Learning Out Loud: Why We Must Invent Community-Based Ecosystems of Learning

Learning Out Loud | Insights   03 June 2021

 

We’re already up to and against something that is very complex. So if we are going to build something that is also complex, why not make it something that is worthwhile and fits?

Alin Bennett
Vice President of Practice & Field Advancement

On May 26th, 2021, Kelly Young, Education Reimagined’s President, hosted the first Learning Out Loud with Education Reimagined conversation, featuring guests, Alin Bennett, Education Reimagined’s Vice President of Practice & Field Advancement, and Olivia Christensen, Education Reimagined Board Member and Iowa BIG alum. View the recording of the conversation below along with the conversation summary and full, lightly edited transcript.



Conversation Summary (with timestamps)

[02:00] Why Kelly began working in the education field.
[03:56] Why the education system must be transformed, not reformed.
[06:30] What Education Reimagined means when we say “learner-centered.”
[09:15] A vision for community-based ecosystems of learning.
[15:18] Kelly, Alin, and Olivia begin their conversation on why we must invent community-based ecosystems of learning.
[19:00] Why not start with the system we already have?
[22:20] Why it’s important for young people to gain experience with real-world problems now, rather than having to wait until after high school or college graduation.
[25:58] The impact community-based, open-walled learning had on Olivia at Iowa BIG.
[28:36] What makes the challenge of transforming education and inventing ecosystems worth it.
[32:05] Immediate opportunities to move toward the possibility of ecosystems.
[37:06] Conversation with the audience—listen to what learner-centered leaders are up to in Connecticut, Kentucky, and Washington.
[52:29] Closing remarks—why Alin and Olivia are passionate about the difference community-based ecosystems of learning could make for children, families, and communities across the country.

Full Conversation Transcript

[00:53] Kelly Young: Welcome to our first Learning Out Loud series with Alin Bennett, Olivia Christensen, and myself. I am Kelly Young, the President of Education Reimagined and we’re excited to launch this series because as we all know, we have learned so much through COVID.

We have learned so much this past year and a half and we’re, and we’re always learning. But we wanted an opportunity to be able to share what we’re seeing, what our team collectively is learning, share, and give opportunities for people in our community to share what they’ve seen. So as you know, Education Reimagined is an organization that is committed to making learner-centered education available to every child.

And over this past year and a half, we have come to see that rather than transforming education school by school or district by district, there’s an opportunity to create community-based ecosystems of learning and that’s going to be our topic today. And since this is the first in a series, I thought I would give a little bit of introduction to myself.

I think many of you know me, but some of you don’t and may not know how I got into education in the first place. So, I thought I would share that my journey into re-imagining education began as a parent. When my son who was at the time three, he turned 14 yesterday, was I was walking him to his first day of school at our local elementary school.

And as I was crossing the street, I was really aware that if a teacher had asked me, we can wave our magic wand and have your son turnout at the end of the day, what, how do you want him to turn out? I was like, holy cow, I have no idea what I would say. And that was really startling to me that I didn’t know how I wanted my son, like what I thought was most important.

Of course, happiness and confidence and empathy and other important things, but I didn’t know if that was enough. And if I had to list all of the things. I also didn’t know, as we were going to a title one school with 80% free and reduced lunch and 80% English language learners, if it was okay for me to want something or what about the other parents and what they wanted for their children.

And so that led me on this journey that began with listening to parents at our school to find out what they wanted. And we listened to hundreds of parents and kids and teachers to create a vision at our local elementary school. And then I went on to be the Chief for Family and Public Engagement at DC Public Schools, where I also led the strategic planning process for the district.

And again, I listened to thousands and thousands of educators, parents, and kids, and at every step of the way, I have thought what they want and what the system, what we are doing, I don’t know a way to get there from here. I had the experience I was playing a game that I didn’t want to be playing, but I couldn’t name it.

And I felt trapped. And it wasn’t until I started at a nonprofit called Convergence Center for Policy Resolution that brings together ideologically diverse stakeholders for dialogue on important issues, national issues, where I was brought on to lead an education project.

I was in one of my interviews with a woman named Gisele Huff on the west coast, and she said, you’re asking all of the wrong questions about education. I said, I know, give me new questions to ask, I’m desperate for them. And she was the first person to tell me that we had an industrial model of education. And when she said those words, like scales fell from my eyes and I knew that’s the game we’ve been playing that I don’t want to play anymore.

And I was surprised also to learn that just seeing the game we were playing didn’t mean I could immediately see a new game. I could just see I didn’t want to play that one, but if you would ask me at that moment, how on earth to organize, support, and credential learning in meaningful ways that kids get to go where they want to go in life, I would have told you I had no idea.

