iNACOL Recap/Takeaways

Last week involved dozens of hours of learning and networking with thought leaders around the country working towards transforming the education system. While I reflected each night of the conference, I also decided this week to put together a presentation of some of the biggest trends and takeaways I noticed from the conference. The intent of this presentation is so that I can share highlights from the conference with the rest of the Trailblazers Production Team since I was the only member able to attend; however, I thought I would also share it publically if anyone else was curious about the happenings at iNACOl (at least from the sessions I attended).

iNACOL Day 1: Questions to Ponder

Being able to attend events like iNACOL Symposium (as of today now known as Aurora Institute) really means a lot to me because it’s an opportunity to dive deep into the world of k-12 education – a world which I’ve been somewhat disconnected from since entering undergrad. It’s been amusing to me to see all of the surprised faces when people learn I’m a young learner that chose to attend this conference; my number one asked question of the day is, “So why are you here? Is it for a class or something…?” Yet to me what is surprising is the lack of young learners in attendance, especially since this particular conference has no registration fee for k-12 students. I have always said that my personal motivation in this field is driven by the belief that young learners should be at the forefront of education transformation. Students are the primary users of school, and every good design project will say you have to start with the users to talk with them, empathize with them, and build with them in order to actually create something that meets user needs and therefore will last.

Anyway, despite the lack of young learners, we had some great conversations today! I felt like my day was divided by three main conversations so I’ll focus my reflection on those three areas: professional development, research on online learning, and whole child development.

 

Professional Development:

In the realm of professional development, we mainly just discussed a lot of interesting questions several of us are having in regards to what effective PD looks like in innovative k-12 environments. Personally, I’m interested in the question, “How might we re-design teach training from the very beginning (i.e. undergrad teacher education)?” because if re-design teacher education then it should make the onboarding process for new teachers entering innovative learning environments much smoother. We didn’t really discuss this question in-depth today, but I enjoyed having the opportunity to work on framing this question since I have recently realized that it is a reoccurring theme in my pondering. We did however talk a lot about, “HMW measure/insure the impact of professional development on teacher growth?” I found this question particularly interesting because a lot of discussions in education have been focused around competency-based learning and how to measure/assess this style of learning. And theoretically, I see no reason why these same methodologies couldn’t be used to measure/assess teacher learning and growth. Why don’t we always practice what we preach? If we truly believe that teachers are learners too, doesn’t it make sense to provide them with frequent and specific feedback on their work? Some teachers might not yet be comfortable with the idea of receiving constant feedback on their work, but we can’t improve as individuals, schools, or larger communities without feedback. As one of our table group members said “It’s a wonderful place, your comfort zone, but nothing grows there.”

 

 

Research on Online Learning:

Moving on into the day, we discussed a lot about education research specifically within the context of online and blended learning. Today I learned that I don’t know very much about online or blended learning. I’ve taken a few online courses in the past, and I had mixed opinions about them, but that’s about my extent of knowledge in this area of education. I never realized how many different kinds of online learning systems that exist until today but apparently there are over eight based on what came up in our discussions. I don’t have a particular interest in this topic, but today was really the pre-conference day for iNACOL and since I was going to be here anyway, I decided to participate in a session and the only free session was about online and blended learning, thus that’s what I participated in. To be honest, I felt like there was a lot of information that went over my head. The session was designed based on past feedback from online teachers who requested more sessions specific to online/virtual/blended education; thus there were a lot of experts in the room talking about a lot of specific elements of research and practice.

While I didn’t have a lot of take aways today specific to online learning, I did appreciate the general focus on new education practices needing to be grounded in research. A big thing being pushed was that every change should be backed by research, and I think that’s an important idea because it proves people aren’t creating change just for the sake of it. There is a lot of thought and evidence behind decisions which helps make a very convincing case for change that goes beyond just, “Well the old system clearly doesn’t work.”

