iNACOL Recap/Takeaways

Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).

iNACOL Day 4: Micro-Credentials

I earned my first micro-credential today for “Introducing Your Best Self”; well, it hasn’t been officially approved by the online reviewers, but I at least went through the process of earning it and got the physical badge.

Today was the last day of iNACOL19, which also means it’s the last time it will ever be called the iNACOL Symposium since the organization is now known as the Aurora Institute – just a fun side note. On this last day, I attended the workshop on micro-credentials with Bloom Board and I wanted to share a little about what micro-credentials actually are since it’s become a buzzword in education, yet many people still don’t know what it really means.

In my own words, micro-credentials are a way to show competency in specific areas of teacher work; they are credentials earned by providing qualitative and quantitative evidence to an online platform that external experts review before certifying that a teacher has demonstrated competency in that area.

I’ve been hearing about micro-credentials for a good bit now and my biggest confusion has always been the difference between micro-credentials and badging. My understanding since attending this session is that badging is typically done in house, so the person reviewing the evidence for receiving the badge often knows the person who is applying for the badge. However, with micro-credentials, there is a whole team of external reviewers that are tasked with certifying evidence for competencies. Furthermore, my understanding is that micro-credentials at this point are specifically for the education industry and more specifically for teachers and administrators. Badging, on the other hand, has a much larger audience, but often less robust system in terms of any sort of grouping of badges.

The micro-credential world is now growing so that specific micro-credentials are grouped together to demonstrate work towards mastering larger goals. For example, on Bloom Board there is a category for “Human Management” which is made up of about 6 micro-credentials. Some school districts are using these larger categories as ways to rethink graduate education; for these districts, salary raises and job promotions are based off mastery of a certain number of micro-credentials.

I must say I was really impressed with the whole notion of micro-credentials. It makes perfect sense to me that if we are trying to personalize learning for young learners and make assessment competency-based, then we should be creating a similar system for adult learners. After all, we are all learners that need feedback in order to continue to grow. Micro-credentials help create a system for adult learners to show competency and therefore, have the ability to grow in their fields without necessarily having to go back to graduate school and pay hundreds of dollars to prove they have gained new skills since they started teaching.

The process to gaining a micro-credential was also very practical. There are four phases in the example we worked through: analyze, design, implement, evaluate. During the analyzing phase we considered how we currently introduce ourselves to new people and critically discussed how we might improve our introduction. Then during design, we drafted scripts for what a new introduction might sound like based on the resources we read which discussed the need to move away from just saying “Hi I’m X and I work at Y,” and instead create a more memorable and insightful introduction. We got feedback from our partners about this script before moving on to the implementation phase where we recorded ourselves saying the introduction. Finally, we watched our own videos and reflected on the way it sounded and looked (thinking about non-verbal communication as well). If we were actually submitting this evidence we would have taken each written reflection and our video and saved it on the online site before submitting it for review, but we did this process all on paper to make it easier to facilitate in a group setting. Apparently, when working towards some micro-credentials there may be a 5th stage between design and implement which is develope, just because some micro-credentials need to have more supporting evidence.

I think there is a lot of potential in micro-credentials especially when thinking about the evolution of science in the learning and teaching industry. Someone in our session today discussed how his master’s degree still holds up as certifying he has knowledge in education technology, but when he earned this degree the technology he was learning about was about how to wire a projector. Technology has changed significantly and yet his master’s degree still suggests he has mastery in this field. What if credentials expired and had to be renewed? This would promote the idea that we are life long learners and must always be updating our understanding of certain topics as we learn more about them as a society. Micro-credentials could be a solution to this issue because they are intentionally designed to be conducive to the lives of working teachers; therefore, no one would have to stop teaching in order to go back to school and renew their credentials as new science develops. It’s a truly fascinating idea to me, though I do know I’m a person who naturally just loves to learn new things.

I’m excited to see where the future of micro-credentials leads us in education.

iNACOL Day 3: Relationships are Key

Relationships are key to learning and equity. This has been one of the most frequently discussed themes of the past few days.

I feel like most people know and understand this on an implicit level. Personally, when I think of my high school experience and when people would ask me what my favorite part about my school was, I’d almost always first say something about the relationships I had with my teachers. I asked some of my peers today, who are also alums from my high school, “What are the top 3 things you liked most about high school?” and they also all said something about relationships as number 1. (And this is three years after graduating high school – the relationships are still what sticks with us.) Granted this was a small sample size, but I was just curious, so I texted a few people I knew I could get quick responses from. This little mini survey confirmed my hypothesis that as learners we definitely value relationships, but what has really intrigued me the last few days is learning about how relationships aren’t just valuable because we like them, there is actually ample scientific research that states strong positive relationships are critical to the learning process and to creating equity in education.

