A Conversation of Values

Today in my human resources class we were talking about the different ways people view work and the importance of  “good work” and a “good workplace.” The idea of “good work” entails 6 key components:

  • intrinsically interesting
  • varying/challenging tasks
  • opportunities for personal achievement and fulfillment
  • teamwork with autonomy
  • pay and job security
  • investment in human capital

These factors are important because “good work” leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment, and motivation which leads to better job performance and overall a more productive business, so it’s mutually beneficial to employees and employers to make a good workplace.

Naturally, me being me, I saw these 6 components and wondered, is school a good workplace? For all stakeholders (admin, staff, teachers, students, parents)?

I mean if we know incorporating these elements leads to better performance based on this business research, to me it seems like a no brainer that we’d also want these opportunities at school.

I’d argue that I see evidence of these components in school, but I think what’s more important is the question of if they are valued. Ie, do we value students being intrinsically motivated at school? Do we value creating a variety of challenging tasks? Do we value-creating opportunities for personal achievement and fulfillment? Etc.

And when I say value, I don’t just mean we appreciate when these things coincidentally happen, I mean do we have goals and action items put in place to ensure they actually happen?

Some may say yes, some may say no, either way I think this framework is an interesting way to think about the kind of environment we’d like to see in school workplaces.

And I know it’s hard to brainstorm goals and action items around concepts like “intrinsic motivation” – it’s something that’s been personally stumping me for years, to the point where I think I’d actually really enjoy partaking in research study around student motivation one day. But maybe sometimes we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves to try and figure it all out, I think what’s important first is to just know what you value and why and claim those values so others know what you value and why. Then we can start worrying about how to make it happen. But a conversation around values is something I think every school needs to have, and more frequently than just when there’s a change of leadership.

Global Leadership

The other night I wrote a pre-flection for a seminar on global leadership, so, now that I’ve attended the seminar, I thought I should write my reflection.

Upon the start of the seminar, it was clear to me that our pre-flection assignment was intentionally focused on leadership as a whole so that the point could be made during the seminar about what makes “global leadership” distinguished from other forms of leadership. However, personally I found myself leaving the event thinking “Is there actually a difference between ‘global leadership’ and just ‘leadership’?”

We discussed the significance of global leaders needing to have cultural intelligence – the understanding that different cultures have different values, norms, beliefs, and often priorities, and the ability to adapt and respond to these differences in an appropriate manner. And apart from the nature of interacting with people from different cultures, we said some other key challenges to global leadership include communication barriers (which is somewhat included with cultural differences but emphasised since not everyone from a different culture also has a different primary language), the potential for false assumptions and their implications, and in many cases global leadership also includes a global team and then there can be additional difficulties with managing travel, timezones, and high amounts of virtual communication.

While I can see how these challenges may play a larger role in a global context, the reason I left the seminar feeling like there isn’t a difference is because I believe a lot of these challenges can also be found with domestic leadership, and cultural intelligence is important for everyone in my mind. It’s very possible to live next door to someone that identifies with a totally different culture from you, but if you work on a team with them I wouldn’t consider that a “global team”, yet the need for cultural intelligence and the challenges presented above would still apply. Furthermore, the skills/actions/behaviors we discussed to combat these challenges are also very important to domestic leadership: don’t be afraid to ask questions, approach decisions diplomatically, know your teammates, acknowledge leadership in others, be a life-long learner willing to unlearn, relearn, and learn new things every day.

It feels cliche to say, but the world is a lot more globalized then it use to be, and perhaps in this globalized world we can no longer distinguish between “global leadership” and just “leadership” anymore. Even when thinking about the degree of awareness needed in regards to global events, often times trends in one country affect another soon after, so even if your work isn’t directly related to global events, it’s important to be aware of what’s happening globally.

So perhaps needless to say, but I wasn’t blown away or particularly inspired by this seminar. I think I expected my thoughts to be a bit more challenged or reframed, but instead everyone in the seminar just kind of agreed with each other about everything discussed. I am also currently taking an entire class on international business, so maybe these kinds of conversations have just become somewhat of a daily habit and thus I’ve decensatized myself from the novelty of the conversation. It was interesting for me though to consider how perhaps the term “global leadership” has lost some meaning as everything becomes naturally more globally minded, so I’m glad I had that to take away.

