Answering Arne Duncan’s Five Must-Answer Questions

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-02-22 09:30

In December, then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posed five must-answer questions to the presidential candidates. Since then, none of the questions have been addressed. So, we’ve taken the liberty of answering the questions ourselves.

Today we are 27th in the world in access to preschool. What’s your goal for preschool access in the next five years?

Decades of research by economists, neuroscientists, and educators prove that investments in the first five years result in long-term gains for students and produce significant savings for governments and taxpayers. If we want to improve outcomes for generations, fix our talent pipeline, strengthen our schools and communities, and produce long-term, meaningful savings to taxpayers, we have to invest in quality preschool for all of our children.

The next President must take this charge seriously, leveraging the energy of local initiatives like the Cincinnati Preschool Promise to significantly expand access to high-quality preschool education. These communities need a leader that will elevate the national conversation, invest in local infrastructure, and help scale quality practices to benefit children in every community in the nation.

To improve outcomes and strengthen schools, we have to invest in quality preschool.
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High school graduation rates are the highest ever at 82 percent, but they are not nearly high enough. What’s your goal for high school completion in the next five years?

While graduation rates are important, a high school diploma that translates into readiness for college and a meaningful career is far more important. Our collective goal should not just be about raising the graduation rate, but also working to personalize learning so every student receives a rigorous education customized to his or her unique skills, interests and readiness. We have to move outside the four walls of a classroom to an education system where learning is challenging, ongoing and relevant to everyday life. When we stop designing for all and design for one, high school graduation is inevitable.

The federal government has a key role to play in this transition. Our country needs a President that will empower education visionaries at the state and local levels by giving these leaders the running room to innovative and scale strategies that will accelerate educational success for all students.

A high school diploma should mean a student is ready for college and meaningful career.
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Today, far too many students graduate high school and still need remedial classes in college. What’s your goal for true college readiness in the next five years?

Early College is a way to blend high school and college experiences.The greatest problem with our education system is that it is designed around time instead of proficiency. We are so focused on credit hours and grade-level promotion that we lost sight of the one thing that matters most – whether our students master the core knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and career. A high school diploma is no longer a guarantee that a student is ready for the next stage of life. In fact, over half of community college students and twenty percent of students at four year institutions now place into remedial education classes.

Our next President must reverse this dangerous trend by embracing competency education, a new approach to teaching and learning that emphasizes mastery over time. Early adopters across the country are piloting this new approach with great success, customizing instruction to ensure every student masters required standards before advancement. Our goal should be to restore meaning to the high school diploma through widespread adoption of this approach. Students, parents, postsecondary institutions and the workforce deserve more transparency around education outcomes.

We are so focused on credit hours and grade-level promotion that we lost sight of what matters most.
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A generation ago, we were the world leader in the college graduation rate of our young people; today, we are 13th. What’s your goal for the next five years?

If we are serious about addressing college completion, we need to start with access. College costs have skyrocketing over the past decade, putting postsecondary education out of reach for far too many students. To make matters worse, the federal financial aid system, which was established to prevent this problem, has become increasingly disconnected from today’s students. The system continues to cater to the traditional student that graduates high school and immediately enrolls in a full-time postsecondary program. It does little to help the increasing numbers of non-traditional students that may seek to access college courses early or later in life, or to complete a degree part-time, or even to seek a second degree to reskill as their industries evolve.

Our nation should set an ambitious goal to overhaul the Federal financial aid system to ensure it is more flexible and reflective of today’s students. The system should enable students to access their total amount of Federal student aid based on their learning and financial needs, rather than being limited to arbitrary yearly limits that do not accurately reflect the cost or the nature of learning in a personalized learning environment. A fresh approach would give all students the opportunity to access a high quality education under reasonable financial terms that do not limit their future success.

If we are serious about addressing college completion, we need to start with access.
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Finally, for each of these goals, what are your concrete strategies to achieve them, and what financial resources and political capital are you willing to expend to get us there?

Our nation’s presidential candidates are uniquely positioned to raise the level of education debate in this country by offering concrete ideas for reform. We encourage them to visit www.educationplaybook.com to read ideas generated by KnowledgeWorks after soliciting feedback from teachers, students, policymakers, and education leaders across the country. These strategies will dramatically improve the state of education in this country and better position the United States to compete on the global stage. The voters deserve a plan and our students deserve a quality education.

The presidential candidates are uniquely positioned to raise the level of education debate in this…
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(Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

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Education or Economic Development: What Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-02-18 10:31

Marion County, like so many other communities across the country, faces the proverbial question of, “What comes first, the chicken or the egg?” Do they attract businesses to Marion and provide jobs for the community? Or do they line up their education system with workforce requirements and then attract businesses with a higher-educated workforce?

Chicken? Egg? Should they put a lot of money into attracting economic development only to see companies leave because the workforce is not up to par? Or should they develop that workforce, taking the chance that some may be unwilling  to wait for economic development and choose to take their families elsewhere?

With a 4.2 percent unemployment rate, and the lowest number of small businesses compared to surrounding Ohio counties, there’s a real need in Marion to answer these questions.