Something I also heard a lot of today was the idea of “researcher or practitioner.” This came up because our presenters were wanting to bridge this gap, noting that researchers really want to hear from practitioners what kind of research is actually needed in the field that way when research is conducted it can be of real use in the field. However, I wasn’t a big fan of the idea that we have to either be a researcher or a practitioner. Maybe it’s just the reality that we all tend to be one or the other, but I’d imagine it would be more interesting if we all did a little of both. I don’t see why k-12 practitioners can’t also be researchers. Sure timing might be challenging, but if a school could have adult learners both researching and practicing innovative teaching methods I can only imagine the sort of interesting insights that would come about.

 

 

Whole Child Development:

Finally, the end of my night included a great opening keynote given by Dr. Brooke Stafford-Brizar with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The keynote was all about education needing to be whole child-focused which means focusing on 6 key aspects: physical health, mental health, social-emotional development, identity development, academic development, and cognitive development. One of my favorite things she said was, “When we’re most vulnerable is when learning takes place.” I was fortunate to have an overall pretty great high school experience with very supportive peers and mentors, but I also am very aware that this is not the case for many k-12 students. Dr. Stafford-Brizar showed word clouds about studies showing when students and teachers alike were asked to pick a word that comes to mind when they think of school they thought of things like stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed. We know all too well that mental health is an extreme problem in education today, but we have to intentionally design time, space, and culture focused on supporting mental health in order for these issues to change. Dr. Stafford-Brizar made an analogy I loved and will probably now unintentionally butcher: “We don’t expect calculus to be learned in a morning meeting or an advisory session; we intentionally design class lessons to teach these skills. So why do we expect mental health to be learned without intentionally designing for it to be taught to students?” My big wonder though is how do we actually do this in practice? Dr. Stafford-Brizar suggests starting with the adults and making sure their mental health is addressed so that it permeates into the student body. But culture change is anything but easy. So how might we create a culture that’s comfortable with being uncomfortable and vulnerable? Starting with the adults seems like a great idea, but what does that really mean and look like in the start? There is no switch that will all of a sudden make everyone totally open to talking about personal struggles at school. I’ve seen examples of schools that do a really great job with mental health, but I still don’t feel like I have a good concept on how they got started. Or in some cases, I know that the school was founded with mental health as a key principle to the mission so there wasn’t the same cultural shift that has to happen in a preexisting environment trying to become more aware of mental health needs.

So overall I would describe day 1 as a day of thought provoking questions. I didn’t have any mind blowing, game changing takeaways, but sometimes it’s okay to just take away lots of questions because every question is an opportunity to learn.

 

 

Pictures from today:

iNACOL Day 0: The Pre-flection

I have officially landed and spent the day exploring Palm Springs and am so excited to be attending iNACOL Symposium starting tomorrow morning!

My professional goal is to become a social entrepreneur in the field of transformative education. I associate most of what I do in my personal, educational, and professional life back to this goal because of this driving passion to want all young learners to be able to experience education in a way that is learner-centered and has real-world impact. 

The iNACOL Symposium is an event I have been wanting to attend for several years now because it is known to be, “the flagship event for innovators, education leaders, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers advancing powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences for students.”  While at this three-day international conference I will grow my professional network, get to share my unique perspective and experiences with education, and become further informed about the leading thoughts on a myriad of current challenges in the field. I am particularly excited to attend sessions on Human Capital, Leadership, Systems Transformation, Professional Learning and Development, and Whole Child Personalization/Social Emotional Learning amongst the total of 25 program strands available at this year’s convening. 

