Our Privileged View

reflections by jane swift

Reflections by Jane Swift, President & Executive Director of LearnLaunch Institute:

In my “Back to School” Blog post a few weeks ago, I talked about the work that our dedicated team of education professionals has undertaken to build capacity for school & district leaders for high-quality, equitable, student-centered learning. Since starting this work in the spring, we have had the privilege of creating a space for over 650 Massachusetts educators to learn from and collaborate with peers in live, highly-interactive sessions with access to curated resources and examples from our Building Blocks of Equitable Learning tool. Based on the feedback, we know that these workshops and the framework and online tool are making a difference as teachers seek to provide high-quality teaching & learning. And we are excited to expand our work this month to Rhode Island as well as to be in conversations with several other states.

Even more exciting is “Our Privileged View” of what is happening on the frontlines of K-12 education at possibly the single most disruptive moment in the history of public education. While I inherited a strong penchant for hyperbole (and the political bug) from my father, I don’t actually think I am being overly dramatic here.  This week, one of our nation’s leading commentators on education, learning, and the change happening in the world, Thomas Friedman, validated this thought. His column, “After the Pandemic, a Revolution in Education and Work Awaits” is squarely aligned with the disruption we are seeing on the ground. My only beef with Friedman is his choice of labeling this “Schumpeterian Creative Destruction” whereas at LearnLaunch we much prefer the Clayton “Christensen Disruptive Innovation” theory of change. Nevertheless, Shumpeter and Christensen would likely concur with Friedman on the tectonic realignment and change afoot.

When we began our Building Blocks project, we saw our role as synthesizers, conveners, and solution providers. Because of our previous programs, relationships, and the diverse composition (in experience, insight, and perspective) of our team, we were able to deliver the right amount of content for educators in the right delivery format quickly. What our privileged view and work over the last eight months has begun to reveal, however, is that in certain critical areas of need, we are having to either adapt or even create resources and templates because we just have not been able to find them elsewhere (not for lack of trying – we have a fantastic team of education researchers and professionals as well as affiliated partners constantly scouring the landscape for high-quality examples and resources). Given the rapidity of change and innovation and the need for educators and institutions to adapt, this should not be a complete surprise.

Friedman identified a key area of focus for schools that lands squarely in one of our Building Blocks (Engage Learners). He says (emphasis added by me): “The most critical role for K-12 educators, therefore, will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education.” This recorded clip from the end of one of our “Engage Learner” sessions with our incredible partner in this work and national expert, Alisa Berger, from Harvard’s Deeper Learning Dozen, gives you a brief look at what we’ve gotten to see this summer and fall. This educator is relaying her ‘aha!’ moment regarding a concept that Alisa discussed prior to the breakout session, and that these educators then discussed and built upon in their work together. And, as all good educators do, Alisa animatedly takes the opportunity to reinforce the learning and importance of using this exceedingly challenging moment to help students own their own learning. 

Our team is taking the moments like these, cross-walking them with their vast knowledge and experience (I am simply the mouthpiece and cheerleader!) and beginning to reach out to other thought leaders, researchers, and funders to reimagine what education can look like as we emerge from this pandemic. As Friedman says at the end of his column (his emphasis), “There is great potential here — if it is done right.” The Building Blocks team at LearnLaunch, with our privileged view, is working long days and most weekends determined to ensure that we help educators to realize that potential and give policy leaders the opportunity to get it right for our children.