 Lucky for Marion, they’ve been answered before.

At Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) in Lindsay, California, steps were made years ago to shift the education system. This wasn’t a a gradual shift, but a complete ctrl+alt+dlt. Through project-based learning, students achieve mastery in their academics and find learning opportunities both in and outside of the classroom.

During a visit to Lindsay late last year, it became evident to me through a variety of converations with parents, stakeholders, learning facilitators, learners and school leadership that the school district is no longer an isolated entity. Lindsay is a learning community where everyone is a stakeholder. Everyone is driven by a shared vision. With high quality education and increased career and college opportunities for its learners, this small town took the road less traveled to pursue economic opportunity for everyone.

At Lindsay High School, graduation rates are increasing, and learners are speaking of their continued education aspirations and their desired careers. Learners also speak of family, culture, and taking care of their peers. The sense of community and a ‘roll up your sleeves’ mentality runs deep in Lindsay.

It runs deep in Marion, too.

The love of community in Marion is almost palpable. Parents, stakeholders, learners and community members are coming together to create a high-quality and rigorously-educated workforce ready for the 21st century, and they’re building the local infrastructure and economic opportunities that will be essential for graduates and their families.

At a recent meeting at Marion City School district (MCS), I observed our KnowledgeWorks coaches coming together with school and community leaders to develop a common vision with a shared outcome that promised greater opportunities for learners in Marion, and greater opportunities for the community at large, too. They defined their portrait of a learner: an ideal of what skills, knowledge and dispositions the Marion community wants their learners to have when they graduate Marion High school for college and career.

Because Marion had decided, just like Lindsay, that they wouldn’t settle for the chicken or the egg. They wanted both.

What I hope Marion, and all communities, can take away from Lindsay is that this work doesn’t happen overnight, and that no one underestimates the required cultural shift that must happen in a community to ensure success. Because it’s not just a school district, just a city, just a county. It’s a learning community.

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An education shout-out to… Kanye West?

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-02-17 12:53

I have to admit: There’s a special place in my heart for Kanye West. Maybe it’s my Chicago roots, or maybe it’s the nostalgia that hits me whenever I hear “Stronger” or “Love Lockdown.”

Yes, he’s a little weird and out there. And yes, he says strange things and speaks out of turn sometimes (ahem, Taylor Swift). But every once in a while, he says something that just makes sense.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Kanye took to Twitter to share a story about a friend who makes a decent amount of money but still has trouble affording her son’s education.

I have a friend who works really hard and makes $370 dollars a day…

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 16, 2016

Her son just got in a really good school and his textbooks are like $400 dollars each … — KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 16, 2016

I mean, his mom has to work 2 days just to afford 1 book for her son … — KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 16, 2016

she’s giving everything she has to make sure her son has a better future… — KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 16, 2016

Then, he (randomly) mentions Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs wanted to lower the cost of textbooks…

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 16, 2016

But then he drops the mic.

Education puts Americans into debt before they even get a chance to get started…

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 16, 2016


Unfortunately, he’s right. During the past 25 years, the median student debt at graduation increased 163 percent, according to the Huffington Post. In the same time frame, the median wage for 20-something college grads increased by less than $700.

This is a big problem.

We launched EducationPlaybook.com to ask presidential candidates to start discussing teaching and learning at a deeper level. We’ve only heard education mentioned a handful of times in the 2016 Presidential Race.

But hey, if Kanye runs in 2020 like he says he’s going to, maybe these tweets are proof that we’ll finally hear some #EdDebate… four years too late.


(Photo by rodrigoferrari (Kanye West 05) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

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Worth a Read: “Four-Dimensional Education”

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-02-17 09:58

What should students learn to be best prepared for the 21st century?

The Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR) recently published its book “Four-Dimensional Education,” which was introduced last month at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Baccalaureate (IBO). The book has been widely acclaimed by education thought leaders such as Carol Dweck (Stanford University); Todd Rose (Harvard University); David Autor (MIT); Andreas Schleicher (OECD); Wendy Kopp (Teach for All); Valerie Greenhill and Key Kay (EdLeader21) and executives from Google, and IBM among others.

The book wrestles with the fundamental question that many educators, business leaders, and policymakers are confronted and often confounded by: “What should students learn for the 21st century?” CCR’s framework describes the dimensions – Knowledge, Skills, Character, and Meta-Learning – of a relevant 211st-century curriculum required to promote fulfilled individuals, sustainable societies and productive economies.

This book challenges us to redefine what we mean by success. It’s well worth the read.
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I have known two of the authors since my early days on the P21 board. While I’m no longer on the board, the work remains compelling and foundational for me. Charles Fadel and Bernie Trilling have thought deeply about the skills needed for students to be successful in today’s world, as well as what the system and its supports for all students need to look like. I was proud to offer some advanced praise for the book. I did so because of the compelling vision that the authors cast for what education could be. Additionally, I was pleased that the book cited and used KnowledgeWorks’ Strategic Foresight work and our forecasts on the future of learning. The following was what I had to offer:

“Four-Dimensional Education offers a compelling vision for transforming education and how we look at education. In a global economy, driven by nimbleness and innovation, it is increasingly clear that success depends on the transformation of education system. This book challenges us to redefine what we mean by success at all levels of the education system from the foundations of K-12, to the entrance requirements for higher education, to what the workforce can and needs to be.”