Equity is about every learner getting the resources to meet their specific needs. It’s important to distinguish that “equity” is different from “equality.” Equality is where every learner is given the same resources despite their individual needs. Our closing keynote speaker, Dr. Pedro Noguera, discussed how bullying, sleep deprivation, depression, and suicide are all examples of equity issues. These issues also bring us back to the topic of mental health and the need to educate the whole child which I discussed briefly night 1 of the conference as it has been another major trend of the week. Furthermore, these are issues that often are ignored in schools especially if students are making good grades in spite of these additional challenges in their lives. And the crazy thing is that we have the tools to combat these issues – people that care.

The  prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus are some of the primary parts of the brain involved with learning and development. What I learned this week from Dr. Pamela Cantor with Turnaround for Children is that these parts of our brain are affected by two main hormones: cortisol and oxytocin. The former is the hormone associated with stress and the former is released due to trust and love. It turns out that oxytocin, the trust and love hormone, is actually the stronger of the two hormones and can even help protect against future stress. Therefore, these relationships we all value so much because we feel good having them – true relationships that are built on trust and consistent interaction/support –  also help our brains stay healthy and create positive neural connections that enhance learning. Strong relationships are one of the most helpful positive enrichments for the brain so they are absolutely necessary to have in school.

This is the “why” behind the need to educate the whole child. So if you were skeptic about the movement to educate the whole child, which makes sense from purely an engaged citizen leader mindset in my opinion, then listen to the science which also says relationships are key to learning and equity.

 

iNACOL Day 2: Self-Reflection

Today was amazing! From the start of the day hearing from keynote speaker Derek Wenmoth from New Zealand who somehow made me even more excited to study abroad next year in that amazing country all the way to end of the night where I participated in some fantastic networking events, I was just in awe of this wonderful community.

This was a jam-packed day of learning and networking from 7am – 9pm, but I’m not going to go in detail about everything I did and learned. Instead, I’m going to try and consolidate my thoughts down to one key take away. Today that key take away was actually a self-reflection of starting to better visualize the path I’m headed on.

I’ve been passionate about transformative education since high school, but as I get older and closer to graduate I’m starting to get asked a lot more questions about “what’s next? what do you really want to do? where do you want to go with this?” Well, my method to planning for the future tends to go like this: I say yes to lots of things and get involved in lots of projects. Then I like to stand back and look for patterns/trends in the choices I’ve made to help determine what I’ve enjoyed, where I’ve made a difference, and how I would like to proceed in my learning journey.

Today I stood back and considered the choices I’ve been making in terms of sessions I choose to attend at conferences (this one and others included). The trend I’ve noticed is that I have a deep interest in professional development (including the onboarding process in particular) and research in the science of learning and teaching. Amongst all sorts of choices, I keep finding myself drawn to these two areas, so as of right now I believe that’s the direction I’d like to continue with in the future.

I see myself in both a research and practitioner role, so with that in mind, I’d like to continue my studies by doing graduate school work related to the science of learning and teaching but I’d also like to be active in the field growing professional development programs.

Some people question my desire to go into graduate school, often because they think I want to go just because of old cultural norms around needing higher credentials, but that is not the case for me. I want to go to grad school because I like to learn and I am fascinated by certain classes taught and research being conducted at this level of schooling. I am also very accepting of the idea that we learn by doing though, and that is why I also think it would be beneficial to work some after undergrad (perhaps 2 years or so) before going back for a masters degree, this way I could have a more informed view about what is actually needed in the field in terms of research.

I’m not set in stone with this plan, and I tend to be a person that just says yes when opportunities come my way and that is often how my path is most influenced, but getting the chance to think more deeply about this path of mine through self-reflection inspired by my morning sessions and networking practice at tonight’s community events was very helpful today.

Some times takeaways aren’t a particular conversation or quote or new idea, sometimes takeaways are about how the conversations, quotes, and ideas worked together to influence your own self-discovery. That was today for me and I’m grateful for that opportunity to grow as an individual.

SparkHouse Preflection

SparkHouse 3 is finally here and I’m so excited!!!

When I think back to my first time at SparkHouse it’s amazing how much has changed. SparkHouse was where the first idea for Trailblazers came about. Now here I am two years and three e-magazine issues later as a Community Builder and a chaperone for 3 of high school members of the current Trailblazers production team!

Since SparkHouse I’ve also become so much more involved with Education Reimagined and the Education Transformation Movement at large. I’ve attended and mentored at several conferences around the country, participated in numerous calls/video/social media chats,  and even been able to teach a short-term high school course of my own. (Which was obviously un-traditional in nature.) Honestly, it wasn’t until talking to my roommate, who is a first-time learner at SparkHouse, that I realized the full extent of how many opportunities I’ve had since joining this community.

