Student’s Thoughts on Online Learning

As I explored ideas posted on the OpenIDEO platform about re-imagining learning during COVID-19, I noticed that there was a lack of student voice in the conversation, and yet students are the primary users of our education system. As a student myself, I’m very aware that at this time of year, when everyone is finishing up final exams and getting ready for relaxing in summer, most students aren’t keen to go on a site like OpenIDEO to continue discussing school right after they finished the year.

So I thought I would lower the entry barrier into this conversation by texting a bunch of my friends (7th graders-college juniors) 3 simple questions to get an idea about their opinions of online learning. I also set up a Zoom chat for those that wanted to go more in-depth on the conversation where we did a more personalized interview and also a brainstorming session in response to OpenIDEO’s three areas of remote learning, equity, and community. Then I analyzed all the responses, found some themes, and now wanted to share on the behalf of those 23 students who contributed.

 

Research Questions

The three questions I asked these learners to respond to are as followed:

1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

2. What’s your favorite part?

3. It would be better if…

 

Trends

The three greatest trends were students being:

1. Frustrated by their own lack of work ethic/motivation/focus

2. Enjoying the flexibility in terms of space and time offered by online education.

3 Wishing assignments and syllabi, in general, were more greatly altered to better match an online learning environment.

 

Analysis

As we analyze these trends a bit more carefully, it makes me think of these “How might we” statements for looking towards the future of education:

HMW internally motivate students to show up and participate in school? Teachers currently have less power dominance over students when not physically interacting; typical modes of enforcing attendance and participation such as threats of detention, silent lunch, suspension, etc aren’t feasible in an online environment. Now that these threats don’t exist, students are finding themselves less motivated which leads me to believe that the school work itself and the prospect of learning alone are not intrinsically motivating students. Wouldn’t it be great if students actually wanted to come to school and enjoyed participating in school work? The way to encourage life-long learning is to foster intrinsic motivation to learn – that would be a pretty novel purpose for school if you ask me.

HMW provide flexible learning opportunities post-pandemic? The mid-semester shift to a different learning environment on top of all of the other social-emotional priorities that have arisen due to the pandemic has been predominately challenging; however, the unquestionable best part has been the flexibility it has allowed students with regards to their education. Students have loved being able to wake up late and feel fully rested, knock out classwork while cozy in their beds, and then “get on with the rest of my day doing all the other things I want to do.” The ability to plan personalized schedules and work in a setting of choice has been amazing for so many learners, so now that we’ve seen how much students love this flexibility, how might we continue to provide it upon returning to our schools?

HMW effectively use technology in the classroom? The design for assignments to be better adjusted to an online structure was noted as a frustration, a positive element, and a wishful opportunity. So students loved the teachers that were adaptable and used going online as a way to incorporate new elements to their class in meaningful ways, and they were bored and/or frustrated with those who did not. The difficulties some teachers have had with adjusting to a new technological mode of communication raises an important question about how we can more effectively incorporate technology into our schooling even post-pandemic. What students warn us of though, is that technology can’t just be incorporated just for the sake of saying “I used technology!” It must be incorporated intentionally and meaningfully – there must be a true purpose for why the technology is further enhancing the learning experience.

Beyond the Main Trends

In addition to the primary trends, I found three key sub-trends that emerge when looking at how some of the trends interact with each other.

1. Re-thinking assessment (Responses on test cheating, not wanting tests, wanting more collaboration, and more project work.)

2. Maintain a sense of community (Want more socialization, interaction, and meaningful conversations with peers and teachers.)

3. Use a whole-child approach to education (Frustration with expectations not changing, eyes hurting from so much screen time, new challenges such as moving and schooling with family.)

 

Read More

If you want to read student’s full responses as well as my more in-depth analysis of the sub-trends, I have added two additional documents as attachments on my OpenIDEO post.

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.

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.)

Craftsmanship Upgrade

I remember there came a time during Innovation Diploma where we had to all have a conversation about how our level of craftsmanship needed to raise. Our skills had further developed and we had gained more tools since the beginning of the program, so it was time to acknowledge that even “quick prototypes” now needed to have a higher standard of quality.

I was reminded of this conversation today when brainstorming gymnastics music for next year. I have been brainstorming and keeping lists of potential songs and imagining how I might edit the music and choreograph the routines. But then I realized, it’s been at least five years now since I started editing music (probably closer to seven even, but I’m not fully sure when I started), so it’s probably about time I step up my level of craftsmanship.