And it was through that process that many of you know, about us convening 28 ideologically diverse leaders in education. It was during that process that we came up with the vision for learner-centered education. And when I say they came up with it, it really was, they authentically created it.

And then we went on to discover we were not by any means the first to the planet called learner-centered education, that we were joining a very illustrious and rich universe of learner-centered leaders throughout the country that were operating and out of school time. That were operating in charters, district schools, homeschooling, independent schools.

You name it, there were learner-centered leaders operating in the margins in those communities. So, over these last eight years, we’ve had the privilege of learning from so many of you and this Learning Out Loud is to put our learning on loudspeaker. And so today we’re going to be delving into what we are now calling community-based ecosystems of learning.

And before I delve deeply into that, I want to set the stage that learner-centered education is at the core of everything we do. And for us, what we mean by learner-centered is that we see each child as unique, capable, curious, and wondrous. That we know that learning starts with kids, interests, curiosities, passions, and aspirations, and that the goal of education is not to get us all to a common finish line.

Rather it is for us to each discover who we are, what our gifts are and how to contribute those meaningfully to the world. And we have discovered over and over again, that if you were in a mindset and a new paradigm called learner-centered, you design radically different models of education that are centered around developing young people’s agency; partnering with them to design their own learning pathways; you value relationship as a central, core part of what enables rich and meaningful learning; that pathways are as unique as the individual is in terms of what they are learning and how they are learning it; and that we see that the community and the world are the playground for learning, not a single school building.

So when you hear that that’s the basis for learner-centered education, it’s not a big leap to see that we have moved to this idea of community-based ecosystem.

The core insight that we had during COVID was we’ve always seen, as I just mentioned, that the community is the playground for learning, right. That meaningful, rich learning happens in lots of places in the youth development, in our afterschool times, in our homes, on vacations, in jobs, in internships, in projects.

But without knowing it, we had always, in the back of our mind, thought that how. You know, it’s, it’s kind of obvious to say, when we thought of K through 12 transformation, we thought that you had to transform schools and districts, right? It just seemed obvious that that was the case. And what became really clear to us is with COVID when all of the sudden school was not the unit, but young people were all over their communities, whether they work in youth development centers, in pods, in their homes, in pockets at school buildings, it no longer mattered that they were in school.

It was who they were connected to. And that we had this link, this artificial link to only the people in our school building. And that seemed artificial all of a sudden. And so we really started to see ecosystems, if you were to design from those five principles that I just mentioned, you would design a learner-centric ecosystem.

So I’m going to share with you a vision of the future, of a fictitious town called Springbury, Ohio. And what I want you to do for a moment is put on pause any questions about how, and just to try to imagine and immerse yourself in this future vision. And we’re going to then spend time with Alin and Olivia talking about why would we, why would we go this route of creating of an ecosystem?

So in Springbury, Ohio, this is many years in the future. And young people learn all throughout their community. To make that manageable, they all have a home base. So everybody, every young person has a home base.

And these home bases are at some of these home bases are at YMCA. Another is at a transformed, a reconstructed school. They’ve actually turned classrooms into living rooms and all of the advisories are meeting in those living rooms in a school. And in every home base, there are advisories that have an advisor, right? So you have a person that is partnering with the child and the family to some people call these, I see Cath Fraise on the call, she calls this role a Dream Director, somebody who is really learning about the young person and the family, helping the young person set learning goals, design pathways that it will actually achieve it. And then doing all of the troubleshooting along the way as things come up as they do, to make sure that a young person can navigate.

So these home bases are multi-aged, some are single age but they are from the youngest children. Some of these home bases in this community are actually in people’s homes, serving the youngest, zero to five years old, and where the main learning happens is not actually in the home base. It’s in learning hubs that are throughout the community.

In Springbury, there’s a learning hub that’s a converted school, that’s a STEM laboratory. And Paul, you might be stuck, but if there’s a, yeah, there we go. And if you could do the next slide as well. So these learning hubs, so one is a converted school and it’s a STEM learning hub.

So it’s got laboratory equipment, robotics, and maker spaces. Another learning hub is at the Y it actually at the same place at one of the home bases is, and it’s a civics learning hub as well as a sporting learning hub. There’s the library, that’s the writing and literature hub, but these hubs exist throughout the community.

And what’s really important to notice is that where your home base is, does not dictate where you’re learning hub is, but these are shared resources in a community and depending on the interests. So you could have a real importance on bilingual education and you could have a bilingual home base. And in your learning hub, find the teachers who have the dual language so that you can continue your learning in the learning hub with STEM, but in another language.

