Invite Curious Community

Today has been long and tiring. Starting at 4:50am after about three hours of sleep, my day consisted of first travelling to Vermont and then have the whole second half of the day engrossed in day 1 of the Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership International Seminar hosted by Up for Learning at the University of Vermont.

IMG_0910Like most first days, we started our conference getting to know our community which is always fun! I love networking with new people and reconnecting with those whose paths have crossed with mine before. We started the day with a poem activity where we were given a powerful piece by Margaret Wheatley (featured image) and then asked to pick out a sentence, phrase, and single word that stood out to us in regards to our conference. We then shared with our table and then did a “wave shareout” with our one word to the entire room. I found that if you took the most commonly chosen single words we got an interesting sentence to describe what this gathering is all about:

“We invite a curious community to trust in brave conversations.”

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Personally, I had some good “ah-ha” moments today that are going to frame the next two days for me:

  • Most students don’t just decide one day to researchabout innovative schools, and therefore, they remain unknowing that there is anything besides the traditional system even as a possibility for their education. Yet we know the movement will be strongest if learners are driving the change since, after all, learners are the largest population in a school community. So how might we engage students from traditional school systems who aren’t being supported in thinking about alternative education paths? How do we help these students know what their options are because from my experience when presented with the option of a traditional school versus a learner-centered school, learners almost always choose the later.IMG_0919-1.JPG
  • There is an interesting distinction between student voice, student agency, and student-adult partnership which I haven’t considered before. Students/learners can feel like they have a voice, but that doesn’t mean it’s being heard; students can have agency in their work, but not take ownership of the work. How might we achieve various levels of all of these distinctions of student worth in our everyday learning communities?
  • In education, we often are debating the semantics of what it is that we do in our learning environments. However, perhaps we need to spend more time focusing on why we do it then thinking about how we do it before we start to dive into what exactly it is. With this in mind, I believe I need to spend time with our production team taking a deeper dive into why we do what we do with Trailblazers in order to start exploring what the future may hold in terms of possibilities for growth.

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A Chance at Greatness

Earlier today I read this article about the application process to get into middle schools and high schools in New York. It’s crazy!!!

(I’d strongly encourage reading this article before reading the rest of my post because it provides helpful context.)

I remember applying to colleges all too vividly and it was stressful and tiresome and promoted all sorts of self-doubt amongst teens. For students applying to some schools, your shot all boils down to a bunch of numbers – that’s terrifying. From what I can tell, it seems like some kids go through this same process as early as when they’re 10-11 and only just about to enter 6th grade- that seems outright wrong.

Even looking past the equality debates and economic pull for a second (though very real issues as well), what 10-year-old should have to be thinking about how their grades will affect the rest of their life: the odds of getting into a good middle school leading to odds of going to a good high school leading to odds of being well prepared for college. Sure you may think, “Well the child probably isn’t worrying about all of the grades and applications and portfolios; the parents are the ones to really send stuff in,” but what is the likelihood parents don’t start pressuring their kids more and more with each year the academic game gets more competitive? Parents just want their kid to go to a good school, but what has to happen for them to get there?

And let’s keep in mind elementary school “grades” are basically assessing things like multiplication to the power of 12 and a few basic sentences written in a row.

I couldn’t read well until 2nd grade, does that mean I shouldn’t have gotten a chance at a good education?

This article honestly made me consider even beyond this apparent problem with New York City schools. I realized that there are often complaints about the ways that higher education admits students, but how often do we consider all of the k-12 schools who also have application processes? How do they work? How heavily are grades and standardized tests considered? Are children truly looked at holistically?

I’m just throwing out questions because I really don’t know how it works. I had never considered how lucky I am to have gone to the same school for middle and high school. A lot of kids go to a different school every four-ish years of their life because that’s just how neighbourhood schools tend to work. I, on the other hand, switched to a private school when I was going into 6th grade and then got to just stay at that school. I didn’t have to deal with applying to a new high school, or meeting new friends, or getting used to a new school system.

I vaguely remember the application process going into 6th grade. I’m sure my records were sent in and then I remember having an interview where they asked me to solve some basic math problems and take a few “creativity tests.” I only applied to one school. If I didn’t get in and didn’t get financial aid, I would’ve gone to our local middle school despite it being known as, “not a good school.” I was fortunate to make it in and to be on scholarship, but many don’t get that same chance.

My life would be completely different had I not switched schools in 6th grade. Completely and utterly so, I’m certain of it.

I hate that there even exists rumours of “not good schools.” Shouldn’t every child get to go to a great school? School is honestly one of the biggest parts of childhood. We spend 35+ hours a week in school for roughly 180 days a year. That amount of time spanning from age 5-18 (and some kids spend longer than that), adds up to an underestimate of about 16,380 hours spent in k-12 school during childhood. That’s a ton of time!

