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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Old Ideas Brought to Life

I’m a proud advocate of taking time to acknowledge and celebrate the little wins in life. Today I had a double little win party.

First I discovered that I have officially written over 700 blog posts and am celebrating the beginning of my fifth year now of blogging! I mean five years is a pretty long time- it means I’ve been blogging for over a fourth of my entire life.

With the realization of this momentous anniversary, I decided it was time for an upgrade of sorts. Time for me to finally do something I’ve been talking about doing since only a short bit after I started blogging: create business cards.

I’ve been to a number amount of conferences and events in the past five years, and beyond that, I’ve run into dozens of people outside of event situations whom I’ve met and thought, “Well too bad I don’t have a business card to easily give this person all of my information…”

Thus I made it a goal of mine to prototype some business cards this weekend before heading off to the International Seminar in Vermont tomorrow.

I don’t think I realized how much I had been anticipating doing this over the years, but when I finally got them to print correctly I most certainly did a little happy dance and let out a little “YESSSSSS!”

Sometimes it takes a big realization to finally set in motion old ideas, but that doesn’t make those old ideas any less exciting when they finally come to life.

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.

One Night Only

Today my sister said, “You’re twenty and thriving,” and I was very quick to correct her in that I’m only 19. However, to her point today has been a very adulty day.

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It started out with me attending the SPARK event hosted by Innovation Diploma students. This event was two hours of design thinking fun getting to brainstorm ideas for Chris Hellmann, Global Vice President and General Manager of the Coca-Cola Freestyle division. It’s a little odd to be a “guest” now, though it was particularly funny today because I had one of those moments of realizing just how well I was trained because it was easy to kind of slip a little into facilitation mode to help push my table to think deeper about the problem.

Then immediately after SPARK I hoped on Marta and headed to the airport. I’m currently safely in DC, not running away from finals, but instead, I was flown here for a gathering of Education Reimagined community members. Tonight was just a welcome dinner, but tomorrow we’re working for the better part of the day brainstorming the core components of an idea for a nationwide event around celebrating innovative learning!

I’m still just so thrilled to have been one of the few invited to this meeting and can’t way to see where tomorrow takes us. Right now, truly anything is possible because the idea is still in its infancy and I’m really excited to get to expand upon my leadership skills by helping with the originating of a nationwide project.

I’m one of I think six young learners who will be in attendance and I got to talk with four of the five tonight at dinner which is always fun. We were all talking about how crazy it seems to be flying to another state just for one night to have a meeting. It feels so “real-world” business-like and it just makes me even more grateful for the incredible high school experience I was able to have which lead me to be involved in this community.

I’m actually super happy the SPARK event was earlier today because it was such a nice reminder of how far I’ve come by getting to work with ID kids this morning partnering with the local community and then getting to fly out to DC to work with a national community.

It doesn’t seem particularly out of the ordinary to be on this one night adventure, even though I’ve not done this before, it just seems like the inevitable because I was taught to dream big, network, and take advantage of opportunities.

We Need More Magic

I’m currently about halfway through my week of adventures in Italy with 7 members of my family, and so far it’s been a world wind of emotions. Yesterday though was particularly interesting because my aunt and I met up with the mom of a friend she made while at an artist retreat in the jungle. We had never met this woman before, and needless to say, it was a very random connection in which we had no idea what to expect, but we had a great time!

We grabbed some gelato and took a pit stops at the local market to get some food, and then we went back to her incredible apartment overlooking the river and ate some lunch while discussing life. It turns out that she is a native English woman who is semi-accidentally became a homeschool teacher who has lived all over the world and only recently moved to Rome. I say semi-accidentally because she started out homeschooling her own children and then, due to happy circumstances and a willingness to take risks and seize opportunities, she started a whole homeschooling meets tutoring business. Kids who speak all sorts of languages will work with her for various amounts of time to help with getting ready for going to English school by exploring Rome and making personalized “classes” relevant to the lives of these children.

She was speaking all sorts of learner-centered language and it was honestly just crazy awesome to me that even though we live on different sides of the world we had such similar opinions and ideas about the education system; there is truly a universal language around transformative education that is developing!

As perhaps one may guess, we had some very interesting conversations about education. Particularly, I loved how we talked about the necessity of incorporating magic and fantasy into education.

Think about it: the world around us is full of magic- things we can’t see or fully explain but know that they exist- like gravity, types of lights, dark matter, etc. Now some things may just not exist, but letting ourselves believe in magic helps to teach us to be imaginative and push the boundaries of what is real and strive to make the impossible possible. Once upon a time airplanes seemed like a magical fantasy, and look at us now exploring what it might look like for humans to live on Mars! We have to teach kids to dream and believe what they can’t see if we truly want them to be innovators and be willing to conceptualize what we believe is true about the world. So why don’t we talk about magic more often in school? Especially beyond elementary school! Plus in my mind it’s such a great way to bridge the gap between humanities and stem courses; reading about magic and discussing what science the magical concepts were based around and then imagined further sounds like a fabulous integrated project.

