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Anyone in education is standing at a crossroads right now with choices to be made. This time is unexpected, it’s challenging, and it’s uncomfortable – but it is also a catalyst for positive change.

“The biggest changes in our society have only come about when there was a strong enough disturbance — an interruption to “business as usual” — and when people were willing to come together even though the path forward was cloudy.” – Hugh Vasquez, National Equity Project

As I consider the paths ahead, I keep coming back to the same two questions:
What will be the impact if we don’t keep education moving forward?
And, if collectivity we moved forward boldly – really boldly – what could be possible?

Groups of committed educators and organizations have been working hard to shift education towards a more equitable, relevant and student focused learning experience for some time. If all that work and all that intention was to slip backwards, the impact on students, particularly those who are already marginalized, could be very detrimental. The most meaningful gain I’ve seen being made in recent years is in recognizing students as individuals, where their unique learning style, interests, and strengths are honoured and encouraged. This way of educating has allowed students to gain ownership over their own learning and to reach a deeper level of engagement where they feel confident and capable. And in very real terms it is setting them up for success, both for themselves, their communities, and as thoughtful, effective, contributing citizens.

“It’s not just about getting a job, it’s about who you are, who you are becoming, and how we can collectively care for mother earth.” – Kaleb Rashad, Director of Creative Leadership at High Tech High

I understand that what looks like the safest and most straight-forward course of action to keep students physically distanced is to spread them out in single desks, probably in straight lines with the educator placed at one end. But that does not honour either them and their learning, nor educators and the passion they bring to their work. If we slip backwards to outdated models of education, the truth is the majority of students will disengage from their learning, lose their sense of confidence and capability, and are unlikely to reach their potential.

And that’s just not ok.

If we are to serve these young people and give them a foundation of possibility, and a love of learning for the rest of their lives, we need to do better. And we can. We can pull together, work through the discomfort and challenges and creatively find solutions that keep everyone physically safe while still staying focused on the best learning outcomes for students, honouring them as individuals, and providing rich learning opportunities.

“It is a time of reckoning for our world, communities, and educational system and it’s an opportunity to imagine the world anew. Many educators have been working toward more equitable, authentic, and just learning experiences and assessment practices that honour and celebrate how people are smart, not just ranking and sorting them based on outdated measures.
If we truly want to develop knowledge in learners, we have to know them, love them and help them see the full beauty of who they are and what they can become. With this awareness, we must set our expectations high and align the accountability systems that hold us all responsible for developing the knowledge, skills, and mindsets that matter most in each and every one of our students.” – Dr. Katie Martin – Designing a New Accountability Ecosystem

I’m in agreement with Dr. Katie Martin. We do collectively need to set our expectations high. And by moving boldly forward, what could be possible?

It’s a question Hugh Vasquez of National Equity Project has been asking and is offering progressive solutions. In his article ‘What if We… Don’t Return to School as Usual’ he says:

“The first step in designing a new way is to decide now that you won’t return to normal — a normal that was never neutral and wasn’t working well for most students, teachers or families. Engage with your teammates and community now to articulate a bold, audacious, wild vision of what your education system can look like. Focus on a couple small but powerful pieces to change. Gather your people to engage in equity by design and engage in collaborative inquiry to continuously design, test, and adjust your practices based on what you learn. And, commit to sticking with the process— for at least a year, to stay the course. This is how we can collectively take the opportunity to design for change in how we do school.” – Hugh Vasquez, National Equity Project

As the CEO of Natural Pod, I have always been active in having dialogues about how we can move education forward. I feel change can only meaningfully happen through a multi-faceted approach, and my contribution here is to speak directly to the environment of learning. You can have the best educators and best curriculum in the world, but if the physical environment does not support students in feeling safe, included and welcomed, no deep learning can take place.

There is plenty of research to support that the outdated model of desks in rows does not provide students with a compelling learning environment. Spaces that foster well-being, inclusion and collaboration do.

So as we think about, discuss, and design this new way forward, let’s not overlook the learning environment in our bid to keep students and educators safely distanced. There are creative and innovative solutions available and in development to both stay safe and continue to honour students as individuals.

I would be delighted to have further discussions on this topic and support you in any way I can.