Back in April, Grant Lichtman authored a piece for Voyager titled: Will the COVID-19 Crisis Really Change Education? He cautioned the optimists who thought the disruption we were seeing across education would once and for all move us to reimagine education’s conventional systems and structures, “While some educators chomp at the bit, wondering if this is the moment where things finally change, I know many more are focused on pressing, next-day issues.”
In one sentence, Grant pointed to the very thing that has been on my mind ever since this pandemic started: If we are serious about transforming education in this country, it is insufficient to ask people who have full-time jobs administering the current system to also be charged with inventing new systems, structures, and practices.
For the handful of communities and districts that are committed to a whole new future of education that radically shifts what an education system is, we need to treat it like developing a vaccine for COVID-19 or going to Mars. We must recognize that it hasn’t been done before, it’s a full-time job, and we need to galvanize the resources, expertise, and public will to create a new education system that nurtures community-based learning ecosystems.
We must re-write job descriptions and assign bold, new accountabilities that are freed from the conventional system’s constraints. We must move beyond one-off, “someday” conversations and begin true transformational work. And, most importantly, we must not do what’s easiest for adults or only some families. This will guarantee the quality of learning experiences for all or some young people will be compromised. Rather, we should do the things that work best for young learners and their learning, even when it may be a challenging shift for many of the adults.
Now is the time to organize a team of learner-centered, future-oriented people who are responsible for coming up with three different scenarios for how your community might make this shift. Then, during the holiday break this winter, you can retrain, reorient, and redeploy the adults in your learning community to begin acting on this new vision.
It’s time to step into the unknown and build the plane as it flies. Just remember when you run into some turbulence, ask the young people you serve how much more they are enjoying their learning experience and how it has impacted how they see themselves, the world, and their place in it. Time and time again, you’ll be reminded why you began this journey.