If you’d like to learn more check out www.curriculumredesign.org, and I also highly recommend the book. It’s well worth the read.

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Museums Can Star in a Vibrant Future of Education

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-02-16 11:05


With their many assets and educational expertise, museums have the potential to play a starring role in making the future of education vibrant. Already, we’re seeing them make key contributions to expanding learning ecosystems through city-wide networks such as Remake Learning in Pittsburgh, Surge Columbus, and Hive Chicago; through advocacy and education efforts such as the Columbus Museum of Art’s upcoming Creativity Summit; and through a growing number of museum-based schools.

‘Museums have the potential to play a starring role in making #FutureEd vibrant.’ @katprince
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The Center for the Future of Museums at the American Alliance of Museums keeps an eye on many such signals of change and is looking to deepen its efforts to help build the future of education by hiring a fellow. It is currently inviting applications for the Ford W. Bell Fellowship for Museums & P-12 Education. The Ford Fellow will help the Alliance build the next era of learning – one in which museums play a starring role – by spending two years working with museums, educators, schools, futurists and learners to:

    1. Spread the Word (compiling and sharing information needed to guide planning and decision making by museums, educators and learners)
    2. Disrupt Conventional Dialogue (promoting ideas that disrupt conventional thinking about education and expanding our conception of the educational landscape)
    3. Create Systemic Change (instigating innovative experiments that could increase the role museums play in education.

More information on the fellowship and the application process, along with great resources on the potential for museums to shape the future of education, are available on their site and from a CFM blog post describing the search.

While you’re at it, check out a contribution to their future fiction challenge from KnowledgeWorks’ own Katie King, in which a future Museum of Social Movements plays an engrossing role in one student’s customized learning playlist.

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About Last Night’s #DemDebate…

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-02-12 16:43

The debate train rolled on last night with the #DemDebate in Milwaukee, Wisc., and once again we didn’t hear very much about education. In fact, we may have heard more about Henry Kissinger than we did about education.

We did hear about how Sen. Sanders would make college tuition, at public institutions, free and debt free. Secretary Clinton has a similar plan designed to bring down the out-of-pocket costs of college for students. These are laudable ideas, but might very well be bad federal policy. I get it fully; college costs are too damn high (to paraphrase Jimmy McMillian). This is a significant issue and we need to take a serious look at supply and demand, college accountability, the cost of tuition, fees, and books, the arms race for college endowments, and return on investment of a college degree.

But what about the students who don’t even get to college? What about the students who don’t complete high school? The students who don’t have a full opportunity to complete high school?

Last night was an opportunity to talk about the achievement gap in this country. The debate was held in Wisconsin, which has some of the worst achievement gap issues in the nation. In fact, Wisconsin has the biggest disparity in graduation rates between black and white students, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education. The rate for black students in Wisconsin held steady in 2013-14 at 66 percent, while the graduation rate for white students rose a half-point just under 93 percent.

There are many factors that influence these sorts of dramatic gaps including poverty, unemployment, homelessness, historic racism and segregation, and low expectations, to name a few. Does this mean that the teachers and leaders in Wisconsin don’t care about students of color? No. Does this mean that they don’t care and aren’t trying to shift the culture, provide the right supports and interventions, and reform their system? Absolutely not. I know many educators, including the state chief in Wisconsin, Dr. Tony Evers, and they are focused and committed and they will make the right changes and help all students learn in their state. Many of our states, communities, and districts are struggling with this issue. It is a national issue and I applaud Wisconsin’s Dr. Evers head-on commitment to addressing this issue not only in his state but as President of CCSSO.

Now about last night, the achievement gap issue should have been a discussion point during the debate. Moderators should have pressed the candidates on their plans, on how they would intervene, on what the federal role is in helping states address these systemic issues, and on what the candidates’ vision is for educating all students in our country. The federal role in education, and I admittedly have a traditional take on it, is to provide access and equity. Why wouldn’t we ask candidates about the achievement gap? It seems to be smack dab in the middle of access and equity.

We should collectively demand that we raise the level of debate on education during the 2016 campaign. Our children deserve it. I invite you to engage with us and with our Education Playbook and spread the word if you’d like. Join the conversation using #EdDebate and visit www.educationplaybook.com to learn more.


(Photo credit: Time.com)

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College Access and Affordability in the #EdDebate

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-02-12 15:45

Is it just me, or are their other nerds out there that love a (good) debate? Or what we now affectionately call at my home, #DebateDateNight. Little ones in bed, popcorn, snuggled on the couch – me, my husband, our high school-aged daughters, and my Twitter buddies.

But it isn’t all fun and games. Disheartened by the lack conversation around education over the last 15 debates, we decided to add the #EdDebate bingo card.