And this illuminates the kinds of possibilities in an ecosystem when you don’t have to have a one-stop shop model. In addition to learning hubs, there are field sites. These field sites are anything and just about everything in the community, from the local bank, the veterinarian, the the local government, non-profits, you name it.

And these are places where young people can do internships, projects, job shadowing, get expertise for a project. And again, these are not connected to any single site. You have access to these as a community. And then on top of all of all of this, you have all of what is it you are able to connect to virtually, right?

So we’re not limited these days to what is in our local community. If you have interests that that exceed the assets of your community, you can link to those. And so in this environment, there are programs like Noble Explorers where young people are learning from other young people. There are platforms where young people can share their interests with one another and create cohorts to work on real community projects.

So, what becomes obvious when you look at this ecosystem is that you need coordination. When you have a one-stop shop, you know, the school principal and the district leader provide that coordination. In an ecosystem, they had to create their own systems of how to assess and credential learning across the ecosystem, how to recognize and cultivate and credential the adults that now have a wide range of roles and places that they operate the transfer transportation, the technology that illuminates and makes visible all these exciting learning opportunities to an advisor, a young person and a parent. And then the governance and shared accountability and resources. How do we enable that to flow throughout a community so that young people can learn in lots of diverse places.

So I want to share this vision because we think that when you start thinking of your community and all of the people and the human capital, I shouldn’t say human capital, all the adults and the rich resources that people bring as well as the other institutions of libraries and youth development and community colleges and higher ed and our park system.

We think that this opens up all kinds of new possibilities for how to move forward post COVID.

[15:18] So I’m excited to have Alin Bennett, who is the Vice President of Practice and Field Advancement at Education Reimagined, who has in his past also been a volunteer, an advisor, a school leader at The Met in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as a school leader in another district.

I also want to introduce Olivia Christensen. There she is waving. If you can find her in your, there she is. So Olivia is a graduate of Iowa BIG, which is a learner-centered environment in Cedar Rapids, IA, and is now at Morningside College. And she is on the Board of Education Reimagined. So, a great leader and thought partner with us here.

So, I’m going to start with you, Olivia. If you had grown up with an ecosystem in Cedar Rapids, what would that have been like, do you think? What would have been different for you or what might have you experienced?

[16:22] Olivia Christensen: Well, one of the things, so I don’t know, I’m pretty sure everybody on the call is pretty familiar with Iowa BIG. You would say, maybe?

[16:29] Kelly Young: Go ahead and share about Iowa BIG.

[16:32] Olivia Christensen: Iowa BIG was kind of a half-day program.

So a portion of the day you would be at your traditional school and then the other part of your day, you would come to Iowa BIG and work on different projects with community members. And they also had like some kind of course-like work. Like I would take a math class there and every couple of days or so we would meet with our math teacher and have like a lesson on that.

So but I would say the, like the biggest thing about the ecosystems would be the opportunities available and the opportunities that it provided and kind of to explain that a little bit better. So for example we only have like six faculty members. Well, at the time that I was there, we had about six faculty members at Iowa BIG, and it was on just them to create those meaningful relationships with the students, with the learners, and also create those learning opportunities within the community and use like connections and stuff to create those opportunities. And one of the biggest problems that I encountered with those projects, was sometimes we would create these projects without community partners and they wouldn’t have the resources available for us to be successful on the project.

And so in this ecosystem I think it’d be a lot easier for you to have those opportunities and make sure that they were like stable opportunities that both the learner and the business or the community partner would get. They would benefit from the relationship, benefit from that partnership. Obviously in maybe different ways, but yeah, and they both felt valued.

So that’s one of the biggest things that stands out for me is making sure that those opportunities were valuable for the students and for the businesses and their partners as well as they were structured in a way that all parties understood what the learners were coming in and how they would be valuable in the situation.

And that the partners were held accountable for having the resources available that the students, so that the students can be successful in their work. So those were the two things that really stood out for me when I thought about my experience at Iowa BIG and how this ecosystem would have probably been more beneficial in a way.

[18:57] Kelly Young: And you know, part of what we want to explore here today is for, I was on another call where I shared this vision and their immediate reaction was that it looks complicated and I was like, you know, I can totally get that.

Like, why not start with the system that we already have? And Alin, I’m curious your answer to that. Why go to ecosystem and not just try to add internships or, you know, why not keep adding on to the current system? What, why do all of this work of inventing a whole new system?

[19:35] Alin Bennett: So hello everybody. It’s great to be on.

And I would say there are numerous reasons why it makes valuable and it makes sense to start with the ecosystem. And I would say just from sort of the staggered iteration version of reaching this, I think the velocity in which you could move and get to a full ecosystem model is slowed significantly when you do it piece by piece.

