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This is a really interesting time in education right now. There are some big questions being asked and powerful discussions being had. Personally I’m delighted, particularly because so many educators and change makers are directly asking and listening to students for leadership as to how we can collectively transform education.

This intentional inclusion has not quite happened before. If there can be any silver linings to this pandemic it’s that it has provided us with an opportunity to pause and have meaningful dialogues about how to pivot to create an educational system that empowers everyone.

Last week I attended the online summit ‘A New Way Forward,’ a free virtual summit for educators, parents, and students who are ready to explore new and powerful ways to think about education and build a learner-centred future. The summit explains learner-centered education as, “developing a system of education that recognizes and values young people as unique and whole human beings with the agency to chart and live out their distinct journey of learning. This is a transformational shift away from the conventional, school-centered education system that asks young people to adapt to a standardized, one-size-fits-all approach to learning.” 

The summit was progressive and I strongly recommend getting involved in the conversation. The consensus echoed by students, educators and parents alike was, let’s not return to ‘normal,’ because normal systems have inequality, and the present reality of distance learning is highlighting these inequalities even more.

“If we fail to address these systemic inequalities during this time, we will have missed an opportunity.” – Carlos Moreno, Executive Director of Big Picture 

So where do we begin to try and tackle this huge issue? Look to the students. Listen to the students. They are the ones who will guide us on how we can create engaging learning and an equal, just society. 

“You and I have the choice to support our young learners in this challenge by looking through a positive lens rather than a negative one, so we can define the ‘what if’s, not the ‘yeah but’s’.” – Pam Moran, Former Superintendent Albemarle County Public Schools

To give students voice, we need to give them student centered environments that are conducive to them feeling heard. Presently that is online, but whether digitally or in a classroom, there are positives and negatives to in person or online learning so that can’t be presented as a barrier. The barrier is students not being seen and honoured as individuals, wherever the learning takes place. 

“Schooling should not get in the way of learning – let’s look at the whole learner and their own interests.” – Carlos Moreno

A recurring focus between the keynote speakers was how grading and testing (particularly online) is often biased, due to differences in resources, geography and social economic reasons, and doesn’t recognize individual interests or learning styles. Because educators must adhere to strict grading criteria, they are unable to meet and teach their students where the student is at, leading to further inequities. 

In the present reality with no standardized testing, many educators are seeing positive outcomes and seeing greater movement with those students who had previously been stuck. They felt this was a direct result of the present situation, allowing them to be vulnerable with their students and learning more about them as individuals – something that is often not possible in a rigid testing and grading system.

So where do we go from here? The outcome of the summit concluded that together, educators, students and stakeholders need to create new ways of engagement, with learners taking the lead, that may look very different to pre-pandemic times. Let’s embrace this opportunity for change that lowers inequality and increases positive learning outcomes for all students. 

“Let’s choose the uncomfortable right thing, not the comfortable wrong thing.” – Carlos Moreno

If you want to join the conversation, the next A New Way Forward Summit is on May 28th – details are coming soon on their website.

I hope to connect with you there! – Bridgitte Alomes, CEO of Natural Pod


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