iNACOL Day 1: Questions to Ponder

Being able to attend events like iNACOL Symposium (as of today now known as Aurora Institute) really means a lot to me because it’s an opportunity to dive deep into the world of k-12 education – a world which I’ve been somewhat disconnected from since entering undergrad. It’s been amusing to me to see all of the surprised faces when people learn I’m a young learner that chose to attend this conference; my number one asked question of the day is, “So why are you here? Is it for a class or something…?” Yet to me what is surprising is the lack of young learners in attendance, especially since this particular conference has no registration fee for k-12 students. I have always said that my personal motivation in this field is driven by the belief that young learners should be at the forefront of education transformation. Students are the primary users of school, and every good design project will say you have to start with the users to talk with them, empathize with them, and build with them in order to actually create something that meets user needs and therefore will last.

Anyway, despite the lack of young learners, we had some great conversations today! I felt like my day was divided by three main conversations so I’ll focus my reflection on those three areas: professional development, research on online learning, and whole child development.

 

Professional Development:

In the realm of professional development, we mainly just discussed a lot of interesting questions several of us are having in regards to what effective PD looks like in innovative k-12 environments. Personally, I’m interested in the question, “How might we re-design teach training from the very beginning (i.e. undergrad teacher education)?” because if re-design teacher education then it should make the onboarding process for new teachers entering innovative learning environments much smoother. We didn’t really discuss this question in-depth today, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to work on framing this question since I have recently realized that it is a reoccurring theme in my pondering. We did however talk a lot about, “HMW measure/insure the impact of professional development on teacher growth?” I found this question particularly interesting because a lot of discussions in education have been focused around competency-based learning and how to measure/assess this style of learning. And theoretically, I see no reason why these same methodologies couldn’t be used to measure/assess teacher learning and growth. Why don’t we always practice what we preach? If we truly believe that teachers are learners too, doesn’t it make sense to provide them with frequent and specific feedback on their work? Some teachers might not yet be comfortable with the idea of receiving constant feedback on their work, but we can’t improve as individuals, schools, or larger communities without feedback. As one of our table group members said “It’s a wonderful place, your comfort zone, but nothing grows there.”

 

 

Research on Online Learning:

Moving on into the day, we discussed a lot about education research specifically within the context of online and blended learning. Today I learned that I don’t know very much about online or blended learning. I’ve taken a few online courses in the past, and I had mixed opinions about them, but that’s about my extent of knowledge in this area of education. I never realized how many different kinds of online learning systems that exist until today but apparently there are over eight based on what came up in our discussions. I don’t have a particular interest in this topic, but today was really the pre-conference day for iNACOL and since I was going to be here anyway, I decided to participate in a session and the only free session was about online and blended learning, thus that’s what I participated in. To be honest, I felt like there was a lot of information that went over my head. The session was designed based on past feedback from online teachers who requested more sessions specific to online/virtual/blended education; thus there were a lot of experts in the room talking about a lot of specific elements of research and practice.

While I didn’t have a lot of take aways today specific to online learning, I did appreciate the general focus on new education practices needing to be grounded in research. A big thing being pushed was that every change should be backed by research, and I think that’s an important idea because it proves people aren’t creating change just for the sake of it. There is a lot of thought and evidence behind decisions which helps make a very convincing case for change that goes beyond just, “Well the old system clearly doesn’t work.”

Something I also heard a lot of today was the idea of “researcher or practitioner.” This came up because our presenters were wanting to bridge this gap, noting that researchers really want to hear from practitioners what kind of research is actually needed in the field that way when research is conducted it can be of real use in the field. However, I wasn’t a big fan of the idea that we have to either be a researcher or a practitioner. Maybe it’s just the reality that we all tend to be one or the other, but I’d imagine it would be more interesting if we all did a little of both. I don’t see why k-12 practitioners can’t also be researchers. Sure timing might be challenging, but if a school could have adult learners both researching and practicing innovative teaching methods I can only imagine the sort of interesting insights that would come about.