In the first thirty minutes, nine words came up. Nine, out of a card of 24. But we’ll take it. It was two minutes covering college access and affordability, which are long overdue for debate.

This subject hit home for my daughter, a junior in high school. She’s stressed. Her GPA is nearly a 4.0. The rigor of her class load includes multiple AP and honors classes. She volunteers. She has a job. And she’s super anxious about her ACT and SAT scores – yes, she’s taken both.

And with good reason. It’s predicted that by 2020, an estimated two-thirds of job openings will require post-secondary education or training.

Worse still, it’s estimated that the average class of 2015 graduate with student-loan debt will have to pay back a little more than $35,000.

We’re talking about finances and FAFSA. She’s asking about programs, location, and her chances of getting in. But while we’re discussing whether we should enroll her in an SAT prep course, we’re also talking about those that don’t have this guidance. That don’t have the means. That don’t have the support. And that also concerns her.

Education is a civil right. Every hard-working student deserves a real opportunity to earn an affordable, high-quality degree or credential that offers a clear path to economic security and success.

1 in 10 people from low-income families do attain that level of education. But, regardless of income status, high-school graduates who enroll in college too often fail to finish. In fact, barely half will complete their degree in a reasonable time at four-year institutions; and at two-year schools it’s only about a third. Lack of access and college affordability is an issue in an overwhelming majority of American homes. We should be talking about it, and our candidates should be talking about it, too.

The next debate is this Saturday. Make it #DebateDateNight.

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An International Student Perspective on the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-02-10 11:06

Throughout the past year or so, I’ve been talking with students about the future of learning. For this post, I interviewed Kelli Hamill, a student from Ontario, Canada, who is finishing up high school this spring. Next year, she will head to university to study psychology. She shares her insightful perspective on the future of learning.

When you think about the future of learning, what makes you excited?

Thinking of the future of education makes me extremely excited for countless reasons. There is so much potential for both the education system and students in the future. Students should not dread school as much as we do today. I believe that if the education system was remodeled, we would see more positive impacts on all students. Change is scary to everyone, but we can only go up from here. Once the changes are made, everyone will realize how needed they actually were. Until then…

From a current student’s perspective, what do you find the most troubling about the future of learning?

The most troubling aspect of the education system is belittlement. It saddens me that some students have felt stupid their whole lives because of schooling. Once a student discovers their areas of interest, it can spark a flame that will stay lit throughout their whole life. The problem with that is that both the teachers and students who think that certain subjects are superior, and choose to belittle students who aren’t always successful. Personally, I had one teacher that had such a negative impact on me that I felt like giving up completely, yet thankfully I chose not to. High school is hard enough trying to find yourself and recognize your future goals, the last thing students need is an authoritative figure putting you down.

‘Our education system will never be perfect, but it can be so much better for everyone.’ #FutureEd
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What do you feel is the biggest uncertainty to the future of learning?

I think that the scariest thing about the future of education is the fear that there won’t be any changes at all. When I began my personal research, I contemplated why I was the only one who felt this way and wants a change. But in society, conformity is so important. Nobody wants to be different – yet we are. More importantly, the realization that most students are not even aware that there is a need for change. Raising awareness is our best chance, which was one of my goals as I conducted forty surveys throughout my own high school.

How do you think different value sets might change education in the future?

Every generation has experienced different educations and teachings with the way that school has evolved little by little. Though the base of schooling is the same, there are smaller details that have changed, such as technological differences. My parents have had a completely different education and still have good careers, yet it is so unlike the millennial generation. A university degree previously guaranteed you employment, but now it means close to nothing. Competition for university and programs are strict, and requirements become harder and harder each year. We do not prioritize extracurricular activities to the same extent as previous generations, which diminishes the creativity in children development.

What does “personalized learning” mean to you?

To me, personalized learning means accepting the differences between students’ learning styles. Everybody has diverse strengths and weaknesses so one education system will not work for everyone. It never has worked for everyone. The frustrating part is the students who are alienated for being different, they are the ones who suffer.

I did a survey of 40 grade-twelve students, and a slim 30 percent were aware of the Multiple Intelligences Theory. The Multiple Intelligences Theory, founded by Howard Gardner, focuses on eight different learning theories that play a leading factor in comprehension. The education system only caters to one type of learner, so what about the rest of us?

Education means something different to every student, so we shouldn’t be compared to one another.
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What will personalized learning be like in the future?

In the future, personalized learning will be very open for all students. Education means something different to every student, so we should never be compared to one another. We all have our goals in life, so there should be individualized learning outlines for every student to ensure the objectives are met.

Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, then it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid,” describing our education system perfectly. Personalized learning would be creating a separate plan for a fish and a separate plan for monkey, one that caters to their skills and does not concentrate on one in particular.

What is your own vision for the future of learning?

My dream for the future of education is individualization and acceptance. I believe differentiation between students is extremely important when it pertains to learning. I am fully aware that our education system will never be perfect but it can be so much better for everyone.

