Beyond the Blueprint: Building a Community of Transformation

Voices from the Field  16 February 2018
By Dr. Ryan Krohn, The Institute for Personalized Learning

 

The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates

When setting out to build something new—be it a house, a relationship, human understanding, or a community—we are called to invoke the powers of creation, action, and deep levels of engagement. Building something new captures the imagination—drawing connections between the present state and a preferred state. In fact, the very idea of building something draws upon a belief-based design.

A house, for instance, starts with an objective blueprint, but beyond the straight lines and ninety-degree angles, the architect draws from a core belief that people will live in this house and fill it with meaningful family moments. The same can be said for building a community. The basic design of a community will bring people together, but the driving belief for the design is that, by being together, we will grow strong relationships, form new perspectives, and gain strength by becoming part of a team.

In my role as Director of The Institute for Personalized Learning (IPL), I place high value on the power of community—the main source of energy for the transformational learner-centered movement. A community provides the strength of multiple perspectives, which allows for a flow of information that constantly informs, not affirms, the collective thinking and action. In turn, what is built becomes owned by all.

 

When [the 4Cs are] put into practice, the community discovers new possibilities to create, regionally and nationally, by forming powerful and lasting partnerships.

Dr. Ryan Krohn
Director, The Institute for Personalized Learning

This line of thinking always brings me back to a book by Linda Hill, Collective Genius. In it, she speaks to the phenomena of creation inside a culture of innovation. Hill suggests the best and biggest ideas come from the aggregation of individual contributions from every member of the community.

To put Hill’s thinking into practice, I developed a 4C-networking model for participants to utilize at the National Convening of Personalized Learning, a recent convening IPL hosted. The idea is simple. During the entirety of the event, attendees are encouraged to exercise the 4Cs—connect, consume, create, and contribute—to ensure the full power of our network is realized. When put into practice, the community discovers new possibilities to create, regionally and nationally, by forming powerful and lasting partnerships—this work, in turn, serves to continually enhance IPL’s vision of what’s possible. Of course, this model can be applied at any gathering, and it was the lens from which I approached my first Pioneer Lab Training with Education Reimagined in Washington, DC.

For some context, Pioneer Lab Training is an invitation for learner-centered pioneers to engage in a national conversation on education transformation and to see their work as something bigger than they ever imagined.

 

The training pushed me, my narrow assumptions, and my localized practice to a place where my perspective was first widened and then transformed.

Dr. Ryan Krohn
Director, The Institute for Personalized Learning

When I came to my first training in 2016, I was unclear what gifts and talents I might bring (contribute) to the group. I was equally unclear who I would meet (connect) or what I might learn (consume). The training pushed me, my narrow assumptions, and my localized practice (creations) to a place where my perspective was first widened and then transformed. In two days, I came to realize I was no longer only leading the work directly in front of me, but I was also contributing to a powerful, nationwide educational paradigm shift.

I arrived at the training feeling a need to share our model, and I left with a focus on exploring others. I arrived with a goal to enhance my practice, and I left with a goal to enhance the community. And lastly, I arrived with a collection of evidence of my past work, and I left with a focus on collective future impact.

The Pioneer Lab Training left an imprint on all that I’ve consumed since those two summer days in the nation’s capital. The power of shared language, and even more importantly, seeing the precision with which we distinguish “learner-centered,” has reframed how I approach my work. Understanding what learner-centered is “not” is just as important as discussing what it is.

I don’t hold this experience alone. I’ve heard similar stories from the pioneers who were also in attendance at various Pioneer Lab Trainings over the last two years. We all took home with us the idea that the learner-centered movement was our collective movement and that it would take our collective action to build the new system.

The imprint left on us was a collective vision for the future of education and an understanding that the set of “tools” we individually possessed would benefit everyone involved in this work. With newfound footing in the learner-centered paradigm, I continued my work with IPL but wanted to stay connected to the Pioneer Lab Community on a bigger level. Fast forward 18 months, and I found myself flying to San Francisco ready to attend my second Pioneer Lab Training—this time as a Community Builder.

 

As a newcomer, I was most concerned about “what” I could contribute. As a Community Builder, I came in with the goal of showing others “how” the community can be most effective.

Dr. Ryan Krohn
Director, The Institute for Personalized Learning

During my second time around, I was there to ensure the newcomers felt part of the broader Pioneer Lab Community and found clarity in how their local work connected with the national learner-centered movement. The learner-centered movement gains steam when more people not only understand the mindset but also see an opportunity to bring it into practice for their communities.

When I was invited to be a Community Builder, I reflected on the power of community, and I saw how necessary it is to create one that is committed to the paradigm-shifting, transformational change the education system is in great need of. As a Community Builder, I felt an obligation to ensure each attending pioneer saw how their efforts, gifts, and talents mattered. Likewise, I had to ensure each member felt connected to the community so they could see how they’re commitment would positively impact their colleagues’ work.

This new role was a dynamic shift when compared to my first time participating in the training. As a newcomer, I was most concerned about “what” I could contribute. As a Community Builder, I came in with the goal of showing others “how” the community can be most effective. When combined, the “what” and “how” builds a deeper level of commitment from all of the participants and allows them to clearly see why this movement must be community-driven.

Participating in this new role also had me see how the training ensures each pioneer actually sees how they are part of something bigger than themselves. It creates a setting where each participant is in a position such that they feel safe enough to share their work and confident enough to question it. The Pioneer Lab Training had exercises to facilitate learning and awareness, which paved the way for participants to share ideas, frame new perspectives, discuss challenges, challenge discussions, provide hope and optimism, and gather feedback.

The training also had a major theme of taking action. Pioneers brought with them a history, a context, and a vision-guided future. They left with an understanding of “how” they can contribute their talents within the national learner-centered community.

This community of pioneers is creating the conditions for a new status quo. And, it is one I will wholeheartedly subscribe to.

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