 

 

Whole Child Development:

Finally, the end of my night included a great opening keynote given by Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizar with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The keynote was all about education needing to be whole child-focused which means focusing on 6 key aspects: physical health, mental health, social-emotional development, identity development, academic development, and cognitive development. One of my favorite things she said was, “When we’re most vulnerable is when learning takes place.” I was fortunate to have an overall pretty great high school experience with very supportive peers and mentors, but I also am very aware that this is not the case for many k-12 students. Dr. Stafford-Brizar showed word clouds about studies showing when students and teachers alike were asked to pick a word that comes to mind when they think of school they thought of things like stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. We know all too well that mental health is an extreme problem in education today, but we have to intentionally design time, space, and culture focused on supporting mental health in order for these issues to change. Dr. Stafford-Brizar made an analogy I loved and will probably now unintentionally butcher: “We don’t expect calculus to be learned in a morning meeting or an advisory session; we intentionally design class lessons to teach these skills. So why do we expect mental health to be learned without intentionally designing for it to be taught to students?” My big wonder though is how do we actually do this in practice? Dr. Stafford-Brizar suggests starting with the adults and making sure their mental health is addressed so that it permeates into the student body. But culture change is anything but easy. So how might we create a culture that’s comfortable with being uncomfortable and vulnerable? Starting with the adults seems like a great idea, but what does that really mean and look like in the start? There is no switch that will all of a sudden make everyone totally open to talking about personal struggles at school. I’ve seen examples of schools that do a really great job with mental health, but I still don’t feel like I have a good concept on how they got started. Or in some cases, I know that the school was founded with mental health as a key principle to the mission so there wasn’t the same cultural shift that has to happen in a preexisting environment trying to become more aware of mental health needs.

So overall I would describe day 1 as a day of thought provoking questions. I didn’t have any mind blowing, game changing takeaways, but sometimes it’s okay to just take away lots of questions because every question is an opportunity to learn.

 

 

Pictures from today:

iNACOL Day 0: The Pre-flection

I have officially landed and spent the day exploring Palm Springs and am so excited to be attending iNACOL Symposium starting tomorrow morning!

My professional goal is to become a social entrepreneur in the field of transformative education. I associate most of what I do in my personal, educational, and professional life back to this goal because of this driving passion to want all young learners to be able to experience education in a way that is learner-centered and has real-world impact. 

The iNACOL Symposium is an event I have been wanting to attend for several years now because it is known to be, “the flagship event for innovators, education leaders, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers advancing powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences for students.”  While at this three-day international conference I will grow my professional network, get to share my unique perspective and experiences with education, and become further informed about the leading thoughts on a myriad of current challenges in the field. I am particularly excited to attend sessions on Human Capital, Leadership, Systems Transformation, Professional Learning and Development, and Whole Child Personalization/Social Emotional Learning amongst the total of 25 program strands available at this year’s convening. 

I’m excited to increase my knowledge about key aspects involved in my hopeful career field of transformative education by attending the sessions and workshops on topics I noted above. I’m also to be a co-creator of progress in education as I work with other practitioners to advance the communal pool of knowledge and ideas in the field. We will then all be able to take back these ideas and experiment with them in our own learning environments. Personally, I will be representing my magazine team, Trailblazers, while at the conference and will then prepare a recap presentation for the high schoolers I work with in order to provide a professional development opportunity for them as well. The real key to progress is not just working towards change, but also reflecting and sharing on experiences so that others can also benefit from new insights being made in the field; this is why it’s important to me to blog about my experience as well as summarize and share key insights with my magazine team after the experience. I plan to blog each night of the conference to make sure I’m adequately processing and reflecting on everything I’ll be learning. 

I can’t wait to get started tomorrow!

Reflecting on 2.5 Years of Trailblazers

I’ve been slow to posting, but last week was a special one because we published our 5th issue of Trailblazers!!!

I’m still a little in shock to be quite honest. When we founded Trailblazers my senior year of high school, I’m not sure I fully believed we would still be running two and a half years later. Yet somehow we keep managing to pull through – even if we end up publishing a bit after our goal publish date…

It definitely hasn’t been easy though. Trying to manage any group that you only get to meet with a max of four times a year is hard enough, let alone considering the fact that the team you are working with are high schoolers who have to manage all sorts of other conflicts. I’d say a quarter of the year there was always at least one member who didn’t have access to technology, either from losing something, being grounded, or being in an area without service/in a different time zone. Imagine being on an online team where you didn’t have the ability to communicate online… It’s a bit challenging.