Obviously, this article I read is focused primarily on how the system to apply to schools is corrupt, but in my opinion, if the schools supposedly “not good” we just transformed to be better, then maybe the application system would self-fix to some extent. Every school has a different culture. Two schools can be entirely different and yet both equally great for the right child. The school application process should be about finding what culture of a school is best for each individual child, not about children competing to be admitted into the select few great schools.

School influences life; there is no questioning that anymore in the age we live in. Being okay with some schools just not being great is like saying not all kids deserve a chance at a great life.

We need all schools to be great.

Becoming Involved

This past year, and primarily these last few months, I have become more and more involved with coaching our team girls at the gym. This summer I’m going to be even more involved and it’s just been interesting to see my own progression over time as a coach.

I’ve been coaching somewhat since I was 10. At that point, I was helping mostly just with camps and birthday parties and I was also still competing myself. Then I’m not really sure of the order of what happened next. At some point, I started choreographing my own floor routines and then was asked to help teach floor routines to younger team kids, then started dreaming up some big group routines that I eventually brought to life. Then I guess I started subbing for people from time to time and then started choreographing floor routines for more team girls, and everything just kept escalating basically to the point where now I actually am being asked to work more with the younger team girls.

I got a thank you note/end of the year gift from the girl I coach/do acro with and it was really sweet (also reminded me she’s only just about 10 years old). It’s one of the few thank you notes I’ve received from a gymnast I’ve coached and it just got me thinking about how sometimes you don’t really realize when you’re slowly becoming more involved with some kind of work. The note was also a great reminder of the best part about coaching: impacting the kids.

Harmless as a Doorbell

It’s always interesting to me how little things can so quickly change our mood.

Last night I was trying to study when I saw a picture of my friend now with dyed hair, it then immediately got me distracted by a course of nostalgia for theater. I was distracted for the following 30 minutes probably looking at old pictures and realizing just how many and often times ridiculous photos I’ve taken with my theater fam over the years.

Then my blog last night also changed my mood. I went from thinking about family bonding and how I needed to study for my history test, to being deeply curious about The Series of Unfortunate Events and wanted to learn more about the cast and production process. My blog posts often do this to me because I hardly ever know where they are going to end up once I start them. It’s quite a rabbit hole in that way.

Today though I had a moments change of emotion that was nostalgic or curious, one little sound made me extremely anxious: a doorbell.

For my online summer history course, I have a window of time to take my test online with a virtual proctoring system that videos and records my screen and surroundings. I’m instructed to have no other people in the video and to try and keep away from loud noises. Since I’m home alone tonight (I had to come home early from the lake for work tomorrow, but the rest of family is off and about still), I figured it would be fine for me to take my test in the kitchen. I texted the people I thought necessary telling them when I started the test so they knew not to try and contact me during that time. If they did, it might set stuff off on my computer which I can’t imagine being good (even though I believe I turned off the notification settings).

Needless to say, never would I have imagined some random person coming by the house in those 22 minutes I was taking my test AND RING THE DOORBELL.

The sound made me extremely anxious because I couldn’t get up from my test and am not allowed to talk to anyone or have them in my screen during the test; yet, I knew the person at the door could probably see me and thought I was being obnoxious for not getting the door. My conclusion was anyone important enough to need to come in during my test, wouldn’t have rung the doorbell in the first place, so I remained seated and just got thrown off for a few minutes even after the person walked away. I still don’t know who it was ringing my doorbell earlier, but it really shook me out of worry that it would mess up my test and yet not wanting to be rude.

To my knowledge, everything went fine with my test, but still, it’s crazy how under the right circumstances something as harmless as a doorbell can seem like the worst possible thing in that instance because of how quickly our emotions can change.

Weirdly Great Traditions

One of my favorite traditions of the year is going to the Renaissance Festival with my family. Turns out this was actually our 13th year of this tradition which was crazy to think.

I love this tradition because it’s always a fun day of hanging with family in a somewhat ridiculous fashion, dressing up, eating deliciously bad for you food, watching hilarious shows, looking at cool crafts, and more!

I love having weird family traditions.

Happy Mothers Day!

Untapped Potential

This year, in particular, I’ve found myself getting more involved with different high schools around Atlanta that are working on making their school culture learner-centered. With each new connection, I make, I find it more and more odd that there aren’t more connections between different school that are close by to one another.

This isn’t just an Atlanta thing, I’ve heard people from other cities around the country also talk about the disconnect between schools in similar areas.

I wonder if there is some sort of competitive component to where different schools feel like they’re competing for the same kinds of students and families, but in theory, don’t we want to provide learner-centered education for everyone? Each learning environment is still different to meet the needs of different learners even if it the culture has similar values.