Are you interested in discussing your thoughts about the future of education? Let us know in the comments below! Jason is always looking for students to talk to about #FutureEd.

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A New Kind of Gold Rush: Personalized Learning in Lindsay, California

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-02-09 12:43

Julius Orton was born in 1825 in Richland County, Ohio. Orton later moved to Missouri and in 1859, accompanied by his wife and two small daughters and driving a small herd of cattle west in search of gold, he settled along the Tule River southwest of Lindsay, California. Orton became a part of Lindsay history in the 1880s when he took up a 160-acre homestead, the town’s second landowner, and was credited with planting the first orange trees in the Lindsay district, giving rise to the motto, “Central California’s Citrus Center.”

Against a back drop of the Seqoia National Forest, Lindsay, California is in the the heart of the Central Valley. Though Orton hoped to strike it rich in the gold rush, historically, Lindsay gold is actually orange. The entire community is in some way connected to the orange trees grown in Lindsay and showing up in grocery stores all over the United States.

But what Lindsay is known for is changing.

In the words of Lindsay Unified School District Superintendent Thomas Rooney, Lindsay didn’t just “tweak” their education system. They “dismantled” it. What sets Lindsay apart from many districts that aspire to a more personalized learning approach is that they didn’t just talk about doing it, they did it. They asked themselves big questions (“What kind of learners do we want our students to be?”) and in the 2003-2004 school year, began implementation of a competency-based approach that has gone on to transform not only their education system, but their entire community.

Jaime Robles, Director of Human Resources at Lindsay Unified School District, insists that, “Graduating from high school is no longer the best day of their lives for Lindsay students. It is a great day, but one of many great days in their lives.”

So could it be that now, Lindsay gold is education? Visitors from around the United States make their way to Lindsay and leave in awe. A large contingent from Grand Junction, Colorado, visited recently and are now creating the platforms needed to lead the change for their learners. After their visit, a smaller group from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are hard at work figuring out how to implement competency-based education in their own community. One cannot leave the Lindsay community without thinking, “What can I do to make changes for learners?”

Perhaps personalized learning could be a modern-day gold rush.

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Want real change? Visionary leadership isn’t enough.

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-02-04 12:40

As I sat and watched the Iowa caucuses roll in, I couldn’t help but think of all the Election 2016 education policy articles I’ve been reading throughout the past month.

And there have been some good ones. Education Week’s Policy K-12 blog has a great series on the five key things you need to know about the leading candidates in Iowa.  Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire, on The 74, wrote about how Michael Bloomberg might be the education candidate we’ve been waiting for.  And Rick Hess wrote a great round-up of where the candidates stand on edpolicy.

But as the results poured in, I couldn’t help but think: “Who even knows where the candidates stand on today’s real education issues… much less the education issues we will face in the future?”

A few weeks ago, Matt Williams and I joined Greg Landsman on a Saturday morning radio show to talk about education policy. As we discussed the passage of ESSA and what it means for districts, Greg asked me what disposition is most important for a district leader to possess in order to achieve the kind of results we expect from our partner schools. The answer was not what he expected: while district leadership is crucial in creating change, a single district leader is no more important than a presidential candidate if we want that change to be sustainable.

Visionary leadership is crucial for systems change… but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
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Don’t get me wrong. Visionary leadership is important in systems change. That’s why we launched educationplaybook.com to help our presidential candidates think and crucially and talk critically about learning in a new way. But a presidential candidate or a district leader can’t single-handedly solve the problems our current education system is facing. These are wildly complicated social problems that many of us, including me, struggle to understand, much less solve. These problems need foresight, courage and collaboration throughout the system. In order to solve these problems, people from all corners of society – not just our leaders – have to be part of the solution.

We explored sustainable systems transformation in District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide for Scaling Personalized Education. In order to achieve this kind of change, we need leaders from districts, higher education, business and the community, along with students, parents and the nonprofit community to come together. We need everyone’s best thinking to create the complex solutions required to fix the wildly complicated social issues we’re trying to resolve.

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Visionary Leadership in Action

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-02-03 13:47

Recently, I received this email from a colleague who leads an education nonprofit:

Hi Katie,

I’ve been madly reading and downloading the papers you suggested from the KnowledgeWorks site. A couple more just arrived in my email. The vision and scenarios make so much sense to me. Given the intransigence of systems change, particularly in education, how do you see the mechanisms for change? 

If that message had appeared in my inbox a few days earlier, my response likely would have claimed that the forces re-shaping our society are too strong even for the most established systems to resist and that change is unavoidable. I probably also would have lamented that transformational change is, in general, the result of existential threat instead of carefully designed and bravely executed action, which means we may end up with a new system that’s different, but no better, than the old one.

Instead, because of a recent workshop that Jason Swanson and I facilitated, I was able to tell him the story of a team in New Mexico that is actively working to transform its district.

‘Considering the future is part of this district’s daily work.’ #FutureEd
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Las Cruces Public Schools invited us to help their administrators deepen their understanding of the changes described in our most recent forecast and their implications for the district. The half-day workshop was optional for the staff, yet about 30 principals and district leaders chose to join us.

