Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Might We Transform Education?

LASD Participates in Re-Imaging Education Project in Washington, D.C.

LASD was recently asked to be a part of a national group re-imagining education,  Convergence Center for Policy Resolution.   This group is focused on creating a new paradigm for learning.  The request for LASD participation links back to relationships developed through our blended learning work.  Convergence created a vision that outlines  five interrelated elements essential to a new learning paradigm:
  • competency-based
  • personalized, relevant and contextualized
  • learner agency
  • socially embedded
  • open-walled

There is considerable overlap between these five elements and the seven LASD Learning Principles we have identified as critical to our vision of “Revolutionizing Learning.”  Simply put Convergence recognizes the current educational system was designed in a different era and structured for a different society.  Their vision is a call to action, not to tweak or modify the current system but to create a drastically different paradigm of learning that will serve all children.
Convergence hosted a “Pioneer Base Camp” of educators who have demonstrated their belief in one or more essential elements outlined in the vision.  “Pioneers” were identified by Convergence team and then if interested asked to interview.  LASD was selected as a Pioneer, interviewed and attended the Pioneer Base Camp in Washington DC last week along with 150 other educators from 35 organizations.  The invitation to participate in this event is testament to the work we have accomplished over the course of the last few years.

Our team consisted of:  Jill Croft, teacher at Covington, Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Initiatives; Katie Kinnaman, Principal of Gardner Bullis; and Sandra McGonagle, Principal of Blach.

After spending time with educators, policy makers, private corporations and foundations dedicated to improving our education system for ALL students, we all returned to LASD with  renewed commitment to revolutionizing learning for all students and BIG ideas about how to accelerate our work in LASD.  It was a tremendous experience to connect and learn with so many diverse groups.  Here is a list of some of the other Pioneers that attended:  Big Picture Learning, Design39 Campus, High Tech High, Iowa BIG, Lindsay Unified School District, MC2, Quest to Learn, Re-School Colorado, and Roycemore School. Our reactions to hearing what is happening elsewhere in the country ranged from “We do that, too!” to “Ooooh, we could do that!” to “How in the world did you do that?”

Fundamentally, our world is changing and so should our education system.  We are fortunate in LASD to have already embraced this mindset.  However, knowing we need to grow and adapt is only the first step, we must now apply new strategies and approaches across an entire organization. This is challenging.   Especially, when we are talking about making changes to a system that so many of us are products of.  Too often we hear, “I survived school…. It worked for me, what’s wrong with it?”

Yes, that system worked for me, too. Everything I needed for research could be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica and I relied heavily on my ability to memorize content.   In this traditional system, we “learned” at school, and then we left to “do” at work.  This approach no longer works - in today’s world learning and doing have become inseparable.  If we continue down the same path, are we preparing students for a world that no longer exists?  

Having just participated in this national conversation about transforming education, we are asking a lot of questions - questions that challenge the core of our learning system.  Here are a few of the questions swirling in our minds -
  • Why do we determine what a child learns and is exposed to based on how old they are?
  • How can we design a system that embraces the fact that not everyone learn in the same way or at the same pace?
  • What role does learning outside of traditional school “hours” and “walls” look like and how can we partner to make sure we are expanding opportunities to learn, not limiting them?
  • How can we re-organize our current resources (time, money, people, space) to shift our system now, rather than waiting for a full-scale, start-from-scratch re-design?

Knowing that there are big challenges ahead for all educators and educational organizations, I am extremely grateful to work in a school district that has already recognized the need for change and created three year goals headed in this direction.  I am more excited than ever to work on meeting the individual needs of all students.  While we don’t yet have answers to all of the questions posed above, we are working on them and committed to re-imaging what is possible for all students.

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships