Back to Reality

Today was my first full day back in Atlanta since mid-June. It was a fairly standard day for me being at the gym most of the time and then crashing my brother’s tap rehearsal.

Being back in Atlanta though, it hit me today how close it is to the summer being over. It’s about time for next semester to start and I don’t feel the least bit ready. It’s about time for classes, and projects, and coaching, and acro, and tap, and maybe theater though looking unlikely this semester sadly.

It feels like summer flew by and now it’s back to reality time of needing to get ready for the rest of this year.

I’m not really looking forward to going back to school which is kind of disappointing honestly. I feel like the past few years I’ve always been at least somewhat excited for school to start, even if just for the sake of seeing friends and teachers and a few classes and clubs I knew I could count on being great like Latin and Innovation Diploma. Nowadays though I don’t feel like there’s much I’m looking forward to in regards to school. It was kind of a sad discovery to have as I looked at my messy room and realized it was time to start packing, so now I’ve been trying to really process what might be a positive thing about going back to school but still struggling some…

I think I’ll be closer with my roommates this year which could be fun. I’m moving to the advanced tap group which is kind of exciting, though I still kind of feel like a bit of an outsider at times with the tap troupe because most of the people were besties before forming the troupe. Theater I don’t foresee me being as involved with this semester just due to time commitments with actually working a fixed schedule at the gym this year plus 18 credit hours of classes (which I’m really not excited about especially with still taking so many core courses still); I am excited though to do A Mid Summer Night’s Dream again in the spring. Engineers Without Borders will be interesting considering we’ve finished teaching the class with Paideia, which was what I had joined the team for in the first place, but we’re hoping to continue the education team we just haven’t worked out details so I should get a lot of leadership with that. I’m somewhat excited to start taking psych classes this semester, but “intro to psych” is considered to be sometimes a hard weed out course which makes me a little less excited.

So I guess really I just have a lot of mixed feelings about school starting so soon. I’m not really sure how to feel about some things, meanwhile not excited about most of my classes whereas I use to have more classes to look forward to. My conclusion at this point: I wish higher ed was more learner-centered.

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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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Trailblazers: Issue 3!

It’s finally here! Issue 3 of Trailblazers, our student-driven e-magazine about the Education Transformation Movement, is available for viewing now! Hope you enjoy these remarkable articles written by spotlight learners from around the country including one global perspective. Congrats to all involved with the process of creating this latest issue!!!

View Issue 3 

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Spotlight Learners:

Sophie Haugen – SMforSM: An Educational Partnership 

Bridges by Empathy and Friendship

Lucy Conover – Insπiration

Hannah Bertram – What Learner-Centered Education Did For Me

Innovation Diploma Update – SPARK: A Playground for Creative Thinkers

The Pay Off

Kids are so funny.

Today I had a mom of one of our team gymnasts come up to me after practice asking if I babysit. I told her yes, though unfortunately am unable to this Friday morning which is when she was asking about. Still though, she got my number because apparently her daughter just really wants me to babysit her. She said that her daughter thinks I’m like her lucky charm or something because she’s gotten two new skills in the last week or so and I just happened to be working with her both times.

I found this all very funny because to me I was just doing my job and coaching like normal, but to this girl, it really meant a lot. This same kid has recently gotten to be much more of a leader than in years past because she’s coming even on her optional day of practice and therefore is working with the new team girls as well. She has gotten to lead warmups, demonstrates a lot, and be the “big partner” (and this girl is a pipsqueak so she’s not “big” by any means) and she’s really seemed to be enjoying it.

Her newfound leadership also means she has to set an example during practice by pushing herself to work hard even during the challenging parts of practice like when we condition or work flexibility. It’s great to see her stepping into the role of being a leader and her extra practising has paid off with getting new skills. One of those proud moments as a coach.

Hard work pays off, and it’s kind of nice to be the coach around when it does.

Summer Projects

Working on a design/project team over the summer can be very challenging. The hardest part is trying to make sure everyone is adhering to deadlines and being able to communicate well with each other even without having consistent times where the team is face to face and without having everyone on the same schedule and sometimes not even the same time zone.