Not to mention, when working with high schoolers that means eventually students graduate, so there is a limited amount of time members stay on the team which puts us in a constant state of recruitment and onboarding. Each year we have new members we have to bring up to speed on our mission, values, and their specific roles and responsibilities which often includes a lot of training because these are roles most high schoolers haven’t taken on before.

The onboarding and training part of this journey has been particularly interesting to me as each year I try to get better at letting the high schoolers take more and more control the magazine. This semester I think got better with the team learning to schedule their own group meetings and make decisions without always needing me to direct the way through everything. I was always very pleasantly surprised when I would ask a question in our group chat to find out that the task had already been completed. There were still moments where I had to step in a bit – like in the final stretch weeks when senioritis and summer start to cloud work ethic – but we still got it done and that’s the key.

Recruitment has also been something Trailblazers continues to struggle with. I just finished my second year of college, which means at this point, there are fewer and fewer learners I consider myself to know well at the high school. Therefore, it no longer makes much sense for me to just go in and talk about joining the team or for me to reach out to individuals I think would be a good fit. So this has now become a new task for the high school team to take on and we’ve not yet found the best way to get new learners interested in joining our team.

I’m very aware of the struggles faced with Trailblazers, but that’s not to say I’m not extremely proud of where we are at. This year we published our 5th issue, created official branding, attended our first national education event as a team, got a production team application from a non-Innovation Diploma student, reached over 50 followers on social media, and had our first non-founding members graduate. It’s been a big year for Trailblazers, and I hope we continue to have big years and continue to learn from each semester about ways to improve as an organization and continue to be amazed by the stories and work of young learners.

Being Prepared for College

There’s always value in revisiting conversations. Today at SparkHouse I got the opportunity to re-experience a conversation around distinctions which I thoroughly enjoyed beause it’s one of my favorites. (This link actually connects to my post from Day 1 of SparkHouse 1 from two years ago, and it’s funny now looking back on that day compared to today and how many similar thoughts I had.)

I loved this conversation and many others of the day and was inspired as always by the energy of young learners gathered together to discuss what education could look like in a learner-centered paradigm.

However, what really stood out to me today, because it was unusual and disheartening, was when I heard a learner say they think their environment is too untraditional sometimes and should have more busy work in order to be prepared for college.

My heart was actually broken.

And I believe that the fact that a statement like this could come up at a gathering of learners from all learner-centered schools goes to show how we still have so much further to go in transforming the education system paradigm.

So despite it being 11:45pm after a long day of heavy thinking, high energy, and additionally having to do psych homework even while traveling, I needed to take time to reflect and respond to this comment because it’s been bugging me all day.

First off, I just have to ask, what does it say about our education system when students think college is all about busy work and doing busy work is what prepares you for college?

Second off, I don’t believe we should be conforming and confining k-12 education to doing things only based on what “colleges want.”

This comment was made innocently and honestly and while I don’t agree with the statement if you look deeper into what was being implied, the real problem being described is valid to address: learner-centered high schools and most colleges do not work off of the same paradigm. Therefore, this creates dissonance for everyone involved in our education system– students, parents, teachers, faculty, admissions reps, professors, etc. The proposed expectations, purpose, and methodology behind teaching in these two worlds (learner-centered high school and traditional college) are foundationally different, which can make communication and movement between the worlds challenging.

Moving from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard. I know because that’s my current reality. The thing is, the reason it isn’t easy has nothing to do with “being prepared.”

The number 1 question I have gotten asked since entering college is:

“Did you feel like your high school prepared you to do well in college?”

YES!!! – That’s my short answer.

The long answer is that I’ve felt more than prepared because of all of the skills I learned that are actually useful for life, unlike just learning how to be a really good test taker.

Because being prepared for college is about more than being ready to take tests.

Being prepared for college means that you are mature and responsible enough to live on your own and take ownership of your learning. Being prepared for college means you have a keen sense of self-awareness in order to make informed decisions about your future. Being prepared for college means you are able to clearly and strategically plan and articulate your goals and curiosities to advisors, professors, job interviewers, etc.

