Right now, almost nothing is “normal.” Even as states begin to ease stay-at-home restrictions, we remain uneasy, uncertain, and struggling to find solid ground. As we look toward fall, wondering what learning will look like, finding solid ground only becomes more difficult. But, maybe finding solid ground isn’t what we’re being invited to do.
Maybe we’re being invited to find a new way forward and invent something new—with the humanity of young people at the center. Maybe we’re being invited to release our grip on “normal” and begin reaching for what we know we want but cannot yet see clearly. Maybe, just maybe, we’re being invited to transform our education system from one that is school-centered to one that is learner-centered. To one that is, by design, always ready and able to serve and support the diverse youth of our country to learn and thrive.
When learning facilities were closed nationwide, the invitation for change began showing up all over the place. States began waiving testing and grading—creating a national opportunity to design learning outside the narrow bounds of standardized testing and state standards. The federal Department of Education launched a $300 million grant program inviting states to imagine learning outside the four walls of a school building. Then, two weeks later, the DOE launched a $3 million grant competition for districts interested in allocating resources based on students’ individual needs.
Although the funds for the grants above are rather small, the message is enormous—create a new vision for education in your state or local community that provides young people access to developing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they will need to live fulfilling lives today and in the future.
The only question is: How far are we willing to take our imaginations?
Admittedly, time is not on our side right now. To create a new vision with a fully baked implementation plan by fall is a tall order. Too tall. What is possible is to create choice and new possibilities for families, young people, and educators—all with an eye on ensuring those new opportunities are accessible, real choices for our most marginalized families and children. We can create the opportunities and structures to enable people to imagine a new future and move towards a new vision that centers on relevant and meaningful learning and contributions to their communities.
Over the past month, we have been hoping to paint such a picture through the stories of learner-centered environments throughout the country serving youth who are diverse across race, age, geography, and circumstances. In the face of immense challenges, including facility closures, these sites have stayed true to their beliefs about what makes for a rich and meaningful learning experience—trusting relationships, supporting the unique needs of each child and their family (including addressing any gaps in access upfront), and maintaining relevance of learning just to name a few.
During a moment where new challenges are abundant, regardless of circumstance, these learner-centered environments continue supporting the growth and development of the young people, the families, and the communities they serve. They were built for this moment—even though they never saw it coming.
If you are ready to opt out of returning to “normal” and opt into a future where young people are served in every single way that enables them to live into their fullest potential, begin by exploring examples of what’s possible in this issue of Voyager Monthly.
Let’s start inventing,