And it just makes the work substantially harder when you do it sort of piecemeal. So if you can start from a full sort of advanced model that is centered around the community’s need and what the community wants to build out, you sort of can start and build that out at a much, much quicker pace.

And the second piece is I would say the traditional conventional, even the learner-centered model is complex itself. If you think about all of the systems and a national education system and how, because of its parochial nature, it is just a very complex thing to navigate on its own.

So we’re already up to and against something that is very complex. So if we are going to engage and build and do something and build something that is also complex, why not make it something that is worthwhile and fits. There are so many numerous ways that it is valuable. I think it puts our learners in a place where they are engaging in real things that they may not encounter until after they’re done with their formal education. They can encounter those in real time and they can do so in sort of a scaffolded way where they have adult partnership and support to navigate some of the things that exist out in the, you know, “real world.” The inequities that exist in communities, the resources that are available, and if we can start them as young as, you know, is developmentally appropriate for them to navigate and access that world, it is 100% worthwhile to do so.

[21:37] Kelly Young: Yeah. And I’m thinking about one of the reasons that we shifted all together to this idea of ecosystem is the tremendous assets that communities have that go untapped in the conventional system. Our afterschool partners are labeled by the time that they are given rather than what they do, which is actually youth development.

I’m thinking of our libraries and parks and all of those potential field sites that are laying relatively dormant or are serving only those with the resources and the wherewithal to get to them as opposed to it being a built-in part of the learning. And so Alin, I wanted to go back to something you said just now, which is that they get to experience things now rather than when they graduate. And can you say more about that?

And Olivia, I’ll follow up with you too after this. What are you pointing to that they get to experience now? That prepares them for the future, but also enables them to navigate it in current time.

[22:50] Alin Bennett: And I think, you know, there’s sort of plus maybe the label, the plus and minuses, but on the positive side, having a young person be able to place themselves in a larger community and find what gifts they can contribute to that community and how they fit in and how their interests exist with other professionals where they can lean on and be in community with early on, I think will just enhance and sort of speed up their own purpose for learning. And they will say, this is the reason why I’m up to this thing and I’ll be always up to this thing for my entire life.

And then on the other side is, and this is some of the things I  encountered while I was an advisor and school leader at The Met School and through their internship programming, there are realities of inequity that exist in the world that children are going to have to, that folks are gonna have to navigate, and you may not encounter them if you’re a person who has been marginalized in the, in that real, sort of workforce way until you’re 18, 25, maybe even 30. And having a place where they can have developed the skills to navigate and eventually change those inequities is a huge gift that we can give to our young people and a gift we can help them develop in their lives. And I’m thinking in particular this one young learner who identified as trans and when she encountered her internship programming, she really wanted to advocate for herself in that programming.

And she didn’t want to do so in an unprofessional way that didn’t sort of shut down the site or the location or the mentor, but also wanted to do so in an empowering way that she was able to display her power and value at that internship site. And she just needed someone to talk to and process that out with.

And she was able to do that as a 15-year-old learner. And that is a skill. And now she’s probably 25 now, that was a long time ago. That is a skill that she is still very passionate about and just is very fluent in. And now she actually helps others out in that sort of same cause.

So it is, you know, that’s a huge gift that we can give to our young people and help them develop.

[25:14] Kelly Young: Yeah, no, I love that story because you know, for sure equity, obviously, is at the center of all of this. And, you know, in our current system, equity gets flattened to a very thin slice of what we mean, which is academic success as usually by test scores.

And what you just described is equity at a real, live depth where people are encountering inequities in society and being able to process them and have the supports to come out stronger on the other end, which is just to me a whole ‘nother level above to think about what we could be supporting our young people to achieve.

And Olivia, for you, being able to be in the world and in the community, learning, what did that make possible for you?

[26:09] Olivia Christensen: I would say to kind of go off of what Alin said, I learned a lot of professional skills naturally from this, skills that I had never learned in the traditional school system.

Like the importance of being on time and also coordination and   for a lot of projects, we were tasked with doing events and stuff like that. So it’s a lot of, there’s a lot of professional skills that we learned from all the coordination and working with people in businesses and a lot of that work as well.

So professionality was one of the big things. And I also think, on the other hand, businesses working with younger people are benefiting in the sense that you’re getting fresh ideas, you’re getting the creativity and you know, how like things change with generations. I think incorporating younger people into the older generations and the things that they are working on will bring more kind of unity over the generations so that there’s not as much gap between social standards and things like that as well.