I’m excited to increase my knowledge about key aspects involved in my hopeful career field of transformative education by attending the sessions and workshops on topics I noted above. I’m also to be a co-creator of progress in education as I work with other practitioners to advance the communal pool of knowledge and ideas in the field. We will then all be able to take back these ideas and experiment with them in our own learning environments. Personally, I will be representing my magazine team, Trailblazers, while at the conference and will then prepare a recap presentation for the high schoolers I work with in order to provide a professional development opportunity for them as well. The real key to progress is not just working towards change, but also reflecting and sharing on experiences so that others can also benefit from new insights being made in the field; this is why it’s important to me to blog about my experience as well as summarize and share key insights with my magazine team after the experience. I plan to blog each night of the conference to make sure I’m adequately processing and reflecting on everything I’ll be learning. 

I can’t wait to get started tomorrow!

Touring Auschwitz

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This weekend we visited Krakow so we could take a day tour of Auschwitz.

Visiting a place with so much history and emotion associated with it, the common questions to ask are, “How was it? How are you feeling?” So I’ve been trying to ask and answer these question for myself.

How was it?

It was serial. It’s hard to imagine the horrors that took place in these camps.  In some ways, I’m still struggling to believe humans could commit such atrocities.

IMG_3853I’ve had a lot of conversations in the past about the true nature of human beings and it’s situations like this that bring me back to those debates. I don’t believe people are all good or all bad. But I think what’s harder to come to terms with is how wide this spectrum can be and how easily susceptible some people can be to believe things like the idea that some lives have no worth. I find this very hard to even try to empathize with, and yet, I want to believe people can’t be all bad. We did learn today that one of the children’s quarters was equipped with a sanitation room of sorts, so there was at least some small level of pity towards these kids of Polish civilians. Big picture though, it feels disrespectful to even try to justify such a small act as a sign of some level of humanity while looking at the dozens of unstable bunkers, cattle cars, and buildings designed for the sole intent of extermination.

IMG_3842.jpgWhat really made this experience serial and mind-boggling though was how nice it was while we were there. The weather was warm with a slight breeze and overcast in a not gloomy way. There was green everywhere; so many trees and well-kept grass. It was just so paradoxical to see ruins and ashes and discuss mass death while surrounded by so much nature and life.

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It was clean too. I suppose I expected this in terms of the paths being clear of trash and exhibits being neat and well restored. Though something about how much it truly felt like a museum seemed in a way very odd considering for the past few weeks we’ve continued to be reminded of just how not long ago these events occurred.

How are you feeling?

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Some may say it’s a weak word but first most I feel sad. Saddened with humanity and the knowledge that we can and have inflicted so much harm and cruelty in the world. And with this sadness comes confusion. Those lingering thoughts of, “How is this possible? How is this even conceivable?”

Though sad and confused I also find myself grateful. Grateful for the time and place in which I was born and the opportunities and privileges I have because of this. Grateful also for the chance to actually visit this place in person and connect with history in ways not possible otherwise.

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Furthermore, I find myself left with the thought that people are capable of so much. So much destruction but also so much compassion. It brings comfort hearing stories like that of Schindler who used his power of money and influence to save thousands of Jews; it’s a reminder that even in the face of corruption there can still be people to see past peer pressure and fear and proposed logic and instead fight for humanity.

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Which brings me to the most surprising and unexpected thing I’m feeling: inspired. I’m inspired by all the people who helped save lives. I’m inspired by the victims of these crimes who fought so hard for their survival. I’m inspired by the artist who captured these crimes on photos and notebooks to preserve the stories and memories of victims. I’m inspired by the survivors who worked to turn these camps into a memorial and museum so that history wasn’t left to go forgotten.

IMG_3837.jpgSad, confused, grateful, contemplative, and inspired- that’s how I feel upon traveling back from Auschwitz. I was told this would be a life changing experience. I’m personally not a huge fan of the commonality with which some people use this phrase since the idea of “life-changing” seems so grand and should be special to a few truly life-altering moments, but I suppose there is some truth to this notion. This was an experience like no other and while maybe I didn’t have any big life-changing world view or change of passion or life direction or anything like that, I know I will have a newfound level of depth and consideration whenever I think about the Holocaust, nature of humans, and the power of power.