We detailed the drivers of change moving us toward a new era of partners in code, and they worked through how that new era might influence their district priorities, defining success and the steps to reach it. The activities sound standard, but I can assure that you the results were not. We saw visionary leadership in action.

Specifically, I saw Las Cruces’ leaders acting out John Kottner’s 8 steps of leading change and exploring the levers of change outlined in KnowledgeWorks’ “Innovating toward a Vibrant Learning Ecosystem,” likely without realizing it. The sense of urgency on issues such as learning structures, educator roles and human capital, and community ownership was palpable, and the workshop ended with Stan Rounds, the superintendent, inviting others to join him in a guiding coalition that would make decisions and allocate dedicated resources to make their visions for the district’s future a reality.

When Jason and I mentioned how readily the teams dove into grappling with complex issues, pushing their thinking beyond today’s realities and finding opportunities amid the prospect of turbulent change, Mr. Rounds joked that it’s probably because they hear him talk about the future all the time. In a way, he’s right. Considering the future is part of this district’s daily work, and that makes them exceptionally positioned to shape it.

The type of vibrant, equitable learning ecosystem that we envision will not occur as the result of social forces and disruptions alone. We need courageous leaders willing to engage with uncertainty and challenges, to examine their own assumptions, to hold steadfastly to values of equity and student-centeredness, and to create a culture that empowers everyone to be a decision- and change-maker. Not every district is as ready to transform itself as Las Cruces Public Schools seems to be, but anyone can begin with a simple question: What role will you play in shaping the future?

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What it Takes to Learn

Posts from WOL - Mon, 2016-02-01 13:24

As an educator, I never thought I would be the parent that struggled to support my own children with homework. I envisioned using my teacher tool kit to support numeracy, literacy, scientific inquiry, and strong habits of mind. Little did I know how powerful the attitude of a 6-year-old could be.

In the learning communities KnowledgeWorks supports, we discuss supporting the personalization of learning by empowering children to understand the depth of knowledge outlined in the standard. When learners understand just how deep their knowledge needs to go, they can create, present, and support a piece of evidence that proves their understanding while providing agency into how they do so.

Having served in learning communities that give children the opportunity to personalize their learning at the appropriate cognitive level in Lindsay, California and RSU2  in Maine, we’ve started to do this same work at home. The best time for my daughter and I to practice and learn together is before school as we wait for her bus. One morning as I was reviewing my day’s schedule, I noticed some huffing and puffing from my daughter. She was scratching her head in frustration as she practiced new sight words. As any good father would do, I told her to quiet down so I could concentrate. Her aggravated response to my sarcasm?

“Daddy, this is so level 2. I need to practice to get to level 3. You just don’t get it.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle.This was one of my proudest moments as a father and an educator. My 6-year-old daughter understood that to prove mastery of the standard, she had to acquire this basic set of skills and words. She was determined to persevere, and understood that this was the first step in reaching her goal – and was sure that I couldn’t possibly understand what it meant to her to achieve mastery.

With a proud smile I said, “Maya, I laugh because I get that you get what it takes to learn.”

She was not amused.

“Are you going to help me or not?”

So you’ll have to excuse me while I support my daughter, and other learning communities, in designing learning structures that empower children through competency.

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Find Your Fit in the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-01-28 08:59



How might you contribute to the future learning ecosystem? Time and again, KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight work invites readers to look ahead, explore possibilities, and consider what role you might play or how you might fit into the future of education.

With today’s launch of VibrantED, a simulation job recruitment site from the year 2025, that question just got a lot more personal. By highlighting fictional job announcements as if they were openings for which someone could apply, the site brings to life possible future educator roles based on our August 2015 paper, “Exploring the Future Education Workforce: New Roles for an Expanding Learning Ecosystem.” It imagines that the learning ecosystem has expanded beyond today’s understanding of school and that educator roles have diversified to support learners in new settings and fill new ecosystem-level needs.

vibrant-ed-logoThe world that VibrantED inhabits is highly customized, highly personalized, and just might have an unexpected place for you.

Sure, you can simply scroll through the job announcements, keep an eye out for new postings over the coming months, and follow the activity of a cast of fictional characters on Twitter. But you can also find your fit in the expanded learning ecosystem by taking an interactive quiz. Might you thrive as a learning pathway designer? A social innovation portfolio director? A micro-credential analyst? A data steward?

Take the quiz to explore your fit and then check out the fake job openings associated with your ideal role. Ask yourself:

  • How might your current experience translate to the new role?
  • What new skills and competencies might you need to develop?
  • In what ways does the recommended role surprise or dismay you?
  • Is there another role that interests you more?
  • If so, how might you broaden your experience or hone how you describe it?

By providing an immersive experience of a possible future education ecosystem, VibrantED aims to spark conversation and lead to change in how we support learners. It’s one thing to read about future possibilities in a paper. It’s another thing to talk about them in a workshop, to ideate about what you think might be ideal, or to strategize about how to stretch toward new goals.

