It was all about imagination, possibility, inspiration, and pioneers.
Tuesday, March 8th. From sunup to well past sundown, it was a learner-centered Education Reimagined day at SXSWedu!
With three events spread out over the day, we created an opportunity for pioneers to spend the day with us—an experience that let them dive deeply into learner-centered education. Want to experience the day via Twitter—see our Storify!
We started off with a panel featuring Stephan Turnipseed of Destination Imagination and a vision signatory; Dr. Marina Walne of EduStart LLC; and Roger Cook of Taylor County Schools (KY) to lay out the paradigm shift from an Industrial-era, school-centered education system to one that adapts to meet the learner’s needs and interests and to showcase an example of where this paradigm shift is being brought to life. Roger Cook rocked the house with Taylor County’s radically personalized system.
In this moment of opportunity, we need to design a new engine. It has got to be driven by different principles and built out in different ways.
Having set the stage for learner-centered education, we hosted a 3-hour Summit in the afternoon to dive deeper into how this shift actually happens on the ground. We had a panel of four leading pioneers who shared their journeys toward learner-centered education: Margaret Black of Big Thought (Dallas), Virgel Hammonds of KnowledgeWorks, Trace Pickering of IowaBIG, and Michael Hinojosa of Dallas ISD.
Following the panel, with the help of a few more pioneers serving as facilitators, we dove into table conversations, asking these questions:
Where did you start with learner-centered education, and what had you choose that starting point? Which of the five elements did you start with? Did you start with all five?
• How did the learners benefit from that element/starting point? And what, if anything, did you discover was missing?
• After getting going, what did you add to your model? How did learners benefit from that addition?
This was an opportunity to bring together pioneers at a variety of stages in their journeys to transform their systems. Working in different models, focusing on different elements, and entering from different starting points, they came together to learn from each other and to see themselves as part of a larger movement. It was a bit of an experiment. What happens when learner-centered educators have the space and time, in the midst of a crazy conference, to explore, delve deep, and really listen to each other?
Here’s what stood out for us:
1. Community engagement is key.
Throughout the day, we heard again and again how important it is to start with the community. There must be a shared vision and shared ownership among all stake-holders to give the educators, learners, and administrators the space to innovate with how, when, where, and with whom learning happens.
2. Educators must be prepared to own and be leaders of transformation.
There is a huge unlock when educators embrace their role as a learner—it opens up the possibility for them to imagine myriad pathways for each child and to co-create with that learner to make it a reality. This requires a whole host of new skills and dispositions. And, most importantly, educators can’t do it alone—they need the preparation, support, and time to delve deeper, try new things, and collaborate together.
3. The work of transformation is hard, but the support of a community of pioneers makes it easier.
Being part of a larger community provides the connection, compassion, and courage for those working day-to-day on-the-ground to bring learner-centered education to life. And, having a protected “space” to innovate and think outside of the box is invaluable.
We finished the day out with a co-hosted cocktail party with Next Generation Learning Challenges. Amidst beer, wine, and guacamole, we continued conversations, sparked new friendships, and reflected on the day’s insights and learnings.
We can’t wait to do it all again next year!
One of the biggest barriers that we face to getting personalized learning to scale is actually a mindset. It is our continued belief in the myth of the average person.
What else did we do while we were in Austin?
While we were busy hosting a panel, a summit, and a party—we did make it to some awesome presentations—below a few highlights of what we heard, saw, and learned.
1.When learners are present and speak up Aha! moments fill the space.
Three learners from Big Picture schools spoke impressively about what it’s like to match their passions to their learning. A 4th-grader grew enough lettuce to feed her whole school for two weeks and is now combining her love of plants with a self-designed art-making project. A middle schooler confidently stated that he was interested in engineering and entrepreneurship. An older student in Big Picture’s College Unbound program talked about having the experience but not having the degree to “prove” it to the world. The program met and supported him where he was—seeing his experience not only as vaulable but as countable. This has changed the trajectory of his life.
Another panel, Students on Diversity and Inclusivity in Schools, featured three young people who spoke up passionately about being accepted and seen for who they are. They had plenty to say about the importance of knowing your own story and history. They spoke movingly about identity and acceptance. And, when asked a question from the audience regarding their take on the current presidential primary season—“Honestly, I’m disappointed, America. Is this really the best we can do?”
2.Tim King’s reflections on his journey as an educator at Union Prep Academy Charter School were profoundly moving.
He has created a culture based on respect, responsibility, rituals (if you want to change the dance, you got to change the music), and relationships (we can’t educate them if we don’t know them). His goal: Change the narrative of African American males. Ten years in, his learners have a 100% college acceptance rate and Union Prep has grown from one school to a network of schools, launched an innovative program supporting college students, and started a workforce development program. The school creed: We believe. Their mission: Arm them with the swords of intellectual knowledge and shields to protect them from a hostile world.
Could we make learning wilder, wider, inexhaustible, with a reckless disregard for boredom? Could we make it a challenge and a desire, something craveable and ownable?
3. Jane McGonigal’s keynote presentation “Think Like a Futurist” provided a method for seeing into the future.
How do we do this? By identifying and collecting signals, combining these signals into forecasts to create personal foresight that allows one to play with the future. From Jane’s perspective, key to any inquiry about forecasting are the questions we ask ourselves about the signals we pick up.
Questions to consider: What kind of change does this represent? From what to what? What’s driving the change? What will the world be like if this signal gets amplified? What if the trend continues and becomes common? Is this a future we want?
When you can connect a passion with peers and community that support and motivate you and connect that to real opportunities in the world, magic can happen.