So when you think about it like that, that is something that just came to mind to me, too, was I think that’d be really, really cool. It’s a really cool way to just break down those barriers. And I know I remember thinking about how intimidating the workforce seemed like, oh my gosh, all these adults are going to see me and I have to work on how I’m going to be perceived. And that was one of the biggest things. And I think that’s one of the biggest things now, especially with like inequality is people will see you, and if you’re unprofessional, that’s the first thing that an employer will see about you as if you’re unprofessional, if you can’t communicate, if you just shut down, all of these things. That’s like the first thing they see when they’re interviewing you. My experience really taught me how to present yourself and how to talk and how to be in front of people. And although it’s like uncomfortable, everybody’s kind of uncomfortable.

It really gave me comfortability and being uncomfortable with some of the new things. And so yeah, I think that’s one of the big things that really stood out for me.

[28:09] Kelly Young: And there’s lots of things going on in the comments in just a minute and you can take a look at it. Alin, I’m curious what an ecosystem looks like from an educator perspective. What does it make available for the teaching workforce? This would be a dramatic, different set of roles and diversification of roles. Also the addition of a lot of people who have traditionally been on the outside of education allowing them to be main contributors.

So what would you say to educators about an ecosystem that might occur as something that looks kind of scary at first?

[28:47] Alin Bennett: Yeah. And I do have a slightly different lens, I think, being an advisor and, you know, the primary teacher at The Met School and having that experience because it is a step towards ecosystems even though it is still a bundled model within a local environment, I think you get a taste and a glimpse of what it actually means.

And I just want to share that it was my first year as an advisor, what was one of the scariest things coming, you know, as a recovering history teacher, jumping into a shifting role of what it meant to be in service of young people and facilitating their learning.

It was scary. So it’s the first thing I would say is take the leap and just know that it is  in the best service of kids And then my next realization was that your role is really helping the young learner towards the journey of self-actualization and discovering who they are and doing your best to support them, while also getting out over their way and just lending them your lived experience and any experience that you may have that they need in order to help grow them as unique, capable people.

And then, it is fun. It’s actually really fun. Your day is not the same as in a traditional setting where you’re sort of repeating curricula and all these other things. It’s like one day you are talking to a baker around specialty ingredients and intern and a project that a child can engage with them.

And the next day you’re sitting with, in fellowship with a family, learning more about the kid. And then you’re also, you know, sort of providing skills and knowledge transfer in the same way. So while it is different looking, it is always exciting. It is always ambiguous, and I say that in the best way.

And it’s always new. Every single day is a new day. You don’t get caught in that sort of cycle of, you know, having to repeat sort of the same things that you’re doing every day. And that Groundhog Day effect that sometimes traditional educational experience can feel like sometimes.

I would just add that it really changes how we are going to have to develop every adult in the community. I think it will basically change what we think of as a core human literacy will be the ability to work with youth and transfer and help them find themselves in transferred knowledge.

That will become a basic human literacy like we think of reading, writing, arithmetic. So I think that’s another point to add there.

[31:39] Kelly Young: Yeah. And I think both you and Olivia are pointing to the changes that would happen in the broader community because of an ecosystem. So there’s one thing about the community contributing to the development of our young people, but there’s also the contribution that re-integrating young people into the community is going to have on the broader community in really incredible ways.

And so I’ve seen a couple of questions with regards to how do you get this started? How do you move towards it? And I just want to spend just a minute looking into that, because I do think that that’s a question when you stand in the position of looking at your community as the playground for learning and you no longer see K-12 as the, I don’t mean to use it this way, but the monopoly on credentialed learning, what pathways do you begin to see?

And I don’t know if Karen Pittman is on the call, but she has been focused on really using this summertime in a way to demonstrate what an ecosystem could look like. And one possibility that I’ve been imagining is rather than we’ve got all of this money going to school districts and to the states out of the ARP money.

Rather than inventing summer school, right, which we know for many kids, regardless of our best intentions is it’s more like, you know, detention than it is summer school, because you usually are in summer school because you didn’t do well in your current year. What if you made summer camps available to young people and you started integrating educators into summer camps, as opposed to the other way around?

There are so many youth development actors that are standing ready. And what we have noticed is where learner-centered leaders are and practitioners are, in abundance, is in the out-of-school time space. So how do we start leveraging those kinds of partnerships immediately? Another example of how to enable an ecosystem more quickly is the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS). This is an example of something that has sparked my interest at the beginning of COVID, which they are a statewide charter school. They were put in place by the state for credit recovery for young people. And they have a variety of different ways that you can get credit recovery, but they are competency-based and they are a learner-centered group. They provide every young person with an advisor.

