iNACOL Day 2: Self-Reflection

Today was amazing! From the start of the day hearing from keynote speaker Derek Wenmoth from New Zealand who somehow made me even more excited to study abroad next year in that amazing country all the way to end of the night where I participated in some fantastic networking events, I was just in awe of this wonderful community.

This was a jam-packed day of learning and networking from 7am – 9pm, but I’m not going to go in detail about everything I did and learned. Instead, I’m going to try and consolidate my thoughts down to one key take away. Today that key take away was actually a self-reflection of starting to better visualize the path I’m headed on.

I’ve been passionate about transformative education since high school, but as I get older and closer to graduate I’m starting to get asked a lot more questions about “what’s next? what do you really want to do? where do you want to go with this?” Well, my method to planning for the future tends to go like this: I say yes to lots of things and get involved in lots of projects. Then I like to stand back and look for patterns/trends in the choices I’ve made to help determine what I’ve enjoyed, where I’ve made a difference, and how I would like to proceed in my learning journey.

Today I stood back and considered the choices I’ve been making in terms of sessions I choose to attend at conferences (this one and others included). The trend I’ve noticed is that I have a deep interest in professional development (including the onboarding process in particular) and research in the science of learning and teaching. Amongst all sorts of choices, I keep finding myself drawn to these two areas, so as of right now I believe that’s the direction I’d like to continue with in the future.

I see myself in both a research and practitioner role, so with that in mind, I’d like to continue my studies by doing graduate school work related to the science of learning and teaching but I’d also like to be active in the field growing professional development programs.

Some people question my desire to go into graduate school, often because they think I want to go just because of old cultural norms around needing higher credentials, but that is not the case for me. I want to go to grad school because I like to learn and I am fascinated by certain classes taught and research being conducted at this level of schooling. I am also very accepting of the idea that we learn by doing though, and that is why I also think it would be beneficial to work some after undergrad (perhaps 2 years or so) before going back for a masters degree, this way I could have a more informed view about what is actually needed in the field in terms of research.

I’m not set in stone with this plan, and I tend to be a person that just says yes when opportunities come my way and that is often how my path is most influenced, but getting the chance to think more deeply about this path of mine through self-reflection inspired by my morning sessions and networking practice at tonight’s community events was very helpful today.

Some times takeaways aren’t a particular conversation or quote or new idea, sometimes takeaways are about how the conversations, quotes, and ideas worked together to influence your own self-discovery. That was today for me and I’m grateful for that opportunity to grow as an individual.

Being Prepared for College

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

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

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

My heart was actually broken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YES!!! – That’s my short answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggles are solved by compromise, not conformity.

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

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

The Outline of the Future

I hate being assigned to write an outline. Most of the time they are graded which I find ridiculous since it’s basically grading a brainstorm… Plus every teacher always wants a different level of thoroughness in the outline, so you never know how much or how little to write. For some teachers, an outline is literally just a bullet-pointed list of a few words, but for others, it seems like we write enough to where we basically have the entire essay minus a few words.

What I especially dislike most of all about assigned outlines is that it always feels like we are formatting it for the teacher and not for ourselves even though the entire point of doing an outline is to better organize YOUR thoughts. You should be able to organize your thoughts any way you choose that works best for you.

For example, I am much more of a visual/kinesthetic learner, and therefore, I gravitate towards making storyboards/story-archs as my prefered method of essay brainstorming. I take a bunch of different colored sticky notes and jot down ideas that I continue to move around and maybe add side notes to until I feel like I have a solid story that I can then just type out. Since I’ve started this method I have found the pre-writing process so much more successful: I’m faster at generating good ideas and faster at organizing them.

Wouldn’t it be cool if when assigned to turn in an outline we could just turn in a picture or physical copy of a story board? I can’t wait for the day that simple ideas like outlines have more options for different kinds of learners.

Address, Announce, Accomplish

Typically at the start of summer break (and also winter break though that’s currently irrelevant), I end up writing on my whiteboard wall in my room a list of summer goals. (Mostly action-oriented goals so that it’s clear what needs to happen for them to be achieved.) It helps me get a visual for what I want to have accomplished by the end of summer. Then I take a picture of the list and have it on my phone to refer to throughout the summer. Even if I don’t get everything on my list complete, I often get a good chunk of the list done and it helps satisfy the part of me that thrives on the feeling of accomplishment when I get to cross things off of my list.

This summer I did not write my list and I’ve noticed the effects. I don’t feel nearly as accomplished as we head into the end of summer, even though I know I did several things that would’ve been on the said list. I also think I procrastinated tasks that would’ve been my “moonshot goals” because I didn’t have the courage to ever make it “official” that I wanted to get those tasks done by announcing them on my whiteboard.

Sometimes changing a habit is how you learn just how much you appreciated the habit. Like when I had to stop taking band my sophomore year of high school because it didn’t fit into my schedule, I then realized just how much I loved playing the flute and how I didn’t want to give it up.

This summer of not creating my goals list has made me realize just how much of an “accomplishment driven person” I am. (I don’t know what fancy wording would be used to describe this kind of person, but that’s what I’ll call it for now.) I like feeling like progress is being made no matter how small, and I do a better job at getting big things done if I can break up a goal into little tasks and then “publicize/make visual” (even if only really to myself) these goals in order to hold me accountable to them.

To some extent, I already knew this about myself, but I think not creating a list for this break for the first time in a few years has made me realize how much more valuable this realization could be. I want to experiment this fall with how I can use this self-discovery to better my work progress.

I already have lots of whiteboards in my dorm room, so I think I’m going to make one of them my designated goals list. Then once a week, or maybe one every two weeks, or maybe some other time frame I’ll have to figure out, I will readdress my list of goals to see what progress I’ve made and what new goals I need to start working towards. My hypothesis is that developing a habit of more frequently addressing what goals I want to accomplish in a given time period will help give me a better work ethic and more positive attitude about making progress.

Some may say, “Why wait until the fall? Why not start now?” and to that I say that for some reason the process of standing in front of a whiteboard and writing down my goals really makes a difference. So rather than creating a big list for future thinking goals, I will start small for now until I get back to my whiteboard; my goal for next week while I’m in Ohio is to finish editing all of the gymnastics music needed for next season.