By John Clements, Co-Principal, Nipmuc Regional High School
I recently finished reading Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews. I wanted to share a passage from the book that has stuck with me. Matthews wrote about how on the evening that Bobby Kennedy was shot, Ethyl stayed with him in California. She reached out to family friend John Glenn, asking him to take her children to the Kennedy home in New York. Glenn ushered the kids to their home, and - after putting them to bed - made his way to Bobby’s study. Seated at Kennedy’s desk, he noted a copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson's “An American Scholar”. As he paged through the text, he noticed a passage that Bobby had highlighted. It read:
“If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side and admit of being compared; when the energies of all men are searched by fear and by hope; when the historic glories of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
It stood out to Glenn - I assume - because it represented the spirit that defined Kennedy and his work. It captures his ability to recognize change, to empathize with those who are strained by our evolving reality, and to celebrate the glories of the past while looking with hope and excitement at the emerging future. Perhaps most of all - it embodies his confidence of purpose in acting to make that change a reality.
As an educator, these lines resonated with me. I believe that education is entering an age of revolution - a time when students, educators, and parents are becoming aware of the juxtaposition of traditional education and the schools of the future. An era in which we stand between two different cultural understandings of what school should be.
I am not willing to suggest that the revolution we are facing rivals the importance of the social justice and equality issues that Kennedy fought for, nor will I draw parallels between our work as teachers and leaders and the fight for civil rights of Kennedy’s era. I will say, however, that I see the challenge to evolve school as a matter of social equity.
We have nearly 1 million minutes of learning time across 13 years with each of our children. We must articulate the beliefs and values that should drive each of those minutes. We must recognize the successes of traditional practice and never shy away from the difficult work of evolving the strategies that do not align with our aspirations. Beyond that, we must develop a mindset of action, exploration, and curiosity with an appreciation that - as Emerson says - “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
Our Launching Modern Learning course is self-paced and totally online. There are no synchronous meeting requirements, and you can begin when you're ready and have lifetime access to the course! For each objective below, you'll get challenging explorations, a bevy of curated resources and real-life school examples, and specific project ideas that will help you move the work forward.
We're looking forward to working with teachers and leaders as we explore the important work of reimagining school!
Through extensive research, Mehta and his co-author Sarah Fine investigated provide background, context, and guidance about how schools shift from traditional practice to learning that focused on mastery, identity, and creativity. We were honored to have the chance to discuss this ambitious and impactful book during this Inspired Learning Project/MURSD Leads event.
The essence of inspired learning is being bold enough to move away from traditional practices in order to live an educational reality that reflects our values about what school could be. In this month's digital conversation, we had the privilege of interviewing Sutton High School (MA) Principal Ted McCarthy to learn about how his school has brought its value of social justice to life for their school community.
In this conversation, he discusses Sutton High School's Connections Conference which provided speakers, workshops, and activities about issues related to bias, prejudice, and privilege. Through the collaborative leadership of students and teachers, the conference brought together more than 500 guests from across Massachusetts for a day of conversation, reflection, and connections.
We enjoyed speaking with Principal McCarthy not only to learn about the courageous and meaningful program but also to learn how a school community can go from "idea to action" in creating programming that reflects their beliefs about learning.
As a follow-up to our February conversation, we're excited to share out information about Rise: Voice of a New Generation - a documentary about Idaho's One Stone. Check out the description of the film from the school's website and learn about how to tap into their inspiration by screening the movie for in your community.
ABOUT THE FILM:
Rise: Voice of a New Generation captures the story of One Stone, a one-of-a-kind, student-led high school in Boise, Idaho, that is reinventing education and changing the balance of power to put students in charge of their own learning. The film documents the journey of students and coaches at the school as they launch what has been named one of the most progressive schools in America by both Alan Gottlieb (co-author of America Succeeds’ 2017 report Age of Agility) and Tom Vander Ark (CEO of Getting Smart). Follow the story of one of the only schools in the country run by students who are exploring a new way forward, where their voices shape the future of education and the world.
Chronicling the second year of operations of the radically different One Stone high school throughout 2017-2018, our embedded film crew captured a historical year that could mark a tipping point in the future of high school design.
"One Stone set out to start a revolution… We are in the habit of disruption. We are unafraid. We believe. And together with our partners, we are forging an army of good, for good. We are the ones you have been waiting for." onestone.org
In February the Inspired Learning Project team had the chance to meet with Chad Carlson - Director of Research and Design - at Idaho's One Stone. We left the conversation feeling inspired by a bold vision of learning that is fueled by a shared belief in the power of students.