You would think it would be obvious that college is about more than just test taking, but apparently, it isn’t because that’s all I seem to get asked about. And yet, while actually in college, I have plenty of advisors telling me almost daily “GPA doesn’t really matter beyond getting your first job/internship- then it’s all about networking, experience, and selling yourself based on your skills.”

So when I say, “switching from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard,” I say that because it’s hard to deal with the culture change. It’s hard to move into a reality where your voice is no longer heard, where you can’t easily pitch new ideas to leadership, where you get lectured at and talked down to constantly, where you are more frequently viewed as a statistic rather than as a holistic person. That’s hard.

It’s not hard to learn how to take tests. Plus every professor is typically a little bit different. For example, one of my current classes does pretty much all assessing online, so all you have to figure out is that the homework questions and practice problems are all potential test problems, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an A on every test. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some hard tests in college, but that’s just because it’s new material and challenging. The test wouldn’t be any easier if I had done more busy work and test taking during high school.

So back to this issue of the dissonance between learner-centered high schools and traditional colleges. Something that extends this challenge is that we too often try to silo our education system by looking at just k-12 or just higher education.

If we are going to “transform the education system” that takes the ENTIRE SYSTEM. 

We can’t ignore the fact that the education system doesn’t stop at high school graduation for the majority of learners.

So in order to bridge the gaps between the two worlds, one student today proposed, “We should have more busy work,” and I propose an alternative: Colleges also need to change their education system.

And I’d like to believe the alternative is the more likely option because it’s the more promising option. When I talk to college admissions reps, a student from a learner-centered high school is the ideal college candidate. They are mature and responsible. They have a keen sense of self-awareness. They can clearly and strategically plan and articulate their goals and curiosities. And they have all sorts of stories and evidence of their experiences that they can share to prove this learning.

However, as more and more learners start to graduate from learner-centered environments, I imagine there will be more and more pushback about why we have to then transition into a traditional college environment. Then these great, college and life ready learners will find alternative solutions of their own. They’ll attend the hand full of non-traditional colleges, or they’ll just continue on with internships from high school, or they’ll study in a different country, or something I’ve not even thought of. Colleges will have to change if they want these great learners in their learning environments.

That’s my hope/belief at least. I hope this process moves father than I anticipate, though unfortunately, bureaucracy and the fear of risks seem to be much more present struggles for colleges to overcome.

I could talk on and on about this struggle of learner-centered high school to traditional college, and to be honest I didn’t even go to one of the more unique high schools out there. There’s so much to be said about transcripts, assessment methods and “How do colleges interpret them?”, my advice to learners making the transition, my desire for a working compilation of non-traditional colleges, etc.

However, the important point here is that it is all a conversation. If you are aware of the two world struggle then you are already making the first step towards being able to respond to the struggle. But I want to make explicitly clear that I don’t, by any means, think the correct response is “Let’s be a little more traditional to prepare for college.”

Struggles are solved by compromise, not conformity.

I have felt beyond prepared for college because of my learner-centered experiences. And even now being in college and knowing what it’s like, I would never trade those experiences for the opportunity to have had more time to practice taking standardized tests to, “Get used to them for college.” Switching worlds is hard, but not because of the tests, it’s because of the culture.

Weirdly enough, upon further reflection, I’m actually glad that this comment was made about wanting busy work to be prepared for college. It brought up a very important question for education in terms of how we distinguish “college ready” from “not college ready” and definitely challenged me to think carefully about my own distinguishment for this topic and even on distinguishing “learner-centered education” as a whole.

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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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.

Community of Learners

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It’s always such a relief to meet with an entire conference of learners who really see the world of possibilities that lies in the future of education! These past few days I have had the immense joy of attending the Pioneering Lab Training hosted by Education Reimagined here in Atlanta, Ga. I was blown away by the people in attendance so much that I needed to take a day before blogging to really process everything.

C10L7mtWEAIktyS.jpgIn my own words, the PioneeringLab is a gathering of educators (of all ages) from learner-centered environments that come together for inquiry sessions around major components of the education transformation movement. What I attended this past week was the training for this lab. The purpose of the training (also in my own words) is to prepare learners for the lab itself by establishing a common understanding of language to use within the learner-centered community.

