One Year in Review: Reflections on the Growth of a Movement

Insights   06 October 2016

It’s hard for us to believe, but it has officially been one year since the Education Reimagined vision went public. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we invited our team, Advisory Board, and leaders to share their reflections on where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what learner-centered education makes possible.


Kelly Young, Education Reimagined Executive Director

Looking back four and a half years ago, when I started as Director of this Convergence-led education project, I was pessimistic about what a national conversation on education could do to improve things for children. Every topic we could think of—how to attract and retain high-quality teachers, the role of technology, how to create collaborative schools, the role of testing—was uninspiring and insufficient to tackle by itself. All questions seemed to lead to much bigger questions about the purpose of education and what we want for kids. But, as I was searching for this bigger conversation, people would say, “You can’t boil the ocean. You have to have a dialogue on a part of education so that it can lead to action.”

It took eight months and what felt like a million conversations, but then I met Gisèle Huff, Executive Director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation. She spoke about the “Industrial-era system” and “factory model school.” She said, “Your topics are all wrong. You are trying to tweak the Model T engine to get us to the moon. Instead, we need to start building the rocketship!” At that moment, I saw the possibility of reimagining education from a blank slate. I started testing the idea with possible participants, and we had a winner. People from all different backgrounds and views were excited about leaving the old debates behind and having a new conversation.

What’s so remarkable is how many interviews I had before anyone mentioned “transforming” the system, rather than reforming it. It was not a hot topic. Four years later and one year after the launch of Education Reimagined, we are in a totally different place. There are hundreds of learner-centered leaders visible to each other and known for their efforts to transform—rather than reform—the system. ESSA has been passed and states now have the latitude—if they take it—to allow those leaders to set aside the constraints of the current system and begin to invent a new system aligned to the aspirations and needs of our times. In fact, many states have already established innovation zones or competency-based pilots that give leaders the freedom to discover how to create learner-centered environments.

This all means that, though it is called by many names, the learner-centered paradigm for education is coming to life all across the country. We are in a moment of incredible possibility. Just to be part of this burgeoning movement—to watch it blossom, grow, and spread—has been an honor and a privilege. And, I am so eager and excited to see what comes next.


Milestones

Reflections


Bobbi Macdonald, City Neighbors Foundation, Advisory Board Member

Education Reimagined invited me and 27 diverse education stakeholders into a room and asked us to let go of everything that divides us, so we could find the beliefs, vision, and ideals of education that unite us. The work was sometimes confronting and sometimes frustrating, but I found myself gathering my courage and speaking my mind.  As a charter starter sitting at the table with AFT and NEA representatives, I realized other people in the room were doing the same thing—letting go of the sides they are used to taking and, instead, focusing on everyone’s shared ideals for children, teachers, and families. And, together, we created a vision for education we believe has the essential components for children to become empowered, engaged, and joyful participants.

There are times in my work in Baltimore when I have felt despair over the systems and political environment that sometimes hold us back from true innovation and progress for the children of Baltimore. But, what I realized while working with Education Reimagined is that our system is made up of people—and I am one of those people.

Education Reimagined brings together leaders across the USA who are doing innovative work with students and teachers. This grassroots movement is marching forward, and we are not alone. A movement that believes children are capable, loving, creative, and worthy of the deepest respect is a movement that carries us forward in this work of reimagining education. For that, I am grateful.


Joe Erpelding, Design39Campus, Learning Lab Participant

The time is now to make learner-centered education available to all students to ensure they are life-ready to elevate humanity.


Demi Edwards, Chief of Staff, Education Reimagined

For over three years, I have been reimagining education with a team of creative, passionate, and unbelievably driven partners and a growing community of relentless, heroic, and determined leaders. When I started back in May 2013, I could not have imagined how life changing this experience was going to be.

That is what Education Reimagined and learner-centered education means to me. It is the possibility to change the lives of learners; educators; school and district leaders; policymakers; and parents. To change the lives of all of those striving in their communities to ensure that all learners are ready to face and take on the world before them.

I recognize that changing lives—transforming them, in fact—is no small feat. Yet, over the past three years, I have seen it happen again and again. In gatherings of education veterans, renewed passion and commitment has taken hold. Among educators and administrators already dedicated to putting the learner at the center, I’ve witnessed renewed hope and courage bolster those feeling worn out. With learners now experiencing learner-centered environments, I’ve been amazed by the confidence and poise of who they are. And, on my own team, I’ve seen leadership emerge in those who only knew themselves as followers.