Thinking on “Leadership”

For an optional seminar I’m attending later this week I have been asked to pre-flect in 250 words about leadership means to me, where I learned about it, and whether I see myself as a leader. So here it goes…

 

I believe leadership is a kind of speaking and listening that causes movement towards a shared goal and larger purpose. It requires a sense of empowerment, unity, and respect amongst a community. When you see people working collaboratively, actively listening to one another (leaning forward, nodding heads, snaps in agreement), and discussing a vision for the future, then you know there is leadership present despite there being an identified “leader” or not. 

There isn’t any one particular place or time that I can attribute to being where/when I “learned leadership.” My opinions have been formed through observation, experience, and thoughtful discussions throughout my life. I was, however, deeply impacted by one particular leadership conversation I had during my senior year of high school when I attended the first annual SparkHouse gathering with the organization Education Reimagined. At this gathering, we, young learners from around the country, spent a few hours distinguishing what leadership meant to us and how we would identify it in a room. I found this activity extremely engaging and intriguing and every year I’ve attended SparkHouse, it’s my favorite conversation. In fact, my first sentence represents the latest outcome of this conversation. 

I do see myself as a leader in some contexts, though I also believe that everyone is a leader if given the right contexts. Everyone has the ability to help move people towards a shared goal through their speaking and listening, and I believe at some point or another everyone has demonstrated this quality.

The Evolution of an Idea

As a follow up to last night, where I choose to read old blog posts instead of writing a long new post, it seemed only right to reflect today on what I read.

One of the posts I revisited I call “The Gymnastics Theory.” I wrote this post back in 2014 but the concept of how the future of education could be influenced by the world of competitive gymnastics is something I frequently come back to. It was interesting to read this post that outlined some of my original thoughts on the topic, and because it’s a topic that comes up often for me I thought it would be good to reflect on what’s changed since my 2014 version of this theory.

Since 2014 I’ve definitely built on the theory quite a bit. In particular, a big difference is simply in my terminology. In this post from 2014, I talk about learning being “skill-based” and I’ve now realized this was my simplified way of saying that gymnastics is an example of an already existing, successful model of systemic competency-based learning. In fact, the main reason The Gymnastics Theory continues to come up for me is because I’ve found that it’s a helpful example when trying to explain what competency-based learning could look like. At a few conferences now, I’ve been given feedback that even for someone with practically no understanding of gymnastics, (ie. you maybe watch it in the Olympics and that’s about it) this was an easy to understand example for contextualizing competency-based learning for people just learning about this concept.

Furthermore, I’ve done a lot more thought into the division of groups in gymnastics versus traditional schools. In my old post, I simply mention how gymnastics levels are not determined by age and how practice groups may not be the same as competition groups because by practicing with levels above and below you there are more opportunities for peer-peer mentorship and leadership. All of these facts are still very true and relevant, but now I’ve taken this a bit deeper and started to imagine how the entire structure of gymnastics levels and transitioning between levels works and how it’s comparable with education.

I don’t want to go too in-depth into this right now, maybe I’ll finally get around to making a more official written update on my entire theory sometime soon… but for now, I want to focus big picture on what’s changed not all the specifics of my thinking. The summarized idea though is that gymnastics actually has two somewhat parallel tracks that gymnast can take depending on their needs/what they hope to get out of the sport, and between the two tracks there are three different types of levels designed to more efficiently test skill proficiency at different points in a gymnast career. I’ve done a lot of imagining about what it might look like if education followed a similar structure.

Finally, I think the biggest change in my thinking in my commentary on school not being a competition. Now that I’ve had 6 more years being in school and gone through the college process, I totally disagree with 2014 Anya. School is a competition. It might not be advertised that way, and we might even be explicitly told sometimes to not think of it that way, but at the end of the day, we’re always competing. This semester even, my Marketing 101 professor spent the first 10 minutes of class emphasizing how we are always competing for grades, jobs, promotions, etc so we might as well get in that mindset now and be ready to fight for the win. People are always being compared to others because everyone wants the best candidates for their team. School might not have formal competition events for assessment purposes, but it’s definitely a competitive atmosphere. I don’t think that has to be a bad thing, personally, I find competitions to sometimes be a great motivator, but it has to be healthy competition in order to be motivating and that’s something that school isn’t always great about creating the environment for. Again, I’ve done a lot more thinking in the realm of what “healthy school competition” looks like, but my thoughts are not fully formed yet so that’s as much as I’ll say for now.