They can credential learning. If you want to get a science credit through robotics, you can be taking robotics, let’s say, with a parent. Or, you know, an engineer who knows the thing, but they’re not a learning expert. They can partner you with an educator who can credential that learning. And that is a statewide function.

That means that you can bypass what any of you who have tried to live through transforming a K-12 school into a competency-based school. It’s a very long process. It’s a very tough set of skill sets for people to gain and not everybody wants to gain them. And this is a way of leveraging an ecosystem to diversify the roles, so that not everybody has to be a credentialor of learning. And you can really enable your out of school time partners to deliver education and lean on highly trained educators in the credentialing part. So I give a couple of examples and I’m curious Alin if when you’ve thought about ecosystems, have there been things like that that struck you as opportunities to move towards more quickly.

[35:21] Alin Bennett: Absolutely. And it’s, coincidentally, because I live in a state that has a very robust system for extended learning opportunities. And they don’t call it that, but I think that’s the term commonly used. And it’s called the All Course Network and it is a statewide, well-advertised, and well-organized way for students to access like over 120 to 150 community partners across the small state for already credentialed, approved learning opportunities.

And just the raw diversity of the people who are in partnership with this All Course Network is pretty special and amazing. And, you know, I would push them a little further to allow children to navigate it during school hours. Other than in high school. I’m going to giving a little bit more freedom, but like starting in seventh, eighth and ninth grade, kids can sort of opt out of current programming and access these community resources and build them into their already existing transcripts in collaboration with their school.

So it’s still tethered to the school in some way, cause it’s gotta be approved and organized through the school, but it seems like there now exists, they’re carving out space for a new system to be built. And at least in this state for it to be recognized that there is learning happening in communities and people who are doing great work in partnership, who aren’t part of the traditional K-12 system.

Conversation with the audience

[37:06] Kelly Young: That’s great. Well, I know we’ve got amazing people on this call, so I’d like to open it up now to hear from some folks here. What are opportunities that you’re already pursuing? I’ve seen, I know Cath is here, I saw David Cook mentioning things. So some of you are already engaged in ways that are enabling an ecosystem of learning to exist.

So I’d love to hear from anybody who has some learnings. Cath, would you be willing to share about your work a little bit?

[37:42] Cath Fraise: Sure. Hi, I’m Cath, I founded Workspace Education about four years ago, and currently I’m running a research and development organization, and we are creating a well, hopefully it will be an 800 strong teen, online, virtual high school campus where we are doing all the support things that you would typically expect in a school from guidance counseling, coaching, career exploration, all those different things with a team and we’re doing it in seasons.

So you could just jump in as a team for a season to check it out. And it’s really, they can create a completely independent learning journey. And this is just really a co-working space or a co-learning environment for them to find friends, find study buddies and get access to opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise get.

So they can be in a home environment. They could be in a hospital, they could be in a rural area. They could be in an urban scenario and they could come and they can find a network of friends or even just one really good friend inside of this space. So that’s, that’s what we’re creating. We’re having advisories as well with two advisors for 15 learners and we’re going to have themes around all the different current things that we really should be talking about from social justice, sustainability and also belonging and friendship, and how to be a good human.

[39:05] Kelly Young: Well, that’s beautiful. And I’m just going to stick with you just for one more second because what you just described as what’s possible virtually, and I think we all had our minds expanded in what’s possible on that front.

And could you share, we actually though the idea of learning hub and so what you do with your in-person space changes, when you start thinking about what you can do virtually and what you don’t need to be in person to do shifts your view of, okay, when we are in person, what are we going to use the space for?

And your Workspace Education just continues to inspire me in terms of imagining a physical space. Could you describe a little bit about the physical environment that you created at Workspace?

[39:57] Cath Fraise: Yes. So I bought a building in a business park because it was close to entrepreneurs and different businesses.

And also because I wanted a full family alternative so that a lot of young people could go in and play basically. And they could be in communion together, learning together, and the parents could create exactly what they needed for their children in the space, but they also had a, you know, an ecology of services available to them, so they didn’t feel like they were on their own in that.

You know, I do feel that younger children may not be as welcome if they want to be playing all the time in more traditional workspace settings or field sites. So it is great to have these kinds of places available.

And you can put a lot of resources and then the parents were great. You just really need to onboard them, train them and let them know how to function in it. And you can have a very vibrant community for the children to incubate in and learn and do any classes that the children or the parents feel the children need.

[40:57] Kelly Young: Wonderful. Thank you, Cath, for sharing that. And as you can hear, Workspace was really built for, at least the original concept was, around homeschooling and creating community and the supports and options for young people to be able to explore much beyond what a single family could provide for their young person.