With this discussion, we talked about a wonder of ours: are we teaching sciences to the wrong age groups? Physics is crazy! Nano-science, space, light and sound, etc, there are so many things that can be kind of hard to imagine existing when we can’t really see them nor do we know everything about how they work, but it’s young children that typically have the greatest bandwidth for believing in the unknown. What if we spent more time exploring big science concepts like dark matter to elementary schoolers, and in high school, we spent more time continuing to foster the ability to imagine, dream, and believe in seemingly crazy possibilities?

Community of Learners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, “Where’s the evidence of this working?” but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working. Everyday I feel like I know myself a little bit better and am improving my skills as a learner a little bit more due to the opportunities I have to take ownership of my learning and blur the lines between school and the real world. – The Life of Pinya; The Movement: Transforming Education

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

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

Inspiring Minds United At Last

What happens when you take motivated students from unique schools across the east coast and bring them together for a conference? Mind-blowing awesomeness!!!!!

I’m currently in Washington D.C. for a 3 day conference called SparkHouse run by Education Reimagined. To be honest I don’t entirely know what’s going to happen these next few days, but today was the initial dinner meet up and it was fantastic!

Everyone here (students and teachers, and it’s mostly students on purpose) is just great and very open and clearly creative and passionate about how education needs to change. I feel like I’ve known these people forever because everyones so easy to talk and relate to. Plus everyone comes from a school doing awesome weird stuff, so it’s been super interesting learning about the different school styles. It’s actually become a joke that the way we introduce ourselves and our starting conversations are based on, “So why are you here? What does your school do that’s different?”

So far I’ve met people from Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky and I’ve heard all sorts of cool things. For example: students running a Kroger and a bank at school; students from 7th-12th grade having classes together; students spending each Friday doing crazy activities like mountain biking; students that have no grades or standardized tests; and I’m sure I’ll learn more in the days to come!

IMG_6200.JPGNone of the students really know what we are going to be working on quite exactly, but we’re excited to share our voice and have enjoyed playing games and talking together so far. I can’t wait to see what’s in store because we’ve gathered a pretty inspiring group of minds so I feel ready for anything right now!

 

Blogging Helps with College

Image result for essay writingIt’s amazing how much blogging has made my life better. Not only has it made me a better writer, increased my network, allowed me to track my learning, helped me clarify thoughts in my head, and gotten incredible writing opportunities, but it’s also helped a lot in the college process.

Most students have a hard time writing about themselves because creative non-fiction is a genre of writing that is focused on hardly at all in grade school. However, my blog is entirely about myself in someway or another because it’s all about my thoughts on the world, and my actions, and my life in general. My blog has helped me find my voice- not just the voice I take on when trying to write for school- but my authentic internal voice, which is supposedly what colleges want to see.

I’ve had the opposite problem of most students when writing my college essay because most students don’t know what to say or where to begin. Meanwhile, I’ve grown so use to writing a story every single day, that I felt like I had a million stories I could potentially use for my Common App essay. I had 3 different drafts done by Senior BootCamp, and had many more stories I could’ve told. I then narrowed it down to two, but thought they both represented me well. Finally, after some help from my college councilor tonight, I was able to pick one for my Common App essay which has to do primarily with when I first gave my MoVe Talk: Thinking Like a Designer.

I can only wait until I start working on college specific essays and other supplement questions, because with my blog it’s so easy to just scroll through the past few years and remember not only things that I’ve done, but also how I felt and what I was thinking about the day they happened. It’s kind of the best!

 

Escaping Technology

imgres.jpgAfter a week of no cell service or internet while at my family reunion in West Virginia, I’m now back to a world of college touring, conference calls, interview planning, essay drafting, book reading, summer-mathing, and lots of emailing. Once my phone finally got service again, I had 154 texts and 94 emails to go through.

Every year when I go to Capon (oddly enough they have a website now), I end up blogging afterwards about how much I surprisingly enjoy the fact that there is no connection to the outside world. It’s nice to de-stress by unplugging every now and then, and it’s the one place I can go and have a good reason to just not respond to things for a little. I play outside with friends everyday doing everything from badminton to hiking to shuffle board to just playing cards. I try not to worry about all of the millions of things I have to get done by next school year. I have talks about life with people of all ages that I’ve known since birth. It’s just a great time spent with fun friends and family, delicious home cooked food, and tons of space to wander and wonder in.

The odd thing is how few places there are on Earth without wifi and cell service. I was reading a book called The Circle that was pondering the effect of technology on people, and describing how eventually there will likely be no way of escaping it’s grasp. Is that ok? It’s not a “good vs. bad” thing, because it’s both really, but I guess the question is whether or not we want this to be our future reality. Do we want to live in a world where we can’t escape technology?

As much as I love Capon, I know it’s hard for many people to visit who have jobs where they are expected to have various conference calls, or do payroll, or accomplish some task. Not everyone takes the week off to go to Capon and therefore, some people still have to climb up to the golf course and try to find a spot that get’s service in order to keep up with the rest of the world. So there are the good and bad sides to no technology, but eventually there may not be a choice at all; what will we do then?