And now that I have become more involved, I’ve realized the importance of “preflecting” – reflecting before things being about my expectations, hopes, and goals for this experience – in order to have a greater take away after the gathering. So here it goes:

Expectations:

  • Great conversations around learner-centered education
  • A deeper connection to the language we use to describe the kind of work we do
  • Be inspired by the amazing work young learners are already doing and the new ideas they bring to the table

Hopes:

  • Members of Trailblazers will branch out and expand their networks
  • We’ll develop new ideas about ways that Trailblazers could contribute to the Education Transformation Movement
  • More young learners will step up and continue to grow their leadership capacities in this movement even beyond SparkHouse

Goals:

  • Have at least five new people sign up/express interest in contributing to Trailblazers
  • Reach 50 followers on Trailblazers social media
  • Find a new tool/activity/mindset that I can implement into my own leadership practices
  • Inspire other learners to become more involved in the community/movement to transform the education system

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!

Different Pages

Day two at the International Seminar was a lot of fun (as expected) especially when you end the day with an Escape Room! (Even if we didn’t escape…) What I found particularly interesting about today though was that we broke off into stakeholder groups for a large chunk of today’s conversations. Therefore, I was in a room with all of other students/ young learners/ youth advocates/ whatever you want to call us (I think there were around 18 of us total).

I realized that this is the first conference I’ve been to where there are young learners in attendance that are not either from my learning environment and/or the SparkHouse community that has been developing over the past two years.

There are about 9 other SparkHouse members here, which is great because one of the main things that the SparkHouse has helped facilitate is more common language between learning environments. A common language is key because it allows us to move past the point of debating and distinguishing jargon and just get to the point faster about the why and how we currently do things and our hopes for the future. Not to mention even with our still existing gaps in communication, working with people you’ve met and worked with before typically makes working together again easier.

The complication is that not everyone is a part of SparkHouse currently, so half of the room is on much more of the same page than the other half which could in itself be on three different pages.

This wasn’t an overly complicated challenge but it struck me as an interesting dynamic today. It struck me because it made me realize that learners at a conference like this are often used to being the center of attention to some extent. They’re often leaders in their own community who are used to having one of the only student voices represented in a given convening and therefore, become a novelty of sorts who everyone wants to hear from. Now when you put 18 of these students in the same room who are used to having a prominent role in the conversation around education due to their student voice, all of sudden there is bound to be a power struggle because no one is a novelty anymore.

My hope is that one day this is the problem at a faculty meeting. No one is a novelty.

This is not to say that I hope there becomes a power struggle between students and adults, actually, I hope for just the opposite. One of the big points us students talked about today when discussing successes and challenges in our stakeholder group was the idea that there are a lot of adults who believe that giving students a voice/leadership/agency/power thereby means that power must be lost by another stakeholder group. What we strive for though is equal voice, equal representation, equal power. If either side of the equation is a novelty, then there will never be equal power and our education will be incomplete.

Timing is also key for this to be a reality. Giving students a voice doesn’t mean just give students a survey at the end of the term about giving teachers feedback; that’s just asking for student voice when convenient and wanting to confirm what’s already happened in class. The student voice we strive for is when students are brought in beforehand and are involved in the creation of school work, then sure you can get feedback in the end as well, but from both sides of the equation, students and adults alike, and discuss the outcomes and next steps together as well.

 

I’m going to be quite honest, at this point in writing this post I’m not super on the same page with where this train of thought was going… I’ve read it over and realized I’ve attempted to synthesise a lot of different highly debated topics into one train of thought and I’m not sure if I’m being all that coherent. So, therefore, I’m going to stop writing now. When you lose your train of thought, sometimes it’s best to just stop where you are and let the thoughts exist until maybe at a different time or with a different person the train reappears in a more insightful way. Until tomorrow then.

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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Becoming a “Real Coach”

I had a gymnast ask me on Monday, “Coach Anya, are you like a real coach?” We, of course, all laughed and asked the kid what a “fake coach” would be, but the fact that the question was asked just goes to show how far my coaching as come even just recently.

Last night we were actually driving six hours to get to North Carolina for the Region 8 Gymnastics Congress which we then attended all day today and will attend all weekend. I’ve travelled with my mom to Congress before, but this is the first time I’m really attending sessions as a coach rather than just tagging along with the family for the trip.

Being at a conference isn’t a foreign atmosphere for me due to my work with education, but it has been funny to be more of a “real coach” now. This year apparently hasn’t been the best Congress in terms of sessions running because there are so many rule changes this year that sessions about clarifications and new policies have taken a lot of time. However, none the less I’ve been enjoying learning new things and being more a part of the conversation in terms of the future of our team girls progressions especially for this summer and our predictions for levels come fall.

#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.