Having common language is really important for a movement, because if I tell you “x” is a dog and another person tells you “x” is a giraffe, then you will end up just being confused as to what “x” really means. In the world of transformational education, there are lot’s of different words that get used, so the Pioneering Education community has done some intensive ontology and semantics work to create a lexicon which distinguishes key elements of a learner-centered environment. Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 11.24.14 PM.png

After the close to 24 hours I spent with the attendants of this training, I have come to realize there isn’t really a “short way” to distinguish what these words do and don’t mean in a way that feels satisfactory. While I could try (and have in fact practiced explaining to others during role playing exercises at the training itself), I would prefer to use this space to reflect on what I learned rather than just summarize it; however, here is a link to where you can read more about the context of these words in a learner-centered paradigm.

One of the important distinguishes I learned that I will discuss though, is about the differences between a network and a community. In a network people are connected through one to one relationships because each person has an interest in being connected to the other. A network is similar to a web in this case because not everyone in the network necessarily comes into contact with others. Jack might know John, and John might know Sally, but that doesn’t mean Jack knows Sally. A network is great for solving one time challenges/problems like finding a job based on who knows who; however, a network is not very helpful when trying to do something that requires a lot of people to accomplish a task that will have many little challenges arise throughout the process, like trying to build a house. -This is where a community is required.

1280x960.jpeg.jpgIn a community, individuals elect to contribute their gifts to some greater purpose/task/challenge. A community requires synchronization, timing, and nurturing from others in the community in order for a product to be created, but really the bonds formed amongst community members are just as important as the final product. A community can build a house.

This particular distinction really stuck with me because I know that I personally have used the words network and community interchangeably in the past because I had never found thought about the differences. After this training I now realize that these words have very different meanings.

I believe I have been involved in this movement since my sophomore year of high school in 2014. But I’ve really been involved on more of a network level. I’ve connected with people through Twitter and connections from my school. However, I think now I’m finally starting to feel a real part of the community outside of my school. Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 12.06.42 AM.pngI’ve been blogging, facilitating, and speaking with groups of people for the past three years; however, in this past year, since the summer really, I’ve begun to find myself working with more teams of people with an intent to make change outside of just my own school. I didn’t fully realize this until the last few days, but it’s crazy to think how much has changed since my sophomore year. Now I show up at conferences already knowing and working with some people!

Now to be a tad backwards and give some background context, I came to this training because I am passionate about the movement to transform education due to my own first hand experiences with how different forms of education can effect learners. I dream of the day where every student has the opportunity to experiance learner-centered education because I know it has changed me for the better. It has made me feel more confident in myself, passionate for those around me, and empowered to enact change now rather than waiting to get to the “real world” after graduating.

Furthermore, I came to this training because I believe it is vitally important to include student voice in this movement because students are one of the primary users of school.

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. Everyday I feel like I know myself a little bit better and am improving my skills as a learner a little bit more due to the opportunities I have to take ownership of my learning and blur the lines between school and the real world. – The Life of Pinya; The Movement: Transforming Education

I was thrilled that out of the 70 some people at the training, there were about 14 young-learners in the room; I’m ready for even more! Sometimes when wanting student voice, adults gather a group of only young-learners to discuss education transformation topics. While I love speaking with a large group of young-learners, when adults are still in the room there is still this power struggle with the idea that the adults still have the superiority in the room. Something I loved most about this experiance was that everyone-no matter age- was treated the same. There was no separation of groups by age, there were no limits on talking either because C1vNnIzXAAAyjjq.jpgyoung-learners felt overpowered or because adult-learners were prohibited from talking, there wasn’t even the specific placement of more or less of one aged learner at a table. The balance is starting to become more equal, and it was extremely powerful! It was evident by the way conversations were held that no one felt limited by their age to participate or felt forced to hold the pressure of representing all of the student voice by their self.

I personally hope to continue to empower more young-learners to be involved in the movement, because it’s always helpful to have some smaller people in your community in order to hold up the part of the house wall that’s closer to the ground.