#FutureEd ‘just might have an unexpected place for you.’ @katprince
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Entering a future world can help us feel the future more directly. Immersing ourselves in future possibilities, if only for a few minutes, can help us shift our thinking and challenge our assumptions about what education has to look and feel like. It can also help us sit with both the positive and negative implications of alternative approaches to learning.

So take a moment to immerse yourself in the world of VibrantED. See what you come back thinking, feeling, ruminating on. See what new questions or new answers emerge. And most of all, enjoy your trip to 2025! Does 2016 look different upon your return?

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Todd Rose on the Myth of Average

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-01-22 14:42

Today, I had the pleasure of hearing Harvard Professor Todd Rose talk about the myth of average.  If you haven’t heard him or read his work, below is a video to his Ted talk.  It speaks to the teaching and learning work we do at KnowledgeWorks. Happy learning!

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An Interview with Erin Kennedy About the Future of Learning

Posts from WOL - Tue, 2016-01-19 08:00

As part of my ongoing series of interviews with students about the future of learning, I sat down Erin Kennedy. Erin is in her second year at the University of Cincinnati, where she is studying graphic design in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. Erin is currently a graphic design co-op with the Communications Team at KnowledgeWorks.

When you think about the future of learning, what makes you excited?

I am excited to see the role that new technology will play in the lives of students, especially when it comes to individualized learning. Hopefully in the future technology advancements will allow for more students to experience learning at their own pace.

From a current student’s perspective, what do you find the most troubling about the future of learning?

I am most troubled by the role that standardized tests and the collection of data on students may play in both their primary education as well as their potential for gaining a secondary education. As a some-what recent high school graduate I have seen and been affected by the monstrosity that is standardized testing. Many of my teachers would format their lesson plans based on what was going to be on the state-mandated test. Often times their student’s scores determine their ratings as teachers.  I have also taken both the ACT and SAT, and have both stressed and watched my fellow classmates and younger sister stress over their results. What is the impact of an education that places so much value on test scores and not the gaining or retaining of information that will benefit the student later on in life? I am concerned about how this testing mentality may evolve in the future. Will even more of our education system become based on giving learning and ability numeric values as individual data collection becomes easier to accomplish and track? My hope for the future is that the growth of technology will not take the human, non-numeric quality out of learning and education.

What do you feel is the biggest uncertainty to the future of learning?

The biggest uncertainty for me would probably be if our education system will actually prepare students for their future lives and the jobs that will be available. Technology is advancing so rapidly, and I sometimes wonder why there aren’t more classes offered for students to take advantage of the new advancements that are being made. For example, maybe a class on the understanding of computers could become a requirement for graduating high school. A basic understanding of general computer programs and coding could help students succeed in an ever-changing world that is becoming even more computer and machine oriented.

What trends do you think are influencing the future of education?

As I have mentioned, technological advancement will have a major influence on the future of education. Technology can and should change the way we learn, teach, and work.

We are currently exploring the implications of artificial intelligence in education, such as a wearable device for students that has built in AI. How do you think this might change education?

Personal, artificial intelligence devices will help the idea of personalized learning become even more of a reality. Devices like these may be able to assist in students learning at their own speed and level, and may allow teachers to better monitor their students to identify areas of weakness.

What does “personalized learning” mean to you?

Personalized learning to me means learning that is targeted towards the individual and their specific needs, interests, and learning styles. Everyone learns differently, and at a different pace, so why would we teach every student in exactly the same manner?

“Everyone learns differently, so why would we teach every student in exactly the same manner?”
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What will personalized learning be like in the future?

Hopefully personalized learning will help students become excited and passionate about learning in the future. If each student could learn subjects at their own pace, school would probably be more widely enjoyed and looked forward to by students. This development of a love of learning in students is really important, because their opinion or mentality on learning may stick with them for much of their lives. I want to see students excited about what they do and ready to learn and grow as much as possible, not dreading every day of class because they are uninterested by the material, unengaged by the class and/or the teaching style, or because the material is presented to them either too quickly or too slowly.

“I want to see students excited about what they do and ready to learn and grow as much as possible.”
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What is your own vision for the future of learning?

I would like to see an education system run by the people who understand it best and know their student’s needs: the teachers. I would also like to see an education system with minimal standardized testing and more value placed on the gaining and retaining of valuable information that can help students later on in both their professional and personal lives. Finally, I would like to see a system that places a greater importance on teaching students skills that they will need for the rest of their lives, especially when it comes to the evolution of technology. I hope to see the development of some sort of life skills course that teaches students how to pay taxes and bills, manage a budget, interview and apply for jobs, etc. A course revolving around technological advancement, computer skills, and coding would also be very beneficial.

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Education is Too Important to Gloss Over

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-01-15 14:23


Education made a brief appearance, a cameo, if you will, at last night’s presidential debate. As my colleague, Mary Kenkel, noted yesterday, education has been all but absent in both the Republican and Democratic Presidential Debates. In fact, there have been more than 175,000 words spoken between candidates and moderators in all of the debates going into last night. Only 64 of those words were “education.” 98 of them were “college.” Four times the word “graduation” was spoken and the term “early education” was used once. This is hardly the debate that we need in our country on such a foundational issue as education.