I wonder about the day when perhaps an exchange program will happen without needing to go over seas. From my perspective, there is so much untapped potential in terms of potential education partners practically in our backyard who we could learn a lot from.

Elevating the Conversation

I’m back from DC and excited about the future!

This gathering of educators was centered about brainstorming around what it might look like to have a national conversation celebrating a year of learner-centered education.

To be honest, I don’t think anyone left this meeting truly understanding what exactly this might mean or look like just yet, but for a kick-off meeting, I think it went well. People were engaged and excited about the possibilities which is all that can really be asked of members at this point.

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The general concept is that there would be community leaders in different parts of the country that are organizing “inquiry sessions” throughout the year with different stakeholders serving as hosts (students, parents, teachers, business leaders, etc); the topic of these inquiry sessions is dependent on the community though.

For some, this might mean the first few inquiry sessions are more about creating community understanding about what is learner-centered education and how can it be further adopted in the community. For some, the need is about providing the energy and momentum to foster an urgency to do some radical shift in how a school or district operates. For some, the goal may be to engage neighboring school communities that are not as involved with learner-centered education by providing an open door for learning more about what it is and how to incorporate elements in different environments; this is in hopes of growing the movement beyond existing players. There are truly endless possibilities.

IMG_0494.JPGSome of my biggest hesitancy actually lie within just how vague the goal is right now, and I believe others at this meeting expressed similar concerns. Thus, one of the next big steps in my mind is for us to start thinking deeper about the different levels involved in this celebration and how to leverage the fact that this is intended to be a nationwide movement and to have some unified goals as well as community-based goals. It makes me think of some innovative conferences I’ve gone to where there is some goal for the entire conference to accomplish, some purpose for why it’s happening, but additionally, each team in attendance has their own context and reasoning for taking part in the event so they may have a deeper internal goal and purpose as well as the large-scale goals.

For example, this is the personal context I created for myself in terms of why I want to be involved in the planning and organizing part of making an event like this come to life:

“The Year of Learning goes beyond just talking via presentations and online articles, etc., about why the education system needs a paradigm shift; instead, this event would show the unified efforts happening already around the nation to actually make the movement happen. Nothing speaks louder than actions, and an event like this is necessary at this point in the process in order to create a new spark in the movement by celebrating the great successes we’ve had so far, building local communities to support the future of the work, and bringing new people in to learn what we’re all about. I want to be a part of this because I value strongly what the work stands for and as always believe young learners need to play a hand in the process, but beyond that, I feel a deep need to bring the Atlanta community closer together around the goal to transform education.”

I think perhaps my biggest wonder that I’m now pondering is actually a similar ponder I walked into the room with: who’s the audience? Or in design thinking terms: who’s the user we’re actually designing this event for?

Is the user the community itself and we’re wanting to embark on a quest for social good in the community through the lens of learner-centered education and leveraging connections and partnerships outside of the traditional school environment? Is the user parents who we want to be more engaged in the education process so our goal is to further educate them on terminology and practices of learner-centered education; thus we host activities stimulating what their kids experience to heighten their understanding of a learner-centered mission? Is the user students who we want to take more agency in driving the change, so perhaps gatherings are geared around exploring the history of how movements gain traction and workshops on writing and speaking to local politicians or superintendents?

Honestly, any one of these ideas sounds intriguing, and I know the temptation is to want to say “Why can’t we do it all?!” However, I know from personal experience that sometimes trying to do too much at once can actually just lead to confusion and a sense of lack of purpose. I’d even be curious to see multiple prototypes exploring several of the ideas I’ve discussed or potentially others and then decide on which one seems like it could have the greatest impact. Obviously, I’ve never quite helped with the creation of an event this big, but I do think a nationwide purpose will help make the sub-contexts at the community level more clear and impactful.

On a more personal note, I was empowered as a learner because I could sense how my own leadership skills have grown over the years by my participation in this meeting. Everything from just being asked to be in the room, to comment gifts I was given as we left the room made me feel like my presence was desired and contributive. Especially during our table group activity my design thinking training came out again as I was headlining takeaways from learning about a particular community and translating that into ideas for how a year of learning might look in this community. I loved how natural it was for me to fall into that role and help my team elevate our conversation.

I also found myself talking about my opinion on how to get more learners involved in this movement which I realized I had never really talked about before even though I often think about it. I believe there are two ways students feel empowered to take deeper agency in the education transformation movement:

  1. They are put in a position where they are requested to be a leader. This could be talking to a group of parents, taking part in a faculty meeting, facilitating a community workshop, etc. When students are placed in that position where they realize community members actually care about what they have to say about school and how they’re being educated, I’ve noticed they tend to easily speak up and then have a hard time stopping.
  2. Some students don’t realize how special of an opportunity they have until they go to an education event with people outside of their community. Whether this is Sparkhouse, a hackathon, an education conference, etc, when students go to some big event and realize just how many possibilities there are to how they could be educated, it can be insanely motivating to the point where students don’t want to expect anything less than what they learned about at the event. The key here is that the momentum from post-event needs to be taken advantage of with some sort of reflection or next steps to keep the energy alive otherwise it becomes, “Well we just did that there…”

Anyway, those are a little scattered brain thoughts, but overall takeaway is that I’m excited about the concept of elevating this conversation, especially now being in the position of a learner-centered educator without a learner-centered environment.