Overall, I’m very amused by how much has grown and changed with my thinking since this original idea came about in 2014. These two worlds of gymnastics and education are both very close to me and it’s always fun to make connections between the two. Maybe re-reading this old post is the prompt I’ve been waiting for to finally attempt writing out all of my thoughts on the topic – and figure out a more articulate way to write them, because I’m sure this post is kind of funky just due to the fact that I’ve been thinking about this concept for so long that it’s getting all jumbled trying to come out of my head now.

(I drafted about three more paragraphs on my “summarized” version of the levels structure description alone before realizing that was way too much for this post… so trust me when I say there is lot’s more. I mean I didn’t even mention the scoring system.)

“Kicking & Screaming”

I’ve been hearing a lot of conversations lately around how powerful it’s been to see students speaking out for changes to education because the traditional model doesn’t work online. Many also express their hope to see this sudden uprise of student voice and agency in education continue once we are allowed back in school buildings. Furthermore, people are hoping if learners come back “kicking and screaming, and demanding change” then things might actually start to look different long term.

However, my fear is that students that may be proving more feedback than usual right now aren’t going to realize that the newfound power of their voice isn’t just due to distance learning. Student voice has always been powerful, but I fear when we get back into classrooms, students will think, “Okay, now things are back to ‘normal’, therefore, my opinions on how school should be run no longer matter.”

It’s invaluable to have student voice to better re-design the learning process and make sure we’re meeting user needs. And it’s inspiring it is to see students having agency during a time when there isn’t really accountability- there aren’t many viable punishments right now, so you can’t scare students into coming to class and participating, they have to actually want to learn. So everyone is wondering, “How might we continue to see student voice and learner agency when we return to our schools?”

Well, I propose that step 1 is that we have to make sure students even realize what student voice and agency mean and help them be able to identify that they have it.

I think we are currently seeing a rise in student voice and agency out of obligation. I know from personal experience that I’ve had several moments in the past few weeks were I’ve participated in school-related feedback sessions just because I feel like it’s one of the few things I can do so I should be doing it. Things are so new and different that, even if they can’t articulate it, learners realize they have to have agency if they want to keep from getting bored or mentally unstable. Furthermore, they acknowledge that with these changes it makes sense that school leaders want to hear student stories and opinions because everyone is flying blind so the more help the better. It’s easy to accept these concepts as being necessary and normal right now. But student voice and agency were already invaluable before we moved to distance learning, most students just didn’t realize it.

Student voice I think is a bit more straight forward in terms of meaning, but I don’t think most students realize just how powerful it is in the eyes of educators to get true feedback directly from the users, ie. students. I also believe this is in part because most students don’t think their thoughts will really be taken seriously – I’ve pretty much been directly told this before. Anyone who knew me in high school would say I was part of the “smart people group” – the same group some people may refer to as “teacher’s pets” – and yet even some of my closest friends would sometimes make comments about not thinking administration really cared about student opinions. Not to mention students who weren’t typically thought of as being part of the “smart people group” would make snide remarks about feeling like they weren’t one of the “chosen ones” so why should they even bother to share their opinions.

Right now everything about school is different, and so it’s easier to grapple with the idea that teachers and administrators might care a little more about all student opinions right now. If we want to continue to see student voice upon returning to our usual learning environments, there has to be more transparency with students so they know if they speak up they’re actually being heard.

When it comes to learner agency, I bet 9/10 learners couldn’t articulate what it means to have “agency.” I mean even as I’m writing this post my computer keeps underlining the word agency thinking I’m using it incorrectly because it thinks I’m talking about a corporate agency. Additionally, I’ve been to at least a dozen education conferences at this point that talk about learner agency, and even I sometimes wonder about how to best describe it which is what makes me really doubt students without a particular passion for transforming education can actually tell you what agency is.  Learners can have agency without understanding it, but if we really expect students to come back to school and “demand” that they have agency, they have to know what it is.

We can’t just keep hoping that learners will all of a sudden start “kicking and screaming” for education change and that’s what will make the difference. Some learners, I believe myself to be one of these learners, will have an amazing experience with learner-centered education, realize that the experience was partly due to feeling like they had a voice and agency in their learning, and then start advocating for change. But I know I’m not the normal student, and most learners don’t have this reaction even after a crazy out of the box experiences.