And in a lot of ways, what a public system of an ecosystem would provide is that kind of backbone support as a public support. So that it wouldn’t be dependent on somebody’s financial wherewithal to be able to opt out. In fact, the public education system could be that backbone of enabling young people to do all of the rich things that we’ve been hearing about.

So thank you, Cath. You’re a visionary. And David Cook. I see, you’ve got your hand raised, so I’d love to hear David Cook is at the Department of Education in Kentucky and is Head of the Innovation Lab, there.

[42:02] Roger Cook: Thanks, Kelly. It’s good to see everybody. So the work that we’re doing in Kentucky right now, and of course, I do come to this from a perspective, an odd perspective sometimes when I’m in learner-centered conversations because I’m at the state level, but we, we are embarking on something, which I think for a state agency has never been attempted before.

And it is to take this idea that, of course, Kelly and I have talked about before, so I stole a lot of the concepts as we began to lay it out, but it takes the idea of localized learning ecosystems and marries it to what we still know is in place that we have to navigate how people are funded for the educational opportunities they give kids, how they are governed, and tries to take it out of those conversations and really get to the locals and to say to the locals exactly what Alin and Kelly have been saying today, which is that it has to be their thing, it has to be their system. Not anything that me or anybody else legislatively has enacted for them.

And I think the thing that’s interesting about that is as we’ve identified already 14 local communities who are raising their hand going, we’re ready to do this. We’re ready to build a local coalition of all of the people. And we’re calling them reciprocal learning partnerships.

Sorry, it’s new enough now that, but the notion is that my job in all of this is to listen and see what might need to be done policy-wise to ensure that they don’t have any issues with doing the things because here’s what’s happening. They want to make these huge transformations, but they still live in this world and they need help at some level guiding them through how to get out of some of those boxes. Right. And some of these communities don’t even know what they don’t know. They don’t know yet what they could do if they really allowed themselves to think about all of the things that are in the report, all of those kinds of things.

So it’s an interesting direction, or at least where I’m looking at it from is we are trying to build local ecosystems of learner-centered education and recognizing that we need to help them do that because some of them don’t even know we’re using a radically inclusive set of guidelines for them to think about who is involved in this, because they tend to think about the way they’ve always thought about education.

They don’t include all of the right people. And so it’s just exciting. It’s not, you know, I wish, and I hope, and in fact, I’m probably gonna, at some point send this report to the communities that we’re working with because I want them to think much bigger than, than even… and you know, me, Kelly, I’ve tried to get them to think as big as they possibly can, but I don’t want them to think about, in any way, not doing something that they want to do because that’s why I’m standing there is to go, all right, if that’s what you want to do, we’re going to figure out how to do that. So thankfully we have a state Board of Education and a commissioner who want that to happen. So that’s obviously a thing in our pocket, that’s in our favor, but thanks for letting me share.

[45:49] Kelly Young: No. Well, I’m sure it’s for many, very encouraging to see that this is not alien to state conversations. And so it’s really encouraging to see that these conversations are happening at all levels. Because if we do not have policy enabling it, it will not be able to happen or to say it another way it will happen, but it will happen all outside of public education. In which case we know that that will not lead to an equitable result. So I just saw a comment and I know there’s so many comments. Kelli Miller was asking. You are on a reservation in a public school.

And I have not met you. So if you’re willing to be put on the spot, I would love to hear. So we have lots of Indigenous folks who are part of this, and we very much see this as a way of… I guess what I really want to say is that there is so much to be inspired by with Indigenous ways of knowing and creating community in creating these ecosystems.

And so, Kelli, I’m curious if you’d be willing to share what you saw in the ecosystem image that is really compatible with Indigenous ways of educating.

[46:56] Kelli Miller: Thank you. I would like to lead with, I am a White principal at a public school that is on a reservation. Public school, but we do serve mostly Indigenous students in Washington. The Tulalip Reservation. So we’re on sovereign land.

And it’s incredible. We are super small. We only have about a hundred students and we have eight certificated staff and 13 staff total. And we’re making a shift away from that bell schedule to, I guess it’s easiest to describe, like, as I imagined, or remember elementary school where it’s all one sort of interdisciplinary, everybody teaches everything. We’ve got a project and this is how science fits in and, you know, and most of our students come to us having failed at at our bigger, comprehensive high schools.

And so what really resonated me, always a student first as all education should be. And then you know, learn to mastery and listening to Olivia, talk about the empowerment of her. And so what I know here is we have the next tribal council at our school. I know that, and they’re going to be talking about treaty rights and the sustainability of them as a nation. And so how are we building those skills?

