Beating the Game Itself

Five years ago I had recently started watching the Disney show Girl Meets World, the sequel to Boy Meets World based on Cory and Tapanga’s daughter Riley.  I love the show because it reminds me a bit of some of my high school classes, where the teacher cares enough to know all of the details happening in various students’ lives and tries to teach in a way that provides life lessons beyond the classroom.

While I was watching this show I frequently ended up making connections between the lessons taught on the show, and observations I was making in my own life; therefore, many a blog post were inspired by this show. And I think that’s why I decided to start re-watching this show now that I have so much free time with social-distancing; I wanted to revisit these life lessons but with new observations.

One of my old blog posts inspired by Girl Meets World that I remembered being particularly impactful is called Playing the Long Game. The episode this post was based on is about how sometimes people might fight, but later in time, they may realize it’s actually best to work together to overcome greater challenges. This lesson was learned through a family game night where there are two ways to play the game: the short game where everyone is competing against each other to win, or one person can decide instead of winning on their own to choose to play the long game where everyone must then join forces and play together in order to beat the game itself.

Previously, I compared this episode to the struggle of competition within the classroom and how I wish there could be more moments of working together to beat “the game” (an assignment, school, whatever “the game” is) itself rather than always trying to beat each other in order to win the game.

I just got to this episode again, but this time I had a different reaction thinking now about life beyond the classroom.

At this moment in time, we are facing a great challenge and individuals around the world are deeply struggling with all of the changes to everyday life. To make it through these times we have to remember to focus on playing the long game – a game we have to play together in order to win. We need to keep our eyes focused on our common goal to have a better future that can only come when we join forces and utilize our individual strengths to lift others up. Some days might be hard. Some days we might feel like we’re still playing the game alone. But if we remember to ask for help when needed and give our help when needed, then we won’t be alone and we can beat the game itself.

The Gift of Time

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Felt like I did pretty well for day 1 in isolation.

I started the day by reconnecting with some of the gymnasts I coach. I woke up early so I joined their afternoon Zoom workout and it was nice to see so many smiling faces in the midst of so much crazy. One kid changed her username to say “I love coach Anya” and it was kind of the sweetest thing ever.

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I then spent a good chunk of time playing my flute – I am very happy I decided to prioritize bringing it with me to New Zealand despite the extra weight. I’ve been practicing getting better at keeping time and listening to different parts by “playing with myself” (ie videoing myself playing each of the different parts in a song). Today my song of choice was, “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton the Musical.

After lunch, I decided to start brainstorming some ways to make this challenge into an opportunity, specifically in regards to our gym. We’ve always said we wanted to get better at journaling and now that we have to move online anyway, I figured it was a great opportunity to start making progress on this task. So I made some prototypes of “Gymnastics homework” where we can give conditioning assignments and a place to share weekly goals and accomplishments related to healthy living; that way all of our girls feel like they can be making tangible progress on their gymnastics even without being able to train their skills full out. I also started brainstorming some potential new gymnastics social media challenges and various workshops we might be able to offer via zoom.

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 7.05.55 PM.pngNormally around this time of year, I would be finishing up choreo for our end of the semester showcase and starting to teach the routines to the girls. Since this isn’t going to happen under normal circumstances, I’ve been working on creating a whole new routine so it can be performed and recorded at home and then I plan to video edit all the parts together. Two things I needed to learn to make this happen: better video editing skills and learn more sign language to use as part of the dance. I got started on both of those learning goals today and feel pretty good about the progress I’ve made.

The most important thing I was reminded of today is how much fun it can be to learn new skills and to revisit and build upon old skills. I know of my friends and family have already come to this conclusion after having lived in this reality of social distancing, online learning, and lots of free time for about a week now, but experience really does make a huge difference in understanding. Sometimes having time for “nothing” can truly be a gift for all sorts of wonderful new ideas.

Recording History

Well, it’s official, New Zealand has joined the rest of the world in this pandemic and goes into “lockdown” mode in 48 hours. Schools have now been closed/moved online and other organizations are following suit with everyone preparing for the next 4 weeks staying at home.

History is being made right now, and I figured I should write/reflect about it, so here’s my update from New Zealand:

I’m 17 hours ahead from my home in the US, and yet in some ways, I feel a week behind. The past week and a half I have been dealing with the fact that the situation in the US has gotten increasingly worse and all study abroad programs were canceled with students being asked to return home. I had to decide by last Wednesday if I was going to stay here and sign away GT’s liability to me being here or go back home to the states where the health situation has been significantly worse. I decided to stay because I believe one of the worst things to do right now is travel, and I feel confident in NZ taking advantage of the extra time we’ve had here to prepare for the worst of it. So I’m here for the long-hall for now and just taking everything day by day flying solo.