My first of a series of “ah-ha experiences” happened at the 2013 Council on Innovation. I was one of twenty students asked to spend an entire day not going to classes and instead partake in this day-long design thinking event alongside twenty community experts and visionaries. Of those twenty students that participated, I was the only one that after the experience decided I needed to start “demanding change,” and I wouldn’t even call it demanding per-say, I just started conversations. Later in time others began to agree that things could be better if they changed, but I wouldn’t say they were “kicking and screaming” about the necessity of these changes. Now obviously this one-day event is not as big of a change in the learning environment as the weeks we have already and are still yet to experience online during this pandemic, but I don’t expect the results to be much different in terms of how many students are going to come out of this wanting immediate permanent change. Honestly, from what I keep hearing from my friends and the kids I coach, I’m expecting most students will just want to feel like things are “normal” again and want to stop dealing with so much change.

So yes it’s great and inspiring to see how learners are reacting during these challenging times, and I would love to see more learners speaking up for long-term education change, but if we want to see this happen I think it’s going to take a lot more than just hope. We can’t just expect to have this big unique learning experience (if that’s how you want to describe the current circumstances) and then have dozens of learners suddenly come back as reborn advocates of learner-centered education. We need action not just hope. We need to be open and honest to learners about how much influence they currently have over education, and then guide them in the process of reflecting on how this might factor into what they expect/want out of school upon returning to our buildings. Most importantly though, we have to make sure learners realize that they even have voice and agency and that it matters far beyond the scope of distance learning.

 

Student Gov’t: Beyond Dance Committees

Having only been in the New Zealand education system for barely a month, I must say the most impressive thing I’ve noticed is just how much student feedback is valued.

Granted I can’t assume my experience at this one particular university is true for all of New Zealand, just as I can’t assume my singular experience in the American university system is consistent throughout the country. However, in my experience, the student voice at my host university, Victoria University of Wellington, is incredible!

Since the beginning, I have been receiving emails from the student government asking for our feedback before we even started classes, we heard from almost every representative during orientation, and once classes did start I learned about an entire system they’ve established for class representatives. Every class on campus has 1-3 student reps that serve as the liaison between the students in the class, the lecturer, and the student government by helping to provide feedback on the course. I volunteered to be class rep for my international management course because I was curious about what the experience would be like (since we don’t have this role at GT) and also because I saw it as a good way to get to know my professor better (especially now that I”m a junior and am very aware of how soon I will need people to write me rec letters).

As a class rep, I have played a significant role in any changes that happen in this course both by my professor and the student government team. Just today I was asked by the student government team to help review change approval request from mine and other professors in regards to everything that is having to be adjusted for an online learning environment.

It was crazy to realize that every proposal gets reviewed by the student government and also to know how transparent they are about the role of students in the process. I know my home university has a student government and sometimes I hear about their involvement with big decisions, but I don’t get the sense it is nearly as known about or as integral to operations as it’s been here. Nor do I think it’s as simple to join student government at home, versus here it was as easy as just volunteering in class one day to agree to make a class Facebook page, have my contact info shared, and be willing to provide feedback on the course.

Furthermore, it was really crazy to think I personally actually get a say in if I think changes affecting assignments, due dates, and weight towards final grades were reasonable. I’ve never gotten this kind of voice in a class before.

And even before the virus became a global pandemic, my professor had been discussing with me to establish a time mid-trimester to meet up and discuss the course progress and any feedback from the students and also had consulted me when debating on pushing back an assignment due date.

Ever since the pandemic has become an issue in Wellington, the student government has been doing even more very evident work. Everything from calling to check on students still living on campus to writing petitions to local government on behalf of students about grievances in regards to certain policies that were being put in place by the university administration in efforts to mitigate the effects of the virus.

Like I mentioned before, I’ve only been here for a month, and yet I’ve seen the student government so involved in every aspect of university life here. Again, I’m sure the current global situation is somewhat impacting how I’m observing student government here. Considering there is so much affecting students right now, it makes sense the student government is particularly involved at this time. However, even just the fact that the role of “class reps” exists leads me to believe the student government is always highly involved here and student voice is particularly valued more than I’ve noticed at other schools.

I think this role of class rep is a great concept and I’d love to see more universities and even k-12 schools implement similar systems of capturing more direct student voice in regards to the actual academics that happen in learning environments. So often I find that student governments just play a role in things like planning committees for dances, giving tours, and maybe helps with the process of giving feedback on potential new hires. Or even worse, sometimes student governments are merely a status symbol and the representatives don’t do anything beyond giving a platform speech, then it’s a popularity contest for who gets to put “student representative” on their college activity list – because why care about who you’re voting for when you know they won’t do anything? That’s how most students at my high school viewed the student council. Even in schools with more involved student governments, rarely do I find that students have a role in decisions around the actual academics part of schooling such as reviewing course syllabi, giving input on courses for future years, or being consulted about changing class structures mid-semester.