So I guess that’s how it was and how I’m feeling.

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Reflecting on 2.5 Years of Trailblazers

I’ve been slow to posting, but last week was a special one because we published our 5th issue of Trailblazers!!!

I’m still a little in shock to be quite honest. When we founded Trailblazers my senior year of high school, I’m not sure I fully believed we would still be running two and a half years later. Yet somehow we keep managing to pull through – even if we end up publishing a bit after our goal publish date…

It definitely hasn’t been easy though. Trying to manage any group that you only get to meet with a max of four times a year is hard enough, let alone considering the fact that the team you are working with are high schoolers who have to manage all sorts of other conflicts. I’d say a quarter of the year there was always at least one member who didn’t have access to technology, either from losing something, being grounded, or being in an area without service/in a different time zone. Imagine being on an online team where you didn’t have the ability to communicate online… It’s a bit challenging.

Not to mention, when working with high schoolers that means eventually students graduate, so there is a limited amount of time members stay on the team which puts us in a constant state of recruitment and onboarding. Each year we have new members we have to bring up to speed on our mission, values, and their specific roles and responsibilities which often includes a lot of training because these are roles most high schoolers haven’t taken on before.

The onboarding and training part of this journey has been particularly interesting to me as each year I try to get better at letting the high schoolers take more and more control the magazine. This semester I think got better with the team learning to schedule their own group meetings and make decisions without always needing me to direct the way through everything. I was always very pleasantly surprised when I would ask a question in our group chat to find out that the task had already been completed. There were still moments where I had to step in a bit – like in the final stretch weeks when senioritis and summer start to cloud work ethic – but we still got it done and that’s the key.

Recruitment has also been something Trailblazers continues to struggle with. I just finished my second year of college, which means at this point, there are fewer and fewer learners I consider myself to know well at the high school. Therefore, it no longer makes much sense for me to just go in and talk about joining the team or for me to reach out to individuals I think would be a good fit. So this has now become a new task for the high school team to take on and we’ve not yet found the best way to get new learners interested in joining our team.

I’m very aware of the struggles faced with Trailblazers, but that’s not to say I’m not extremely proud of where we are at. This year we published our 5th issue, created official branding, attended our first national education event as a team, got a production team application from a non-Innovation Diploma student, reached over 50 followers on social media, and had our first non-founding members graduate. It’s been a big year for Trailblazers, and I hope we continue to have big years and continue to learn from each semester about ways to improve as an organization and continue to be amazed by the stories and work of young learners.

Life Update: Living in Budapest

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It’s amazing how one person talking for an hour can be so inspiring sometimes; the thing is if you don’t reflect and act upon what you learned it can be so easy for those inspiring messages to get forgotten.

William Benko reminded me today of the importance of having habits and strategies for how we tackle life. I’ve been well aware of this concept for years now, and yet, as evidence of my lack of blogging in the past few years, I think I’ve allowed myself too much slack with what were once my daily habits. So at the very least, I felt it was time for a life update on my blog because I’ve been having some amazing experiences the past few weeks and haven’t done the best job capturing and reflecting on them.

DSC_0510.JPGIt’s been about 2 weeks since I arrived in Budapest, 4 weeks since studying abroad, and 5 weeks since beginning the Leadership for Social Good program. Since I’ve gotten to Budapest I’ve also been interning with Teach For Hungary. (Part of our program is that each participant is partnered with an NGO in Budapest who we intern with for the 6 weeks we are here.)

Teach For Hungary follows similarly with the Teach For All model where the basic concept is to get professionals committed to a two-year fellowship working within schools as teachers and mentors to kids specifically in rural/small town areas. Teach For Hungary is very much in start-up mode at the moment, being only about a year old, and one of my primary roles has been to help the team as they work on developing their hiring and onboarding process for new full-time staff members and later working on how to recruit and train fellows. 