All of this comes back to learner-centered education and the transformational possibility it holds for all involved to be seen, known, and loved as both who they are now and who they are capable of being. This is a movement that is changing the world, one individual at a time. And, there is no place I’d rather be.


Becky Pringle, National Education Association (NEA), Advisory Board Member

I continue to be inspired by the vision and the growing influence of Education Reimagined. From the outset, this endeavor has been about trust. I can’t say enough about the process Convergence uses to bring a diverse collection of participants together for a common purpose. For me, it has highlighted a “success loop” that starts with the quality of the relationship. As we focus on building the quality of the relationships, we significantly increase the quality of our conversations. And, as we find ourselves in deeper, higher quality conversations, we reach higher quality decisions and achieve higher quality results.

The results themselves are also deeply rooted in trust—trust and respect for students, no matter their background. Our vision is founded on the belief that each and every student can reach their full potential when the system adapts to their unique needs, strengths, interests, and aspirations, rather than expecting the students to meet the needs of the system. We at NEA are now striving to find and encourage learner-centered leaders among our members who are already at work in communities, schools, policy arenas, and across the education profession. We share the aim of Education Reimagined to grow the number of active champions of learner-centered education, to support similar efforts, and to further share the possibility of this movement with a broad spectrum of education stakeholders.


Nate McClennen, Teton Science Schools, Learning Lab Participant

Learner-centered education realizes the dream of customizing learning for the profile of each child. No child is truly left behind in a system that ultimately builds an ecosystem of resources that allows each learner to develop the skills, dispositions, and knowledge needed to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.


Monica Snellings, Communications & Design Lead, Education Reimagined

Being a designer and not an educator, some days I ask myself how did I get here? What rabbit hole did I drop through?

I have always been a voracious reader and curious learner. Lucky for me, my work as a designer and communicator over the years has enabled me to be a life-long learner. And, for me at Education Reimagined, it has been especially wonderful to engage my mind and bring all of my skills to an effort that resonates deeply with my own lived experience. You see, I was one of those kids that did not fit the standardized one-size-fits-all model. Bored stiff, I bailed out of high school my junior year and headed off to a small liberal arts college. That year, I came alive in so many dimensions that I was forever altered and my life course was set. My work has now aligned with a mission—learner-centered education for ALL kids.

My favorite part of being on this team is every day I get to have fun thinking about how Education Reimagined can shine a light on the amazing work being done by leading educators. It’s a very good day when we discover a new leader. It’s an even better day when we get to hear about what they are up to. So, I have a “job” that feels like an adventure where I get to be a creative learner every single day. What could be better than that?


Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Advisory Board Member

I know that many bright and committed teachers and public education advocates are reimagining education every day—where they are and with what they have. For me, representing AFT first in the vision process and now on the Advisory Board has been a way to honor those small steps. And, at the same time, a way to think about creating the conditions for learner-centered systems on a larger scale, where all students and the adults who support their development have the tools they need to succeed.

Since the vision “went public,” it’s also been exciting to see more and more examples of innovation and the efforts to connect the thinkers and doers behind them. Equally important, there are now more tables that bring together forward-thinking practitioners, policymakers, and advocates. Anyone who thinks there isn’t a lot of innovation and creative thinking in American public schools and communities would change their mind if they had an opportunity to sit at one of these tables. In light of the challenges facing our public schools every day—especially those where most of our economically disadvantaged children and students of color attend—the work with Education Reimagined has been a heartening and hopeful experience.


Ryan Krohn, Institute for Personalized Learning, Learning Lab Participant

I believe when learner-centered education is available to ALL, each learner will express themselves as who they are, rather than who they are not, and will be well-positioned to draw on their talents as they approach future opportunities and challenges.


Susan Stancampiano, Operations Associate, Education Reimagined

During my time with Education Reimagined, I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly inspiring, innovative, and dedicated individuals in the office, on the phone, and at a variety of conferences. Everyone is full of ideas, positivity, and a passion for continuing the momentum of the learner-centered movement. I have worked in the education field in a few different capacities, and, to me, everything boils down to how can we best serve learners. From Kindergarten through my high school graduation, I attended 13 different schools, but until I started working for Education Reimagined, I had never seen individuals so dedicated to recognizing each learner as an individual and helping them thrive.

For our one-year anniversary, the Education Reimagined team was out in San Diego for the first Learning Lab, which included a site visit to one of the environments in our community. As we toured Design39Campus, it illuminated what learner-centered education can look like in practice, and it allowed me to dream. What if my education had looked like this? When I had the opportunity to teach, I discovered I loved science—it had just never made sense to me before. Would I have pursued a different career path if I could have learned science in a way that worked for me?