I like the role of a class rep also because it creates an easy way to provide teachers with verbal feedback. End of the year surveys are great for capturing large amounts of data, but they hardly capture the specific little pieces of feedback that are just hard to describe with multiple-choice options. And it makes a huge difference when a supervisor says “here’s what feedback we think is important based on student answers to this survey,” versus actually hearing the feedback from a student directly. Good or bad, I know feedback is more impactful when coming directly from the user.

Being here in NZ this past month has really made me reconsider what I imagine as adequate student voice representation in schools. How might we expand the role students play in decisions being made on campus?

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!

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.

When You’re Lost

Sometimes the greatest things are found when you aren’t looking for them.

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It’s hard to believe it’s only been two full days since I arrived in Prague because it feels like we’ve already done so much and know the area pretty well. I’ve gotten pretty efficient at using the metro and tram to get around and we’ve gotten to that point now where we are wanting the “non-tourist experience.” And what I’ve realized is that some of our best discoveries and adventures so far have been the times we’ve gotten “lost.”

IMG_2596-1.JPGOne time we legitamently got lost by taking a wrong turn at some point on the way to the Charles Bridge (I’m still not fully sure where exactly we went wrong, but we got there eventually). We had a great time though trying to figure out our way back without the use of phones or communication. And then we went on a hunt for the Lennon Wall and found some weird status instead where we met some other people we were able to follow to where we actually wanted to be.

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Then today we intentionally got “lost.” We wanted to go to a new part of town rather than always going over by the bridge (the one area we felt comfortable that we knew), so we just decided to go down a random new road. This road ended up leading us to find beautiful buildings, including a theater, and we even found a little street market with food and crafts and live music which was awesome! Not to mention we had some great ice cream along the walk.

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It’s truly great to just be an explorer sometimes with no real mission or direction, just excitement for whatever might come up along the journey. Not to mention, getting lost really made us think quite a bit. We had to use spatial awareness and memory for figuring out our way back; critical thinking to make the best decisions when there was little info to rely on; communication and leadership to make sure the person with the best idea was truly heard; we even had to embrace our creativity and kid spirit when we found ourself in an interactive toy store.

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So much fun and learning happened while just wondering around and getting lost and trying to get unlost that it made me realize that some of my favorite learning moments have been when I “got lost.” Like when you lose yourself in a good book or lose track of time because your so absorbed in the prototype your building, or when you lose your bias/preconceptions about a character in a show. I wonder what school would look like if we embraced getting lost.

Be Humble, Curious, and Ask Questions

The anticipation of knowing your life is about to change is incomparable. 

I am a rising third-year business major concentrating in Leading and Managing Human Capital while also getting a certificate in social psychology. I hope to go into the field of transformative education which is why I wanted to participate in the Leadership for Social Good Study Abroad Program because I believe social entrepreneurship is the key to re-imagining our education system. 

It’s been one week since the program began and I’ve already had my expectations surpassed beyond what I could have imagined. And we haven’t even gone abroad yet!

We’ve spent this week on the Georgia Tech campus as sort of a prolonged orientation and introduction to social entrepreneurship, and I’m actually really grateful that we’ve had this time pre-traveling to Eastern Europe. This past week we have gotten a chance to discover more about what social entrepreneurship really means and have some heavy discussions around the social sector, nonprofits vs for profits, and what to expect while living in Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary for 8 weeks to study and then intern with a nonprofit in Budapest. This past week has also been a great opportunity for us to meet our cohort and start getting to know each other and work together some before dealing with all the craziness of actually being in a different country. 

At this point in the program, we have already had multiple guest speakers, been on a site visit (with another coming up on our last day in Atlanta), watched numerous TED Talks (by Dan PallottaMelinda French GatesHans RoslingErnesto SirolliMichael PorterRobert RedfordJessica Jackley, and others), had numerous stimulating conversations and debates, completed a few group activities, and explored a dozen or so articles and websites to further enrich our learning about the social sector. Honestly, as a student and someone passionate about transformative education, I could not have asked for a more engaging week. I’ve been extremely satisfied with how the three classes we are taking have been facilitated thus far and I’ve especially loved how all of the classes tie into each other seamlessly to create an overarching experience tying together business fundamentals of social enterprises, innovation and leadership, and nonprofit internship work. And the lessons we’ve been learning I truly believe should be fundamental to everyone’s education experience. 