In the past, because editing music can take a decent bit of time, I usually waited to edit songs until after I got confirmation from others that the song might fit one of our gymnasts. However, I’m realizing now, I’ve gotten a lot better at editing music, so it doesn’t take as long to complete anymore; therefore, I should just go ahead and edit songs I think have potential because even if they don’t get used immediately, then we will have a larger database of future songs.

That’s the approach I decided to take today, so rather than continuing to brainstorm lists, I went ahead and started editing some songs. I finished two songs in one hour and I felt pretty good about that progress. This proved I was right in thinking that my skills have improved to the point where it’s time for a craftsmanship upgrade. So now instead of my “prototype” of new music ideas just consisting of a list of full-length songs I found, I can now provide lists of already edited music which will make it easier to visualize music-to-gymnast fit.

And as we also discussed in ID, once we become more proficient with one tool, it’s time to move on to learning new tools.

Therefore, the next step in my music editing development is gaining knowledge on additional music editing tools available to me. In the past 5-7 years, while I’ve gotten much more efficient at what I do, I believe there are a lot of features I’ve not yet discovered or attempted to utilize. For example, I know several kids would love to do a mash-up routine of several songs. I  typically deny these requests because I have a bias against gymnastics routines that are mash-ups since they often don’t have a logical story-telling flow to them. However, I also deny these requests because I don’t know enough about actually creating my own digital music to be able to make smooth transitions between different songs. So one of my new goals for the year is to learn more about creating my own digital music in order to experiment with creating a mash-up song that I actually would consider giving to one of our gymnasts.

Theater Appreciation

Happy World Theater Day!!!

I haven’t been in a theater production in about a year now – not since Mid Summer Nights Dream last spring. It’s still weird for me to think how long it’s been considering once upon a time I spent 15+ hours a week in the blackbox pretty much every day of the school year and then some.

Even though I’m not physically involved with theater now nearly as much as I used to be, it still holds a very special place in my heart due to everything I learned and the people I got to learn with. So I thought I’d share just a few of my favorite things I’ve learned from my involvement with theater and, to drive the point home, some evidence of how I learned it:

  • Confidence – It takes immense emotional vulnerability to do both the comedic and dramatic aspects that come with performance arts.
  • Empathy – Every time you take on a new character you have to get in their head to understand what it would be like to really be that person and then show others what that looks like.
  • Collaboration – A cast without a team mentality is a horrible show to witness.
  • Critical thinking – Building sets: where do we need to drill this hole in order to create the angle needed to support this shelf?
  • Creative thinking – How are we going to make vines fall from the sky on cue?
  • Quick decision making / Improvising – The certain just broke mid-show but we can’t stop the show, so how are we going to work around it?
  • Verbal communication – Try memorizing 50 pages of lines verbatim…
  • Non-verbal communication – Great acting often happens in the moments of silence.
  • Active listening – Don’t just wait for it to be your turn to say a line, it has to feel like a real conversation where each player gives and takes off of the other.
  • Fail up – After messing up tragically, getting back up because the show must go on.
  • Trust – Know your scene partners will be there to do their part in making the show great, from helping if someone forgets a line to insuring the props they’re in charge of get to where they need to be, and let them trust you to do the same.
  • Presence – Rocking back and forth or twiddling your hair while speaking are all distracting gestures during any presentation; theater teaches you to stand firm and make intentional physical choices to emphasize your points.
  • Acceptance – Theater people are different. It’s a fairly known fact, and I love this about theater people. Everyone is welcome period.
  • Managing emotions – Even on the last night of senior year, tears are for later because there’s still a show to put on.

 

I’m sure I’m missing items from this list, but for now, this is a good start to explaining all the things I learned that make me love theater so much. Not to mention it’s just so much fun! I’m glad that in the midst of schools going online and everything closing down, arts programs are still finding ways to connect and learn these lessons even if we can’t be physically connected in space.

I miss my theater fam new and old and all the theater nerds out there enjoy this day.

Short Term Communication

If there is one thing that has become blatantly obvious with our current situation, it is the importance of good communication. Good communication meaning frequent and clear communication.

Sometimes it’s more important to just say something than to try and wait until you have everything figured out. People just want to know that they’re being thought about and that their needs are being considered in the discussion of big decisions.

When there isn’t communication, that’s when people panic, get fearful, and then rumors start. And that’s how things only get worse.