It’s not by telling them what to learn. So then when Alin was talking about lending our life experience and lifting and supporting, and I wrote it all down in fellowship with people and then transferring knowledge to youth, and that’s really that’s the Indigenous way is of being present.

And then teachable moments I think is probably the easiest translation into educator speak is that an Indigenous way are teachable moments. So, it’s constant. So there’s not. There’s like a framework for it, but it will come as Creator wants it to. And so there’s a lot of spirituality here, but in my mind, so what we do is take what our kids are doing.

So I’ve got a freshman, he’s running his own fishing boat, like with a crew, feeding his family and feeding the elders in the community and has all of the things. So he can’t come to school a lot because he’s, you know, running a business.

But so what we do is take what our kids are amazing at and then find the content that matches those skills.

Instead of saying, these are the skills that you need, how do you, how are you going to do that? And so that for me is how that connects with this. Is that flipping the script of what was Olivia amazing at that she could do. Now it’s up to the adults to go out and find those things and say, oh, look, look at all the boxes you checked and you didn’t even know it.

Amazing. Go.

But it is a big philosophical shift. It’s a pedagogy shift and it’s really hard for adults. Really hard.

[50:05] Kelly Young: No, I think what you’re saying is what we discovered over and over again. You know, when people say this is hard, it’s definitely not hard for the kids. Who it is hard for is the adults to rearrange their mental models of how learning happens. And and so I just think what you just shared was beautifully said of what learner-centered education really is, and that flip of fundamentally shifting who is at the center. So thank you for sharing that.

[50:35] Kelli Miller: It also lends itself to that mastery, which I was a special ed teacher. So that’s, you know, teach to mastery. It’s a best practice. So really, you know, we can’t do that as public educators. We aren’t allowed to teach to mastery in a general ed setting. This demands that of us. And for me as we’re helping our students reclaim their voice and our community.

So we had a boarding school on our reservation, like that’s us.

But it’s the dignity that we’re affording students to say, we believe you’re capable of this. And so we’re going to lift you up until you get there. Instead of saying here’s all the reasons why you can’t. Providing that scaffolding.

There’s dignity in that and we’re recognizing their humanity. And that’s what this is for me, recognizing Olivia’s humanity and her ability to have an extraordinary life, whatever that means for her. And that really is that Indigenous, everyone has a role. I am on the same footing as my office manager, as my parent educator, as my PhD professor. We all are equal contributors to the learning because we all have different skillsets.

So this kind of thing, if it’s a way that the education system is ready to hear more, I think it’s a good bridge.

[51:47] Kelly Young: Wonderful. Well, thank you for sharing that. And you just named also another avenue into ecosystems is alternative education, for better or for worse, there is more freedom in alternative education to get programs that do flip the script that are transformed learning experiences for young people, and you get the opportunity to make learner-centered education available to our most vulnerable populations. And so to me, it’s one of the most important areas that we should leverage to make learner-centered education available.

So we only have two minutes left, so I want to give it to Alin for a minute of anything that you want to share about why you’re passionate about ecosystems or what you think is important that we consider going forward. And then I’m going to let Olivia close us out.

[52:47] Alin Bennett: I’ll do both really short.

So for the first question that this really has the potential to be an act of liberation for communities. You know, someone much wiser than myself said when we created a public education system, communities essentially outsourced their education. And this is a way for us to be in partnership with the community and be in reflective conversations with them, which, you know, folks have said is true liberation and giving them the power back and control back for their children’s education.

And a way that I’ve really come to see ecosystems as a different way. It’s just in my own lived experience. As a young learner, myself, really engaged into the community, imagining what it was for myself, if it would have been not organized and supported by my mother and certainly credentialed because I was in a community, 80% of my waking hours, just out of necessity, having a single working mom.

And I was in everything from YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and Inwood Little League. Everything. And they were also rich learning experiences. Then it would have changed my experience as a learner if I held them and valued them the same way I held and valued school. So try to think of your own lived experience and imagine it within an ecosystem.

So that, that may center it for you a little bit as you’re grappling with this.

[54:10] Kelly Young: Excellent. And Olivia, you want to close this out?

[54:14] Olivia Christensen: I mean, Alin said it all very well, and I would just like to emphasize that this does have a huge impact on students. And as a learner, this one year changed my life.

So imagine how awesome the people we would create would be if they were doing this their entire lifetime and imagine how successful our society would be as well. So yeah. And I would like to thank all of you as well for coming. Yes. It was nice to see some familiar faces and also some new ones. So thank you.

[54:42] Kelly Young: Couldn’t have closed on a better note. So thank you all for coming.

Sign up for Voyager

×

What does education look like in a post-COVID world? Sign up to receive the latest stories that showcase why learner-centered education is built for this moment.