What if all learners were seen as people already part of society with valuable contributions to be made? What is going to happen when this movement reaches all kids? Only one year in and we’re already working toward so many things as a community. This movement has the power to change everything—and the team working toward it is ready for those dreams (and so many more) to become reality.


Stephan Turnipseed, Destination Imagination, Advisory Board Member

When I consider the journey from reformation to transformation, I am compelled to reflect not only on the journey but on the destination. The destination we imagined is not a place filled with rigid paradigms of conformity. Rather, it is a place filled with the heady voices of newfound freedom of all children ready to construct knowledge. It is a place where children revel in their responsibility, owning their learning. It is a place where children and society embrace one another equally. It is breathtaking.

To be part of such a remarkable and achievable future over the last year has been both a journey of passion and a labor of love. We have had wins and losses; however, the scorecard is tipping in favor of our children. I have seen the power of this firsthand through many gatherings and nods of approval as, one by one, parents and schools come to see the truth of our cause. I have been moved to tears and steeled for battle as the situation demands. In the end, the most exciting and inspirational image I carry is a simple truth—our shared societal future rests in the hands of children. We can ill afford to fail them now when much of what we know has yet to be dreamt.


Sonya Wrisley, Innovation Consultant, Learning Lab Participant

Learner-centered education is truly the future of the entire educational world. It is the only way we can ensure each and every learner is fully engaged and being supported to reach his or her potential through his or her interests, passions, and learning style.


Allan Cohen, Strategic Consultant, Program Leader

This has been a year of standing for the possibility of learner-centered education and of finding the thousands of leaders who are also taking that stand. Each time I meet a young learner from a learner-centered environment, my faith in learner-centered education and in the future of our society is affirmed. Organizing education around each unique learner is clearly an idea whose time has come.

At the day-to-day level, playing one’s small part in the unfolding of such events is surprisingly routine. But, I am astonished every time I step back and look at what we are all a part of. There is now the very real possibility that every single child will experience being known for the unique person they are and that they will be supported in their natural desire to learn and grow in the unique ways that work for them.

When we gather together, this possibility is electrifying. The energy is palpable. It is an incredible privilege to contribute to this movement.


Marc Porter Magee, 50CAN, Advisory Board Member

For me, Education Reimagined is about relationships—forming connections with leaders who are imagining a better way to provide every kid in America with the education they deserve. It’s helped me think bigger about where we should set our sights in our efforts to improve American education, and it has exposed me to a wider world of innovators who are doing this work every day. Education Reimagined has accomplished so much in its first year. I can’t wait to see what this community of leaders is going to accomplish in the years to come.


Kim Carter, MC2 and Q.E.D. Foundation, Learning Lab Participant

At its heart, learner-centered education is about recognizing and honoring the capacity of every person, regardless of their age, to effectively shape both the decisions that impact their lives and contribute to the communities in which they live. Everybody wins when we empower and support each other.


David Fairman, Consensus Building Institute, Program Leader

In nearly 30 years of work as a facilitator of public policy collaboration, I’ve dealt with some challenging issues from peacebuilding in Mindanao to public housing in the US. Supporting the work of Education Reimagined to create a shared vision for the future of education, and then helping that vision catalyze wider dialogue and alignment building with education stakeholders around the country, has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my career.

Three things about the process stand out. First, the leaders involved were able to let go of many strongly held views about schooling today to imagine education as it could be tomorrow. Kelly Young, a true visionary, and my remarkable co-facilitator, Allan Cohen, were critically important in standing for that shift and making it possible.

Second, the participating leaders opened their hearts and minds to each other. That opening allowed many powerful moments of personal connection, mutual respect, admiration, and affection to emerge during the crafting of the vision. The commitment to putting it all on the line has carried over beautifully into the ongoing dialogues with other education stakeholders who are attracted to the vision and need a safe, open space for talking through its implications for their work and partnerships.

Finally, the ability of the vision to attract, excite, motivate, and mobilize has proven to be quite extraordinary. Today, I am more hopeful for the future of education than I have been in a long time. The momentum of the learner-centered education movement is building fast. It’s a privilege to be engaged in this transformational moment.


Gisèle Huff, Jaquelin Hume Foundation, Advisory Board Member

My work with Education Reimagined has had a profound effect on me both personally and professionally. I joined the effort years ago skeptical of what could be accomplished given the wide range of views held by those involved and generally suspicious of groupthink. It turned out that I was just blown away. It was the highlight of my professional life. With this vision, we are in a different place for what we can do for the kids in this country.