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It’s been fascinating learning about the education system here in Hungary and so far I’ve also really enjoyed my work which has included a lot of strategic planning and brainstorming. Even the location I’m in, the Innovation Lab of Central European University, is just so fitting for me. I’ve been amazed by how much of my work in the gymnastics world has been applicable; for example, I’m currently working on the online test and accompanying assessment tool for the hiring process and I’ve been able to apply lessons I learned from creating the gymnastics assessment tool for evaluating gymnasts looking to enter one of our invite programs. I’ve also noticed my background in design thinking coming in extremely useful as I’ve been asked to give lots of feedback since I’m a fresh pair of eyes for documents like the onboarding information. Most of my meetings thus far have begun with a “Like, Wish, Wonder” feedback protocol, and I even looked up my old Innovation Diploma application earlier this week as an example of a “choose your own adventure” technical skills/thought process assessment. It’s always fun to connect the dots between your seemingly different worlds and I’m excited to see what other connections I make as I continue to work with Teach For Hungary.

IMG_7169.jpgIn addition to my internship, most mornings I’m in class, though I’m sure many people wouldn’t think of it as “class” per say. We have class Monday-Thursday from 10-12ish (sometimes we start earlier sometimes we end later), and our typical week consists of two guest speakers, a group presentation/facilitating class deep dive into any topic we’ve discussed thus far, and one activity/field trip to places like the historic baths and largest synagogue. Our guest speakers so far have been great! Each one has a story about their involvement with Hungarian NGOs and so far everyone has had such powerful messages I couldn’t possibly go into detail about all of them.

IMG_9513.JPEGOne guest speaker, in particular, was from an organization called Bator Tabor. This is one of the most well known NGOs in Hungary, and in fact, it is one of the top 3 NGOs in terms of gaining public funding through Hungary’s special 1% law; this law allows for taxpayers to donate 1% of their tax money to an NGO of their choice from the approved list. Bator Tabor is a campsite for children with serious illnesses. They have an incredibly well-developed program and volunteer training process. What was especially cool is that last weekend we actually got to visit the campsite for our own leadership retreat! I love everyone in this program and it was great to work together to accomplish odd challenges like lifting everyone over a rope between two trees, climbing a rock wall and swinging between hanging tires, and a more complex archery session than I’ve ever done (including learning to shoot backward and off of a wooden horse).

IMG_3136.jpgIMG_3126.jpgAnd in terms of giving a full update, this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how beautiful Budapest is and how much I’ve loved exploring the city! My friends and I have had a number of random photo shoots and trips to hunt down the best-baked goods and ice cream. I even attempted to make paprika chicken (a Hungarian traditional meal) in our apartment and it turned out surprisingly good. I had never before considered how stressful grocery stores could be when you can’t read any labels and the store set up just doesn’t seem to make sense at all. And to top it off I finally feel pretty comfortable with the public transportation system which knock on wood is true since I’m about to head off to figure out where my bus stop is to take an overnight ride to Munich for the weekend!

Every day’s a new adventure, and I’m excited to see what new discoveries I make in the next four weeks! I have also found that the sense of adventure and exploration has reminded many of us that we need to spend more time being explorers in our own communities because there are bound to be hundreds of things we’ve yet to discover even in our own backyard.

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Understanding History’s Impact

It’s crazy when history comes to life. Traveling in Prague and Vienna the last few weeks has made me really think about on my world history classes from high school and realize just how real the stories we learn about are.

I don’t know how else to describe it other than a story coming to life. In America, it’s pretty standard to talk about the World Wars and communism and empires rising and falling, but to be honest, it always feels so “long ago, in a country far far away.” But it wasn’t that long ago, and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that far away. That never seemed to really hit home for me before though.

It’s one thing to talk about Hitler, and it’s another to stand in the street below where he made his speech upon occupying Austria and hear from a native how Austria was actually fairly happy to be joint with Germany. Never before had I considered this perspective. Our tour guide described how after the first World War the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was divided up, and during this division, Austria lost a lot of their resources both agricultural and industrial, so the economy was really struggling. Thus the idea of Germany, a big country doing well for itself, taking over, sounded quite appealing to many Austrians. That’s not something we talk about in a classroom.