It can be hard enough working on a non-school specific project during the school year while everyone has various assignments and other activities going on, then it seems summer comes and everyone really just wants to take a break which makes it even harder to keep working on a project.

As we get ready for Trailblazers Issue 3 to come out (later this month!), our team has been struggling a little with communication and getting those last tasks done. We did a much better job communicating with our spotlight learners to make sure we got their drafts and edits done in a timely fashion, now we’re just working on those last design edits which can sometimes feel tedious. It’s amazing how all the little changes together make a big difference in quality, and when your lead designer ends up in Japan it can make for some interesting challenges which our team has been working through.

I’ve been trying to brainstorm ways we can make the process of going from working on article edits to design edits smoother because it seems to be what’s gotten us stuck most this year.

For one matter, hopefully, we can finally keep the same platform to create our magazine on because so far each issue has been on a different platform which wastes a lot of time trying to transfer and learn how to work the new platform.

The reason we keep switching platforms is that most high-quality magazine design platforms cost money, or at least the premium version which has the functions we would like costs money. However, at this point in time Trailblazer’s is a non-profit, and no one on our team has had real experience with trying to turn a project into a for-profit or even just experience with raising money to fund a project. We wanted to make sure we were really committed to this project before trying to worry too much about money, but now it seems we’re at the point where we may need to start spending some brain power designing for that challenge. I’m hoping as we get two new members joining us this summer for the coming school year, the enlargened team will allow us to divide up roles in a way to take more time brainstorming this platform challenge. (We’ve already created the roles, now we’re in a process of accepting applications for the team.)

Another thing I’m hoping will help our design process, is to create a “Trailblazers Brand and Style Guide” this way it is easier for every team member to know what fonts, colors, pictures, page layouts, etc. we use in the process of developing each magazine. This way it will make it easier for our future lead designers to know what the standards are for our brand versus where there can be created with the design and will hopefully make the process more efficient of getting the articles into the magazine format.

We have already started to discuss work on that and the goal is that we will have this document ready for the next school year, and therefore, before issue 4 of Trailblazers begins production in the fall.

Despite the current challenges we’ve been facing internally that have been rather stressful as a team leader, I’m really excited for Issue 3 of Trailblazers to finally be published later this month! I know it’s going to be great and I’ve loved seeing how our team has improved efficiency and quality with each new magazine!

New Team, New Training

Today was the first day of summer team practice at the gym, which also means that all of the new kids invited to team started coming today.

The first day with a new team is always interesting. Everyone’s trying to learn names and find their place, plus newbies have a lot of changes to try and get used to. The girls who have been on team for a year or so now are just excited about getting to be leaders though they don’t quite know how to be just yet. On top of it all, coaches are trying to gauge ability as we start to think about who will be what level come the fall.

Needless to say, today was a bit slower than a normal team practice and we tried to not get too intense on day one, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the girls grow over the summer. Gymnastics is truly a year-round sport. If you try to take off for the summer, girls often come back pretty behind due to lack of training and potentially growing over the break which changes timing for skills. Since there isn’t school, summer is also the time where a lot of girls get to train more often and really get a lot of new skills that help them advance more than any other time in the year.

I don’t know many activities that are quite as big of a time commitment as gymnastics can be. It’s always crazy to me how many hours such young girls end up training if they’re really committed to reaching their full potential. The maturity of some of our kids always makes me wonder about the way school is divided by age because it doesn’t seem to make sense developmentally to me. Some of our most advanced girls who come close to 12 hours a week just turned seven this past spring, meanwhile, some of our nine-year-olds are the most likely to slack off during practice and can barely handle 6-9 hours a week.

I wonder when grade will stop being determined by age.

More Sticky Notes

Today was a big day for our Paideia students because today was the day we interviewed users!

It seemed as if we might not even have any users to come in to be interviewed with the amount we had to search to find people interested in tiny houses and sustainability who were also available to meet today during the class time. However, somehow we managed to get 4 interviewees, one of which was virtual, who came in today for 15-minute interviews with each of our two teams.