Simply put, learner-centered education is the only approach that overcomes the law of averages that our institutions have been following since the Industrial Revolution. The learner-centered experience enables us to provide whatever it takes to every single child in America. Over the last year, I have been witness to the growing community of leaders making this experience real for hundreds of kids. And now, more than ever, I am ready to see their work take hold in every community across the country.


Scott Van Beck, Houston A+ Challenge, Learning Lab Participant

Who couldn’t be passionate about a movement with the phrase “learner-centered” at its heart?  This is what education should be about, plain and simple.


Paul Haluszczak, Communications Associate, Education Reimagined

As the fifth addition to the Education Reimagined team, I’ve entered at a booming moment within the learner-centered movement. And, although I was only introduced to the vision some five months ago (and quickly sent in my job application), I’m still just as wide-eyed about the very real actions happening across the country to realize an education system that will adapt to the uniqueness of every child.

I’m overwhelmingly grateful to work in a community that selflessly devotes its time to a future that lives up to our fullest expectations of an environment where all children can realize their dreams. As a high-schooler, it was painfully visible how much my teachers were constrained by the restrictions imposed by federal legislation. I didn’t need to know the complexities of the system to understand it was not working. For me, school was simply a game to be won as quickly as possible, so I could move on to bigger and better things. Ironically enough, those “bigger and better things” happen to be working in education transformation.

In my short professional career, I was 0 for 2 in finding work that made me feel I was making an impact for the whole of society. Now, I’m confident this is exactly the kind of work I have jumped into here. With the opportunity to share so many unique and inspiring transformational stories from across the nation, I’m proud to take ownership in amplifying learner-centered efforts and environments from Florida to Alaska and everywhere in between. Writing their stories leaves me with endless joy and optimism about the future that lies ahead.


Stacey Lamb, Design39Campus, Learning Lab Participant

Over 2,000 years ago Plato said, “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” 

To find “the genius of each,” all learners need an educational system that allows for their own strengths and interests, accounts for their prior experiences and learning styles, and encourages wonder, creativity, connections, and engagement. All learners should not just know the WHAT behind their learning; they should also know the HOW and the WHY in order to truly make a difference in our world and their future!


Jim Rickabaugh, Institute for Personalized Learning, Learning Lab Participant

We face the challenge of preparing today’s students for a future that will feature constant change and multiple careers. We must nurture in learners the skills to learn, adjust, unlearn, and relearn as their world evolves. This is the focus and promise of learner-centered learning.


Kelly Young, Executive Director, Education Reimagined

What does this work mean for me? It means the possibility of cultivating wonder, play, and joy in my kids’ lives and the lives of every child. It means they have the ability to pursue their curiosities, interests, and crazy “why” and “what if” questions wherever they lead. It means that all children are truly prepared for whatever life throws at them. I want that freedom for every child and young adult.

The other night, my son imagined falling through a hole in the earth—from DC to China. As we played with the idea, he got stumped wondering how a boy standing in China and a boy standing in DC could both jump “down” the hole but travel in opposite directions. We joked that maybe he would jump down, travel halfway through, and then come back up the way he went down. As we played around with the possibilities, he was suddenly struck when I said that we are sometimes the ones “upside down” on the planet. “Why don’t we fall off the earth when we’re on the ‘bottom?’” he wondered. That led to an even more baffling conversation about how, even when we are sitting still, we are actually spinning at 1,000 mph, traveling around the earth at 66,000 mph, and traveling around the Milky Way at something like 44,000 mph. “Wow,” he said, “How come we don’t hurdle off into space?” My response: “That’s a very good question. You should find some kids at school to investigate that with. Tell your teachers you want to discover why we are not thrown off the earth like a sling shot.” We both laughed at the strangeness of it all, and he said, “No, that’s not what we do in school.” All I could think was—Why not?

I love the human spirit when we are unconstrained, curious, determined, joyful, and alternatingly frustrated and elated in pursuit of discovering something for ourselves. I see a future where the joy of learning, exploration, and creativity drives how we approach the world and the challenges we face. Making learner-centered education available to all students would breathe life and humanity back into learning—both for the learners and the adults who work with them in and outside of official education. It would allow people the opportunity to make powerful contributions to their families, communities, and the world right now and in the future.

I get to stand for that future every day at Education Reimagined. And, more than that, I get to meet the most incredibly courageous, generous, humble leaders who are making this vision a reality in diverse communities all over the country (and world), despite the odds. It is both humbling and enlivening.


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