Furthermore, in terms of the “long ago” aspect, I think American schooling really puts too much of an emphasis on the idea that these things happened in the past and doesn’t talk enough about how the past is actually influencing the present and future.

As someone who has always had some issues with history classes (Summary version of this rant for those who don’t know me or haven’t read past blogs about this: I like history, I often have issues with how it’s taught, and I’ve had several favorite teachers be history teachers so it’s not on them either just really about the curriculum and how we try to chunk so much information into so little time.), I think this is a key feature missing from lots of history classes. The “why” behind history classes, in my opinion, is because we need to learn about the past in order to understand the present and make educated decisions about the future. However, this “why” often is only skimmed on and instead I feel like history often just feels like a series of facts we are told we need to know just for the sake of knowing. It’s more than a series of facts and stories from the past though.

European countries are still in a post-communism era; it truly wasn’t that long ago. Almost everyone we’ve met here in Europe thus far grew up under communist rule. It took talking to people here and hearing about their stories of coming into freedom for this to really sink in for me that the past is very much still present.

I wonder how this ah-ha moment can be better baked into high school history classes because it makes history so much more valuable when you attach this missing link of the implications history has on today: knowing why we study history and understanding why are different.

Perhaps it comes with better intwining current events into class, but not in a separated “here is a random current event.” What if, when we learned about the past, there was a specific current event relating how what we are learning about the past is affecting the present. Or maybe the key is bringing in more guest speakers to help remember the past wasn’t so long ago. Or maybe a solution is more field trips. Not every class can just take a trip to Europe, but there are always local places related to history, or maybe it could be a Skype field trip experience to bring Europe into the classroom.

Those are just a few ideas, thought up without much time, collaboration, or empathy, so I am sure there are better ideas out there, but I hate to propose problems without anything resembling a potential new direction, so that’s my bug and those are my thoughts for next steps. I’d love to hear about how someone else is/plans to run with that train of thinking.

When You’re Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Humble, Curious, and Ask Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

 

SparkHouse Preflection

SparkHouse 3 is finally here and I’m so excited!!!

When I think back to my first time at SparkHouse it’s amazing how much has changed. SparkHouse was where the first idea for Trailblazers came about. Now here I am two years and three e-magazine issues later as a Community Builder and a chaperone for 3 of high school members of the current Trailblazers production team!

Since SparkHouse I’ve also become so much more involved with Education Reimagined and the Education Transformation Movement at large. I’ve attended and mentored at several conferences around the country, participated in numerous calls/video/social media chats,  and even been able to teach a short-term high school course of my own. (Which was obviously un-traditional in nature.) Honestly, it wasn’t until talking to my roommate, who is a first-time learner at SparkHouse, that I realized the full extent of how many opportunities I’ve had since joining this community.

And now that I have become more involved, I’ve realized the importance of “preflecting” – reflecting before things being about my expectations, hopes, and goals for this experience – in order to have a greater take away after the gathering. So here it goes:

Expectations:

  • Great conversations around learner-centered education
  • A deeper connection to the language we use to describe the kind of work we do
  • Be inspired by the amazing work young learners are already doing and the new ideas they bring to the table

Hopes:

  • Members of Trailblazers will branch out and expand their networks
  • We’ll develop new ideas about ways that Trailblazers could contribute to the Education Transformation Movement
  • More young learners will step up and continue to grow their leadership capacities in this movement even beyond SparkHouse

Goals:

  • Have at least five new people sign up/express interest in contributing to Trailblazers
  • Reach 50 followers on Trailblazers social media
  • Find a new tool/activity/mindset that I can implement into my own leadership practices
  • Inspire other learners to become more involved in the community/movement to transform the education system