There is no formula to invent a robust, learner-centered ecosystem that serves every young person well. To play within the context of invention requires mentally setting aside the structures, systems, and assumptions that allow the conventional system to persist.
“If I can just change this one thing, everything will fall into place” has never come true. When we try to change one, ten, or 100 things within the conventional system, there are hundreds more mutually reinforcing components that dilute the shift or threaten to take the effort that went into your innovative change-making efforts back to square one.
Let’s say you and your learning community recognize your organizational structure needs a refresh. New job titles and descriptions are written, unconventional hires are made, and a new summer training program is designed to prepare every adult for the upcoming academic year.
There is so much movement and energy; there is a real feeling that something new, exciting, and different is afoot. But, how should that “new” be described? What is it aimed at accomplishing?
Before recasting the organizational structure, was there a complete reimagining of the outcomes your learning community is aimed at producing with (not for) young people? Have young people, families, community stakeholders, university leaders, government officials, and business leaders been involved in those conversations? How were those stakeholders invited to leave behind what they knew to be “true” about what education and learning must be?
I jump straight to outcomes because it is the place from which all of the structures and systems that support the current K-12 education system are born from. When we choose to prioritize high GPAs and test scores, and increased high school graduation and college admission rates, we create the assessment and credentialing, public policy, funding, and school-centered models of today’s conventional system.
If you recast your organizational structure, what impact is that having on the non-exhaustive list above? How does it change the way you assess and credential learning? How does it influence how your learning environment allocates resources? How does it influence the way educators are prepared before you hire them and are supported after that?
I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again. The enormity of transforming the conventional system to one that is equitable, community-based, and learner-centered can’t be overstated. But, when we choose to invent, when we choose to leave behind the assumptions about what must be “true” within an education system, we have the opportunity to create newly from a foundation of equity, community, and youth empowerment.
This freedom can still feel overwhelming. So much needs to be reimagined. But, at the same time, we would do well to remember the current system at one point did not exist. It too was invented from scratch. And, there were people then (who had very different aims) who thought it worth the challenge to bring their invention into existence. Why can’t we do the same and bring our invention into existence? An invention that honors the unique needs and aspirations of every child, family, and community. Why not us? Why not now?