Some of the highlights of the conversation include:
Student agency challenges not only the structures that define our schools - those of standards, testing, and accountability - but also the mindset of students, teachers, parents, and leaders. Those who are proponents of agency often talk about the power of putting students’ passions at the forefront of learning.
Although this affirmation of passions is well-intentioned, I sometimes hear people discuss student passions in a disparaging way, worrying aloud about whether an 8-year-old, 12-year-old, or 16-year-old could know what they’re passionate about and if the personal passions of children are worthy of the classroom. I worry that if we replace the word “agency” with “passion” that we are undermining the momentum toward student voice and choice.
As a dad and an educator, this makes sense to me. I didn’t find my professional passions until leaving college and making my way to the classroom. The word “passion” carries a weight of expectations and purpose that is counter to the spirit of exploration that’s at the heart of student agency.
Let’s agree not to use the word passion, not to slow the movement toward agency with an unclear definition of what we value. Instead, let’s replace “passions” with “curiosity”. When we encourage curiosity, we affirm the value of questioning. We remove the pressure of future jobs connected to learning. We promote the freedom to explore with freedom and to engage in a cycle of learning. Pursuing our passions suggests a journey toward a specific destination. Tapping into our curiosities provides an opportunity for reflection, growth, problem-seeking, and learning.
Words matter. Let’s embrace a definition of student agency that removes the pressures of passions.
This month the Inspired Learning Project Team interviewed Don Wettrick - innovation educator, author, podcaster, and CEO of StartEdUp. The interview reflected the aspects of Don's work that we most appreciate in that it was thought-provoking, reflective, transparent, and generous. The conversation encouraged inquiry into some the most important questions educators need to grapple with in order to evolve our schools. Included below are ten of the questions that Don answered in the discussion. Listen the interview and a look at the questions below. Then, take a stab at answering them yourself.
By John Clements, Principal of Nipmuc Regional High School
With a name like The Inspired Learning Project, it was only a matter of time before we featured Don Wettrick on our blog. As a teacher, author, CEO of StartEdUp, and educational adventurer, Don has become a source of excitement and encouragement for educators who are interested in evolving school to take advantage of modern learning opportunities.
Through the StartEdUp podcast he regularly shares moments of inspiration by highlighting the work of students, sharing the ideas of influential educators, and connecting with leaders from the world of business as a way to bridge the gap between schools and the professional world. Beyond that, he has also infused all of his work with an entrepreneurial spirit. His podcast is an example of how great ideas continue to evolve through reflection and dedication. From “Monday Motivation” episodes to features of his students to a series of interviews with thought-leaders, the StartEdUp podcast provides a public and transparent example of the power of iteration.
In this resource share, we’re excited to highlight one of StartEdUp’s Young Entrepreneur Spotlight (YES) episodes. This podcast shares the story of Manu (Swish) Goswami, a 19-year-old who turned his experience as a student into an entrepreneurial endeavor. The themes that arise in this spotlight are a reminder of the power and potential of the journey toward modern learning. Check out the podcast to learn about the following:
We want our students to come in and feel really welcome and to feel comfortable in their space. We want them to be running into school, not running out of school. So part of that is also making sure that they have some say in the classroom environment and they have some say and how they can move around in the space… It made sense to also then look at how we can support educators in the classroom to change the furniture and therefore change the learning environment.”
The design of a learning space tells a story about the type of learning that takes place in that room. Teachers recognize the negative impact of a cluttered or drab learning space. They have replaced the isolation of desks in rows with groups or pods that encourage collaboration. They value spaces that encourage curiosity rather than compliance. They ensure that the whiteboard is not the only way to share ideas by providing tools and resources that encourage expression and building and creativity. Fueled by the ideas of their colleagues - whether across the hall or via social media - they are constantly looking for ways to upgrade their learning spaces for students.
The challenge of this work is redesigning on a dime. While we embrace the idea of creating classrooms that embody our beliefs about learning, the reality of school budgets can’t be avoided. Creating an innovative learning space with decades-old furniture can seem daunting.
In December’s digital conversation, we had the privilege of speaking with a leader who created a practical, innovative, and inspiring solution to the challenge of redesigning learning spaces. Nicole Bottomely, Principal of Holliston High School (MA), spent some time with our team, sharing the design challenge that she provided to her faculty, practical strategies to empower student voice, the impact of this work on teaching and learning, and the culture of learning that defines her school.
Check out the interview and feel free to add your thoughts, ideas, and resources to the comment section.
Click above to share a practice that promotes student agency, ignites students' passions, or creates a bridge between classrooms & the real world.
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