At the same time though, if you are going to communicate, make sure the message is clear. If a decision is made, be clear that the decision will stand or be clear that there is even a chance the decision may have to change, and note what could happen that might create the need for the decision to change. The worst thing is to be told a decision and then a week later get new communication that entirely conflicts with the original message and the message doesn’t even acknowledge the discrepancy. This just makes people mad and causes immediate backlash.

While I am aware of the importance of frequent and clear communication, I’ve realized these past few weeks that not everyone is. I understand that everyone is stressed and working hard to make quick decisions right now, but sometimes it seems as if people just don’t understand how important communication is in order to keep communities together. And I’ve noticed this both with people I depend on for communication and people I work with to communicate to others.

This made me wonder, in school, we spend a lot of time on long term communication methods – mostly with writing papers though also with presentations. We work a lot on adequate preparation, research, and formatting in order to create compelling arguments. How often though do we spend time on short term communication best practices, like communication via email, text, or even social media messages?

In a world where technology is becoming increasingly used in team dynamics, it seems to me like having practice and proficiency in these short term communication tools may be just as important as knowing how to write a well-researched essay. We use these communication tools every day and using them properly is an essential part of successful teams, successful community support, and successful organizations.

When I went to college, one of the most frequent compliments I got from professors was, “Wow, you really know how to write a professional email. Thank you.” And what I realized is, the reason professors were so impressed with this skill is because many students don’t have it. The thing is, they still don’t learn it in college… Sure professors may comment in their syllabus about wanting well-written emails and there is probably an “academic success” workshop or two on the subject, but with something as important as communication, isn’t that worth being taught in the classroom to ensure everyone learns the skill? Furthermore, I personally think this skill should be intentionally taught in high school to maximize time for growth and development with this competency.

If we want to receive frequent and clear communication, then we need to remember to teach it.

The Gift of Time

PHOTO-2020-03-24-14-35-56.jpg

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

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

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 9.50.03 PM.png

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

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

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

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

New Read, New Perspective

I’m only two chapters into Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough, and I’m already so intrigued by this story on education, poverty, and trying to change the life of kids living in Harlem.

Geoffrey Canada grew up in poverty in Harlem and successfully climbed to middle-class status and feels utterly grateful for how he got to where he is today. Thus, Canada began working to help other Harlem kids catch up on their academics, but after spending years working in an after-school program he started to become frustrated with just how many kids were still slipping through the cracks. Whatever it Takes details the journey Canada took to start the Harlem Children’s Zone with the goal being, “to transform every aspect of the environment that poor children were growing up in; to change the way their families raised them and the way their schools taught them as well as the character of the neighborhood that surrounded them” (Tough 19). This new approach Canada believed had the potential to change the way Americans viewed poverty and change the lives of poor children by the masses so they could “grow into fully functioning participants in mainstream American middle-class life” (Tough 4).

So why are poor people poor? Chapter two of Whatever it Takes presents a lot of research from different perspectives that attempt to answer this question. Honestly, it was fascinating to read about completely conflicting ideas society has concluded about poverty. Is it all about money, or what else might be a part of this story? Does government aid help or hinder? What resources are most key to success? How do parenting styles affect child development?

These various researchers did seem to agree on a few things: intelligence is highly valued in today’s society, intelligence and socioeconomic status are correlated, children intelligence is correlated with the intelligence levels of their parents, there are distinct parenting style differences between the middle class and poor.

The most interesting area of consideration to me was the concept of different parenting styles and the developmental effects they have on kids.

In particular, I enjoyed reading about Annette Lareau, sociologist and author of Unequal Childhoods, who was discussed as an example of someone focusing on the assets of all types of parenting; rather than looking at parenting styles with a conclusion of “this way is better.” Lareau’s theory is that middle-class parents treat kids like, “apprentice adult,” meaning that they are invited into conversations almost as equals and are encouraged to “ask questions and challenge assumptions and negotiate rules” (Tough 49). Additionally, middle-class children have very busy schedules with activities that the entire family will get involved in. Meanwhile, poor families had very different parenting styles. Children in poor families learn to entertain themselves in creative ways due to participating in far fewer extracurriculars, and kids learn to treat adults with respect; in Lareau’s study, she observed “much less freedom to talk back, question authority, or haggle over rules and consequences” in poor households (Tough 49).

Lareau concludes that the middle-class parenting style emphasis individualism at the expense of developing the family group which is developed more so in a poor family.