^This was last week.

Today, in the middle of my International Management class, the Prime Minister announced that NZ has had 36 new confirmed cases of the virus (bringing us to a total of 102 and spreading through the community now); therefore, the decision was made to up the country to a level 3 warning which will change to a level 4 warning in 48 hours.

Since then the city has kind of been in mass prep mode.

I can’t help but find things slightly amusing, because in my mind I knew this announcement was coming any day now. The past two weeks I’ve been getting updates from friends and family and twitter back home about things slowly shutting down and school-going online and toilet paper leaving the shelves. I’ve been hearing so much, and with study abroad programs being canceled also having to think about things so much, it’s almost felt like I was living in that reality too. Even though here in NZ, I was still just going to classes per-usual and dealing with the debate about going home or not while trying to submit assignments in on time.

I specifically treated last Friday like it would be my last day on campus, being sure to buy my last scone from the cafe, getting a sweatshirt souvenir from my host university, and getting lunch at my favorite spot. Then I spent the weekend starting to stalk up on groceries and cleaning supplies.

However, with the way people were acting today, it was clear that not everyone was on the same mental page as me. It was almost as if people didn’t see this situation as inevitable.

Traffic was crazy. Grocery stores were packed with check out lines going to the back of the store. Everyone looked in a rush on the sidewalks. And this was all happening only about an hour or so after the announcement while I walked home from my class. I can only imagine what things got like later in the day.

I got home and shortly after my roommate came in with her parents and suitcases already packing up to go home along with the dozens of others in the hallways. Meanwhile, I’ve been sitting at my desk updating friends and family thinking to myself, “deja-vu.” It’s like we’re just a week or so behind everything that I’ve been hearing about in the States.

So now I’m safe and healthy alone in my apartment with lots of food supplies ready to take things day by day and readying my friends for lots of video chats. With all of this newfound time I hope to be better at blogging more frequently and I would challenge others to also create a blog to share your stories during this time of uncertainty. 30 years from now students are going to be doing school projects about “The Great Pandemic of 2020.” Wouldn’t it be cool if these future learners had all sorts of primary resources from families around the world sharing about what their daily life was like during social-isolation? Not to mention, blogging can be a great way to consume time and reflecting is a great tool for mental health management.

Whether it’s every day, once a week, three times a week, every other day, or even once every two weeks recording our history is important and everyone’s stories matter. I challenge learners of all ages to reflect, write, and share your stories.  

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 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!

Brave Ballet Boys

I had to write a blog post about the #boysdancetoo movement storming social media this weekend. I’m a little late to this conversation and probably won’t provide any new insight on the topic, though perhaps there’s a chance I’ll bring attention to this issue to a new audience, and that chance was enough to get me writing.

Friday on Good Morning America co-host Lara Spencer laughed at Prince George for taking ballet classes which inspired dancers and other members of the arts community around the country to use this as an opportunity to voice the struggle of boys in dance.

It’s appalling to think in today’s society we still have people laughing at boys in dance or any arts programs. I don’t think Spencer even realized what she was implying by laughing at the idea of a boy in ballet class – she’s just been raised in a world that associates dancing with girls and thus the idea of anything else seemed funny to her and lots of others. It’s important to remember that not all bullies realize they’re bullying; sometimes the reason things hurt so bad is that the other person fundamentally doesn’t understand why they’re wrong.

I’ve been highly involved in the arts all my life and have guy friends and family members in the arts as well; so I am constantly hearing how hard it is for boys to participate in dance, theater, or even just a visual arts class at school, and it’s ridiculous. Ridiculous to think boys can’t do anything girls can do and visa a versa.

To participate in the arts takes discipline, persistence, vulnerability, craftsmanship, courage – what human would we not want to exhibit these traits? And yet boys around the world get bullied every day for showcasing their talents. I’ve witnessed first hand how demoralizing it can be for young boys to be told they are less of a man for following their passions, and it breaks my heart when more often than acceptable these boys drop the arts just to get away from the taunting.

Why does this bullying still persist? Because society continues to promote these ideas with every laugh and snide comment made towards boys in the arts.

In the past few days since this news report was aired, there has been a myriad of post on social media about inspiring male dancers and all the influential male figures who once took dance lessons as kids and how toxic this broadcast was to all young ploys starting a career in the arts. But what makes me most sad is that unless you already follow members of the arts community, you probably will never hear all the inspiring comments being made. So all those people around the country agreeing and laughing alongside of this broadcast will just continue to elongate this negative cycle of criticism, shaming, and bullying.

