way it is easier for every team member to know what fonts, colors, pictures, page layouts, etc. we use in the process of developing each magazine. This way it will make it easier for our future lead designers to know what the standards are for our brand versus where there can be created with the design and will hopefully make the process more efficient of getting the articles into the magazine format.

We have already started to discuss work on that and the goal is that we will have this document ready for the next school year, and therefore, before issue 4 of Trailblazers begins production in the fall.

Despite the current challenges we’ve been facing internally that have been rather stressful as a team leader, I’m really excited for Issue 3 of Trailblazers to finally be published later this month! I know it’s going to be great and I’ve loved seeing how our team has improved efficiency and quality with each new magazine!

Saying Goodbye to Disney

I can’t believe this day is here, the first members of the Innovation Diploma who entered as freshman have officially graduated today!

It’s crazy to believe that it’s been four years since this program began with a group of 12 unsuspecting young learners and two facilitators out on a daunting journey to figure out what it would mean to graduate with an additional “Innovation Diploma.”

A lot has changed since then. We went from barely understanding what innovation is to teaching top companies about design thinking. The team currently has Design Briefs in the works with Chick-Fil-A and Delta amongst others!

I love seeing how the program grows every year, even despite me having graduated at this point. I care because each year the program grows it also reflects on all of us who have graduated; it shows how the work we left behind has paved the path for those behind us. Furthermore, it shows how the way we run school is changing a little more each year for the better.

It was a pleasure to work alongside this group of now-graduated seniors while I could and it’s amazing the work they accomplished during their time in the Innovation Diploma. I can’t wait to see what they do next, though it is crazy and a little sad to think that there is no longer anyone left from the original group, theDisney Cohort. It all started back from that first time we hacked the system together by collaborating on what innovator we wanted to be named after, and then it was a crazy ride from there.

Now there will be no one left in the program who lived out that first year, messy as it was at times, it taught us all the true meaning of prototyping early and failing up to continue to make improvements for the future generations. I hope the years to come will remember and appreciate just how far this amazing program has grown in such a short amount of time.

Congrats class of 2018, and goodbye Disney Cohort; continue to dream and design a better tomorrow!

“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” – Walt Disney

 

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The Disney Cohort year 1 of the Innovation Diploma after one of our first big accomplishments: making it to the roof! 

 

 

One Night Only

Today my sister said, “You’re twenty and thriving,” and I was very quick to correct her in that I’m only 19. However, to her point today has been a very adulty day.

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It started out with me attending the SPARK event hosted by Innovation Diploma students. This event was two hours of design thinking fun getting to brainstorm ideas for Chris Hellmann, Global Vice President and General Manager of the Coca-Cola Freestyle division. It’s a little odd to be a “guest” now, though it was particularly funny today because I had one of those moments of realizing just how well I was trained because it was easy to kind of slip a little into facilitation mode to help push my table to think deeper about the problem.

Then immediately after SPARK I hoped on Marta and headed to the airport. I’m currently safely in DC, not running away from finals, but instead, I was flown here for a gathering of Education Reimagined community members. Tonight was just a welcome dinner, but tomorrow we’re working for the better part of the day brainstorming the core components of an idea for a nationwide event around celebrating innovative learning!

I’m still just so thrilled to have been one of the few invited to this meeting and can’t way to see where tomorrow takes us. Right now, truly anything is possible because the idea is still in its infancy and I’m really excited to get to expand upon my leadership skills by helping with the originating of a nationwide project.

I’m one of I think six young learners who will be in attendance and I got to talk with four of the five tonight at dinner which is always fun. We were all talking about how crazy it seems to be flying to another state just for one night to have a meeting. It feels so “real-world” business-like and it just makes me even more grateful for the incredible high school experience I was able to have which lead me to be involved in this community.

I’m actually super happy the SPARK event was earlier today because it was such a nice reminder of how far I’ve come by getting to work with ID kids this morning partnering with the local community and then getting to fly out to DC to work with a national community.

It doesn’t seem particularly out of the ordinary to be on this one night adventure, even though I’ve not done this before, it just seems like the inevitable because I was taught to dream big, network, and take advantage of opportunities.

Trailblazers Issue 2

What better way to kick off the new year than with another issue of Trailblazers, the student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement! Hear from a new group of passionate learners about how they’re getting involved with the movement as we continue on our journey to provide student voices into the world of education with this second issue.