I fear my summarizing is far oversimplifying all of this information, but what really interested me in all of this is how recently I have observed the notion and stigma of “entitlement” becoming more common. Yet, Lareau seems to believe the middle-class parenting style is both creating this sense of entitlement while also developing the individual and skills that are currently preferred by modern American culture in the workplace: learning how to question, challenge, negotiate, multitask, and represent ones’ self.

So I guess my question is: Have we gone too far?

In my head I visualize the idea of skills gained from parenting styles as a parabola; for so long we have valued in the workplace the skills associated with middle-class parenting styles, thus my theory is, these parental tendencies were enhanced in an attempt to enhance the skills being developed by new generations of kids entering the workforce. However, like all things, you can almost always have too much. Have we too strongly favored the middle-class parenting values and now one of the outcomes – entitlement – has reached a tipping point where the parenting style is, in fact, creating undesirable outcomes?

Do we perhaps need to put a greater emphasis on fostering good family relations and respect as is found to be more commonly fostered in poor families? How do we do this? How is this cultural norm that is so deeply in rooted in our modern American culture shifted to be better balanced?

I don’t even know the true magnitude of this supposed entitlement problem I am proposing, but from my experience working with children in gymnastics, I know children behavior and belief of being “deserving” has seemed to have grown significantly in the past few years even. Meanwhile, families seem to almost always be “unique” or “broken” or “untraditional” or whatever you want to call it that boils down to the idea that families spend less time together. Seems like there could be a greater correlation there and that was just really fascinating to me.

I truly appreciate when required learning is fascinating enough to feel like you’re just learning because you want to be, and that’s so far what the entire summer program I’m on has felt like, so I am especially grateful and excited for the future learning to come in the next 6 weeks.

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.

Thankful for Gymnastics

The world of gymnastics has had a lot going on in the press recently, and unfortunately, the majority is negative. The thing is though, you only ever hear about the bad stuff in the news when the truth is that I think everyone could benefit from gymnastics in their life.

I have literally grown up in the world of gymnastics. My mom was coaching while she was pregnant with me. I was taking classes by the time I was a few months old. I first crawled on a gym floor. I started competing at age 5. I had to quit competitive team due to moving but was still in a gym taking classes until we started a new team program. I started helping with coaching occasionally with birthday parties and camps by age 10. My mom then opened up her own gym and I started training in acrobatic gymnastics (versus artistic gymnastics as most people think of due to the Olympics). By age 13 I was choreographing competitive routines for other team girls and occasionally competing since I was around and kept up my skills. Since then I’ve stopped competing in artistic gymnastics, but am currently training level 8 in acrobatics and have an official coaching schedule as a team coach for our lower levels and choreographer for almost every girl on our team.

Despite several moves at a young age, changing interests, and normal growing up stuff like going to college, gymnastics has always been a part of my life. And I imagine it always will be there in some way because as an athlete, coach, and general lover of gymnastics, there’s so much I’m thankful for about gymnastics.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has taught me to always keep brainstorming and learning from others because there are always new ways to use your resources.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has allowed me to express my artistic side through choreographing routines and occasionally performing myself.

I’m thankful for how gymnastics has allowed me to play a role in helping kids grow up by working with them to develop their confidence and resilience as well as physical ability.

And I’m thankful for so much more because I know this sport is about more than the scandals and policy changes you might hear about in the news. It’s not even all about the metals or getting to the Olympics either.

Gymnastics at its core is about growth through movement. It’s about the process of setting goals, mastering skills, and performing at your highest caliber. It’s about balance in all senses of the word.

This past weekend I attended a camp for upper-level gymnasts and coaches which is what prompted this post on gymnastics. I appreciated the chance to listen and learn more about drills, techniques, and mindsets currently being developed in our sport. Coaching is about more than just how to teach skills, and what I find most people don’t realize is just how much time coaches spend learning and discussing sports psychology, mental health, and safety on top of the practicality of how to best teach skills. We have a duty to train kids beyond just physically but also mentally and emotionally which is a responsibility we don’t take lightly.

And on the note of mindsets, one of the biggest things I was reminded of this weekend is that in the midst of change we have to stay positive and continue to share the reasons we love what we do.

The simple truth is that a few bad apples can never describe the whole batch. Despite what the media may currently say about the world of gymnastics, there are a lot of great coaches out there doing great things for kids nationwide. And I’m thankful for those coaches and the world of gymnastics for all it has, is, and will teach me.