And There Are Some Great New Ideas in Education

Needless to say, it is difficult to capture the passion, the progress, and the vision for Education Reimagined in a short blog. The best I can do is revisit highlights and takeaways that affected me and my work at Teach to Work.

To give you some context, for six years, Education Reimagined has been a growing think tank about the future of education. It has been housed under a larger umbrella organization called Convergence. The team brought together thought-leaders from around the country and countless educators, questioning philosophies and best practices, and continuing to research, convene, publish, and blog.

I first met Education Reimagined when we collaborated on three articles—a trilogy, if you will—about the role of business practitioners as mentors in the academic arena (based on my book, Teach to Work). Our articles included:

In January, this burgeoning organization had its break-out day. With the parting commitment to their umbrella organization to “honor diverse perspectives, build trusting relationships and drive positive change,” they formally announced the creation of their own 501(C)(3) organization. The Symposium kicked off the event with hundreds in attendance.

The following are a few of the highlights I’d like to share from the day-long symposium:

Becky Pringle, the VP of the National Education Association and a 31-year middle school science teacher, kicked off the event with a mission statement: “Our mission is to unite the entire nation to fulfill the promise of a public education for every student in our country to succeed in a global and interdependent world.”

We also heard from Todd Rose, Director of the Mind, Brain and Education Program at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Author of Dark Horse, The End of Average, as well as the co-founder of Populace, a social impact organization to transform how we learn, work and live toward fulfilling lives.

OMG—I loved hearing about Todd’s life and his Dark HorseProject. A true maverick, he was too brilliant to be funneled where he didn’t belong, blatantly sharing his own unorthodox education, drop-out experiences, his failures, and his contrarian points of view. He shared that it was not until he discovered his unique passions, and the subjects that turned him on, that learning finally became fun for him.

As I listened to this author–from one of America’s premiere education institutions–I have to admit, I was not expecting to hear about such a non-traditional path. Todd went on to explain how his personal experience informed his Dark Horseresearch: a study of individuals who were NOT expected to succeed, who charted their own pathways, and who succeeded in spite of all odds. His book is a fabulous read, tells tremendous stories of character styles and idiosyncrasies, and the core commonalities that drove his unusual subjects to unexpected heights.

Todd eloquently reflected on the school system today, which is designed to make kids think theyare the problem. If theydon’t fit into the system, there is something wrong with them. He pushed the audience to think about how tests aggregate students to levels, but they do not tell students anything about who they really are or what they are capable of.  He vehemently disputes the One-Size-Fits-All educational model.

This was a great segue into the vision for the conference: setting up a parallel between the 19th-century factory model of education versus a “Learner-Centered Education” model.

The new focus, as Todd explained, is the critical importance of students being able to “pick what they care about” and to “have options to determine what theywant to learn” … and finally, to have kids “never stop figuring out who they are, and what aligns with their values and motives.”

I was blown away by three teenagers who shared their own experiences from Learner-Centered environments—all students from Big Picture Learning Schools. They were introduced by their national executive director, Big Picture’s Carlos Moreno.

As each student told their story, my notes reflect a few salient quotes:

Jasmine asked, “When you are not given a choice (in school), how are you expected to navigate for yourself in life?” Jasmine is from Los Angeles, is an aspiring choreographer, actress, photographer, designer, and poet, and has spoken at three educational conferences. She is also a student leader for MAAPS (Mentoring Adolescents and Personalized Success).

Angel, a Camden youth who transformed from a rebel to a serious student, talked about learning how to fail and self-select your own priority for learning. “Just when I thought I was being rejected, I learned I wasn’t—instead I was redirecting myself to something better.”

Megan shared her experiences, as well. “Before I was in a Learner-Centered school, when someone would ask me what I hated—what I was mad about—I realized I had no answer. I was just sitting at a desk, listening to something that didn’t interest me, something I will never use. Then I experienced a Learner-Centered school and I learned exactly what makes me mad: not using my full self, not being able to make my own choices.” Describing her experience from the Big Picture program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she went on to say, “Now I can deploy my writing skills, and I can share my anger. Yes, I ammad about something—I’m mad about what they called education.” Megan is also the leader of EdRevision, a student-led voice for changing education.

I cannot help but walk away from these teenagers and this symposium and ask questions:

  • Would education have been different for me if I had been allowed more autonomy and choice?
  • How do youth begin to understand their own interests? How are they guided? What is the educator’s role in that journey?
  • Doesn’t it make sense that you learn more and try harder when you are at the helm and directing your own pursuits?
  • Are youth that resourceful?

I’m certain that the Learner-Centered Movement is creating dialogue and change. When you hear from leaders in education, policy makers, practitioners on the forefront, and students themselves, all are different constituents who have come to the same conclusions. They are voicing a need for a positive evolution, and a resounding unified voice as led by Education Reimagined.

I applaud their commitment. As a community, we are all vested. I hope this piece entices you to learn more—more about Education Reimagined, more about the Learner-Centered Movement, and of course more about Project Based Mentoring® as contributing to closing the skills gap, from my own book, Teach to Work.