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.

“Right” versus “Next”

Having been a member of the Education Reimagined community for a couple of years now, some of the presentions at this Lab Training I’ve heard a few times before; however, each time I learn something new.

This time, I believe I’ve really enhanced my understanding of a paradigm shift and what that looks like.

Particularly, over the past few months since the last training I attended, I’ve started to realize the necessity to explain to skeptics of the learner-centered education paradigm that I do not believe even the learner-centered model is perfect. Perfect in this sense inferring that it is the 100%, undoubtedly, “right” way to think about education.

For one thing, it’s funny to even talk about the “learner-centered model” because part of the ideology is that there is no single perfect way to run a school; but there are elements of different school systems and models that make it learner-centered.

Then on an additional point, there is a distinction to be made between the words “right” versus “next.”

The way we think about aspects of life is constantly changing. The example we discussed today is how once upon a time we used to firmly believe that bleeding people was the way to treat illness. We may laugh at this notion now, but humans practiced this for hundreds of years before finally realizing that they needed to change the way they think about treating illness; thus the world of healthcare went through a paradigm shift and now we have modern-day medicine.

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Education is at this point in time where we as a community have started to question the current industrial age traditional paradigm (ie. way to think about education). One of our activities today was actually listing out some of the anomalies in our current education system- things that in theory should be happening a certain way based on how the model predicts outcomes, but for some reason, it doesn’t always happen this way. (My table’s list is shown to the right.)

It’s conversations like this where we have identified that there is something fundamentally flawed about the idea of teaching learners of the 21st century, information age with the same ideals and practices of the industrial age paradigm. We simply aren’t living in the same time; things are different now and the education system needs to reflect the new values and requirements of society.

This old paradigm is over and now it needs to be replaced. Thus the question becomes, “What’s the next paradigm?”

Learner-centered education may not be the “right”/”best” model for education- there’s really no way to know. Like everything, there are pros and cons and many unknowns that could be either or. However, I, as well as many other educators, do believe that learner-centered could very well be the “next” paradigm in the world of education.

This is an important distinction because I want people to understand that I haven’t been brainwashed to think that learner-centered schools are flawless. I acknowledge that every school still has their weaknesses, and in that regard, not every aspect of the old traditional paradigm is this terrible beast we must burn at the stake.

However, as a mindset, I do believe that the traditional paradigm is not meeting the needs of all students, parents, teachers, and other community stakeholders, therefore, it must be replaced by a new paradigm. The learner-centered education paradigm is just the next step in the direction towards trying to find that perfect education system we all like to dream of existing.

#Adulting

Wow, today has been crazy! And I must say, I feel rather like an adult today, which is very weird. I could care less about how legally you are an “adult” once you turn 18. I’m 19 now, and I still feel more kid than adult about 90% of the time.

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Powerful quotes at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Today was that other 10% though.

I’m writing tonight from San Fransisco where I’m serving as a “Community Builder” (somewhat of a mentor/coach/facilitator at the table level) for the Pioneer Lab Training hosted by Education Reimagined.

There’s a couple of reasons why this has been a big deal. For starters, just the fact that I was asked to serve in a leadership role at a conference is awesome! Then as an extra level, it’s kind of odd getting used to the fact that I wasn’t just contacted through Mount Vernon; I’m starting to become my own person which is… different.

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Behind the waterfall of the Martin Luther King memorial across from my hotel.

Furthermore, I’m attending this conference relatively alone. I happen to know people who are also here because I’m involved in the community; however, I flew across the country, found my way around town, and checked into a hotel (which I have to myself) all on my own which is not something I’ve ever done before or even really thought about.

Growing up is a funny thing, especially in those moments where we realize it’s happening.

Overall it’s been a pretty fun day though. I did some exploring before our kick-off dinner reception and had fun popping into a few places around town. Then meeting people tonight was great! I love talking to new people in the transformative education world because not only do I learn more about different education models, but I also find myself learning more about myself as I get asked

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Exploring the local center for the arts.

questions about how I ended up in the position I’m in. (Tangent: It’s amusing to me how as soon as people learn you’re in college they start asking about to what capacity you’ve thought about your future.)

I’m excited to see what new discoveries and insights come out of this conference, and perhaps just as interested to see how this adulting thing goes…

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Venturing around town and explored a “living house” exhibition at target.