I was incredibly impressed with how far these kids have come with their ability to ask questions. On day 2 during our Flashlab, we were a bit worried because there were a lot of yes or no questions and short, often changing, conversations happening. However, after just a week and a bit they have grown so much! 1334x1000.jpeg.f4cd3a6a28024abe9c5c51eb31c06aec.jpg

Today the interviewees left commenting on how much they liked the teams’ questions and we were having to cut off deep conversations happening due to timing, which was hard to do because it was so wonderful to overhear!

Honestly, what I’ve enjoyed most about teaching this course is seeing how design thinking really affects the lives of students.

Most of these kids didn’t know each other before the class and now we know all sorts of random things about each other; from how we got our names to stories about sibling tensions when the whole family got food poising and were sharing a bathroom.

Plus, Sparks have become a daily norm where we all laugh at how confused the neighboring classrooms must be when they hear us chanting “Jump in, Jump out” or reciting different ice cream flavors, or announcing our superhero names.

1334x1000.jpeg.05f3a73409e1486cbad36c70939e688d.jpgOn the way out of the classroom we’re always told thank you and “can’t wait to see you tomorrow” and one student when doing I Like, I Wish, I Wonder feedback said, “I wish we had more than 18 days in this class!”

They have become learners who question everything, even the challenging topics like “Can you vomit in a composting toilet, and would it be a solid or liquid when separating it into a compartment?”

And they can take those questions and turn them into insights, such as realizing how a toddler might actually be the most receptive family member to adopting a composting toilet because of how the mother said the toddler loves helping out and the ability to take ownership of a process.

I can’t wait to see what insights are found during our unpacking session tomorrow, but first, we need to get more sticky notes- we ran out today…

 

Learn for Next Time

Thank yous, pictures, flowers, and more: #showday

Well, everything happened, no one was injured, and there was applause! Some things today looked far prettier than others, but everyone smiled, kept moving forward, and helped put on a good show; for maybe 5 practices there’s not much more you can ask for.

31956441_10156445774303552_2616326306710683648_nToday was crazy with 25 girls in two group routines and one acro routine, but we pulled it all together and I’m proud of all the girls who participated today. I guess that includes myself since I also performed a basically level 8 acro routine today and that went pretty well. I did have to straight up muscle my partner into one skill because our timing was funny, but I made sure she got up and we finished the skill which I think describes today well: just make it happen and no one will notice if it happened not as planned.

It’s honestly another good performing skill of life. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but the key is to just make sure it goes at all. We can’t always expect perfection because that’s not realistic. We can and should strive to do our best, but most of the time there will still be something we wish we could have done better. Then there comes a choice: get stuck up on what went wrong and be upset about it, or acknowledge and analyze what happened and why in order to make a note of how to improve next time.

As I start to get my end of the semester grades back, I’ve realized the importance of trying to have the mindset of the later.

This year with routines I learned a few things from what went well and what didn’t and I think some can be applied to more than gymnastics:

  • don’t do too much all at the same time (I had learned before that acro should be spread out and made the correction and for some reason went back on it this year and learned it still doesn’t work well…)
  • take more time to understand the skill level of the performers before starting to learn the dance don’t strive for too many new things
  • if you love a routine but don’t have the people signed up you hoped for, don’t try to do the same routine with the same expectations
  • sometimes less is more; it’s okay if not every girl is in every part of a routine, people have their strengths and weaknesses
  • when levels mix they can sometimes be intimidated into being more focused which can be advantageous31944315_10156445774358552_3909090018034974720_n
  • remember camera angles and external factors that may not apply until showtime
  • sometimes performance quality needs to trump wanting to be nice/fair
  • prior level shouldn’t guarantee anything; you always have to prove yourself, you don’t just “deserve” things
  • it’s always different when everyone finally works together at the same time; more mandatory practices are necessary but scheduling in advance is key
  • don’t make assumptions/some people think differently
  • over communicating is better than confusion

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.