And it always comes back to the kids. Kids who listen and mimic what they hear. We need to spread positive rhetoric about boys in the arts, showcase their talents, and let the bullies know just how wrong they are. Boys in the arts are some of the bravest and strongest men I know.

This was especially evident when in response to the broadcast a few big-name dancers and choreographers gathered in NYC Monday morning to have a ballet class on the streets of Time Square in front of Good Morning America. There were hundreds on the streets – boys and girls alike – dancing down the pavement to show just how strong and connected of a community the dance world is. There were also comments made at this event about how this ballet class was not fueled by hatred; they were dancing to forgive and to take advantage of the opportunity to bring attention to the issue of boys in the arts being bullied.

I’m not a ballet dancer, so instead of dancing, I’m writing about this story because it truly is an issue that should present a challenge to our school systems. HMW encourage boys in the arts in our schools?

Traditional but Good?

I finished reading “Whatever it Takes” and I found it truly fascinating because it challenged a lot of my thoughts on the education system. It’s hard to argue that the Promise Academy isn’t a wonderful thing: it’s educating children in poverty and helping them get into college by staying on grade level. However, Canada’s primary measurement of success is entirely based on standardized testing. Kids are drilled for the test. There are early morning classes and afterschool classes and even Saturday classes all aimed at further test prep. The book talks about how test prep during the school day started to squeeze out time meant for things like the arts and projects and physical activities and the biggest supporter of these programs, the first middle school principal, Terri Grey, was eventually fired because her priorities didn’t align with preparing students for the test. 

This method of schooling goes against pretty much everything I’ve come to believe about education. I think assessment is important – this is how we get feedback and measure progress – but, the traditional methods of school assessment, such as grades and standardized tests, are no longer measuring the right outcomes of schooling. To truly be prepared for college and beyond in today’s world, a student needs more than the ability to memorize information and control anxiety and focus long enough to take a four-hour long test. Students need to be critical and creative thinkers that know how to solve complex problems on diverse teams. They need to know how to network, present, research, listen, empathize, and take agency just as a start. These skills are not measured on standardized tests, so if you only teach to the test, how do you develop all of these other skills? I don’t think it’s possible. As Grey hinted at, these are two very different education paradigms that would be paradoxical to co-exist. 

Sure, soft skills were mentioned from time to time in “Whatever it Takes.” It seemed certain teachers tried to incorporate soft skills in their classroom, but these were often minor lessons about being polite and talking and listening in a professional manner, and these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of important soft skills to know. There was no mention of collaboration or giving presentations or complex problem-solving or anything to that caliber. 

Now I understand that, as a new charter school, Promise Academy had a duty to perform. They had to do well on standardized tests in order for the city to let them continue with their charter. Furthermore, while I don’t think standardized tests should be the ultimate measurement of success, I can’t deny that they do help measure basic knowledge (ignoring the elements of test anxiety and being distracted, etc). For the students in Harlem attending Promise Academy’s Middle School, the vast majority were below grade level. I can understand how it might be hard to think beyond, “We need these kids at grade level on these tests,” and going into testing bootcamp mode is one solution to this problem. It’s hard to spend time on projects and developing soft skills when there is the hugely apparent obstacle of kids lacking basic math and reading skills. I can empathize with this train of thinking, but I can’t accept that teaching to the test is the best method for preparing students for college and beyond even for kids who have “fallen behind.” But I also can’t deny that Canada was successful. His methods got underperforming kids up to standard and even off to college. 

That in itself is still pretty remarkable and that’s exactly why this book has been challenging for me to read. It’s made me wonder: how can a school that to me is focusing on all the wrong things, also be doing so much good? And while struggling with this question for past few days, I think I’ve finally come to an answer: it’s because traditional schooling is not inherently bad. Traditional schools can still help kids learn, be a safe environment, be supportive, help kids get to college and be a place alum are proud to come home to. Traditional schooling isn’t all bad, it’s just that it needs an update – the core principals of our education system haven’t changed in the past century since it’s founding, but we live in a very different world now. 

Our world requires more of employees now, like the soft skills previously mentioned. We’ve learned that our students can do more now, like contribute on community projects no matter how young they are. Our colleges expect more now, like participation in the arts, extra projects, and sports. “Whatever it takes” has made me realize that most of the time when I’ve thought about learner-centered education, I’ve a – mostly been discussing high school students, and b – not given a lot of thought to educating underperforming students. But most of all, this book has reminded me why it can be so hard to convince skeptics of learner-centered education; it’s because some traditional schools are in fact doing good for society, but the thing is, now it’s time to be doing even more.