Some of the key principles we’ve talked about include: 

  • humility is key: never assume you are the smartest in the room or you will always be wrong
  • be curious: seek out new information and explore connections to make new discoveries
  • ask questions and then more questions: really get to know the community you’re working with so that you can work together to maximize assets and change the status quo of deficits 

These aren’t just business principles, these are life principles that everyone should be exposed to during their education experience. I was fortunate to have been exposed to these ideas in high school and now get the joy of diving deeper into them, but as I witness all of the ah-ha moments happening daily for my peers, I have realized how few other learners can say the same thing. I can only imagine how many students have and will graduate college without ever thinking about the importance of humility, curiosity, and questioning – the work that happens before brainstorming “the next big thing” – and this seems unacceptable. Every project needs team members to embrace these principles and it should be necessary for the education system to teach this lesson to all learners, not just those (primarily business majors) who self-select to take time to study social impact once in college. 

Requiring all learners to think about their social impact could also help de-stigmatize ideas around working in the social sector – which absolutely needs to happen. 

First off, a big misconception is that nonprofit workers don’t make money, which is not accurate. The nonprofit sector brings in over 2 trillion dollars in revenue annually, and employees can still live very comfortable lives even in the nonprofit industry. Several of our guest speakers have made it very clear that even though they could probably make more money working in a for-profit business, they are by no means struggling and actually higher up employees are making within the upper 5% of all Americans. 

Furthermore, you don’t have to go into the nonprofit industry to create social impact. There are for-profits with corporate social responsibility platforms, and socially responsible corporations, and social enterprises. It’s become more and more popular for businesses to take an interest in supporting societal issues and in some ways having a for-profit model can sometimes be more helpful in creating sustainable change, as we discussed with the case study of Toms shoes because for-profits typically have more consistent income.       

So far I think what has been most striking to me is just acknowledging that even nonprofits are a business. They still need to market, manage, and create an income just like for-profit businesses in order to be sustainable as an organization. The big difference is just that no one person owns a nonprofit, the community does, and income gets circulated back into the business in order to continue to support the social impact mission. However, despite the fact that nonprofits are also businesses, the public tends to think differently about how a nonprofit should function. 

We’ve in-depth discussed how donators will often place restrictions on how their money can be used, and this restricted money hardly ever goes towards paying the staff members or managing overhead cost like marketing. There is this idea that these kind of expenses are not “worthy” and for some reason “aren’t contributing to the cause.” On our site visit to Global Growers, the co-founder told us that as a nonprofit, getting told funds are restricted is one of the most challenging things. Even if you had millions of dollars to support a new project, you still need money to support the manpower required to actually make the project happen or else the money won’t help anyone. 

Perhaps the biggest misconception though is how we envision “in need communities.” So often we focus on problems and what needs to be “fixed.” Jessica Jackley, the founder of Kiva, mentioned in her TED talk how we are taught as children through school and religion to help the poor, and that there will always be poor people, and we should feel guilty for not helping. So Jessica created Kiva as a way to focus not on the fact that people are poor, but the fact that there are great stories of people with great ideas who just need a little money to help support their families and make their dreams a reality. It’s a shift in perspective that requires respect and acknowledging that everyone should have the right to feel dignified in their place in life. We should be working with communities, not for communities. We have to learn about their traditions, values, and customs. Hear their stories. Embrace their assets not dwell on the deficits. 


We have to be humble, curious, and ask questions. 

I hope to do all of these things as I experience a myriad of new communities and cultures in the following weeks to come. I’m excited for the new discoveries, nervous for what I can’t expect, and encouraged by the week spent in Atlanta that I’m in a community of passionate and open-minded learners who will help me through it all. Moreover, I’m convinced that our lives are about to change and I can’t wait to see how. 


If you’d like to read more about our cohort’s journey, this is the link to our program blog where you can read from other learners on the Leadership for Social Good Study Abroad program. I’m also very thankful to have received the Munchak/Cowan-Turner Scholarship, the Mary E. and William T. Naramore International Study Abroad Scholarship, and Stamps Enrichment Funds which have allowed me to participate in this incredible program and would like to thank these families for their support in my learning journey!