Last night’s discussion centered more on Governor Christie’s conservative credentials more than it did education. Senator Rubio essentially was questioning the conservativism of the Governor of New Jersey using the Common Core State Standards as a litmus test for conservatism. The Governor responded that the Common Core had been eliminated, which is only partially true. The standards are currently being reviewed which will lead to changes but the reality is that the standards will, more than likely, look quite similar. This is the same practice other states have used, e.g. IN, SC. (Check out Education Week’s PoliticsK12 blog for more insight on the Common Core debate spat.)

Was the debate on a key issue like education standards substantive? Nope. Did we dive into a vision for education? How education is a foundational to systemically solving issues such as national security, economic development and viability, immigration, or poverty? Nope. Did we hear how in a global, interconnected world we need to transform our system to not only remain competitive but lead? Nope. Did we hear about programs that the candidates have put in place in their states or through Congressional action? Nope.

Isn’t it time the candidates, in both major political parties, to address this key issue? We believe so. The issues of today are obviously pressing and consuming.  Without a robust vision for education in our nation, the bedrock for our children’s and grandchildren’s well-being, our collective future is, at best, unclear and at worst, perilous. Education is foundation for national transformation.

We, as KnowledgeWorks, are going to raise the level of debate on education in this country. Check out our website for the Education Playbook for the Next President of the United States and download our recommendations.


(Photo credit: Flickr)

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The ‘Education’ Debate Tally

Posts from WOL - Thu, 2016-01-14 15:10



So far, there have been five Republican and three Democratic presidential debates. Most of them were at least two hours; a few even lasted upwards of three hours. There were more than 175,000 words spoken between candidates and moderators.

Yet only 64 of those words were “education.”

And only 58 of them were “college.”

Only 4 of them were “graduation.”

1 was “preschool.”*

It’s time to start talking about education. It’s time to start talking about how to best prepare our students for life beyond high school – a life where many of them will be competing for jobs that have yet to be created.

175,000+ words spoken in debates, but ‘education’ has only been mentioned 64 times. @knowledgeworks.
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That’s why we launched EducationPlaybook.com. To get the ball rolling. We know it’s just the beginning. We know there is real, grassroots work to do. We know there are endless challenges in ensuring that all children have access to quality learning that supports their needs.

But we also know that we need a leader who’s not afraid to stand up to those challenges.

Join us by starting the conversation in your network. Share EducationPlaybook.com with on social media or through email. Tweet to the candidates to ask your #EdDebate questions.

Let’s join together to put education where it belongs – in the center of the debate.



*Based on keyword searches of debate transcripts thus far. The word counts include all mentions of education, while most were included in anecdotes, in minimal discussion of higher or vocational education, or in mention of the Department of Education.

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Campaigning 101: How Obama’s Education Agenda Will Impact Future Presidencies

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-01-13 10:10

Last night’s State of the Union address was unusually short, setting the tone for what it sure to be an underwhelming legislative year. But before we hit pause until Election Day, it’s worth a quick look back on President Obama’s two terms in office to see how it will forever change education policy in our country. What have the past seven years taught us about the next four?

Productivity is Possible with a Little Creative Interpretation of the Law

When Congress could not agree on a path forward for reauthorization of the long-overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Obama Administration decided to write its own script. Tired of sitting on the sideline, U.S. Department of Education staff took advantage of a loosely written ESEA provision to create a comprehensive waiver opportunity that helped states circumvent many of the law’s onerous provisions. While the outcome was a mixed bag, everyone can agree that this strategy represents a new way forward for future administrations.

Trust Your Team, The Bully Pulpit is Overrated

While the President and Secretary of Education hold coveted positions, they are by no means the only players on the team. State and district leaders hold equally important positions that come with their own set of political challenges. Future administrations must respect their role, trust their input, and let them lead when it makes sense. The Obama Administration learned this lesson the hard way as it faced battles over issues such as common core standards and teacher evaluations.

Innovation is More Than a Buzz Word

The Obama Administration was remarkably successful right out of the gate with its series of competitive innovation programs including Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation program. States, districts, and education organizations catered to federal requirements in hopes of securing resources to advance their agendas. Although most of these competitive programs fell victim to politics, the spirit of innovation remains strong across the country. States are now following suit with a flurry of education innovation bills, programs, and even innovation divisions within state government. The next President should capitalize on this energy.

Education is a powerful campaign issue. Americans care about the future of their children.
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An Idea is only as Good as it’s Evidence

The best messaging and communications specialists in Washington, D.C., are no match for education media and advocates that are eager to find fault with an education proposal. The past two presidential terms are marked by negative headlines pointing to lack of evidence for key education initiatives including Obama’s teacher effectiveness proposal and his infamous school improvement models. Even recently the media is quick to point out that his victory lap over record high graduation rates is unfounded as scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) fell for the first time in two decades. Candidates and elected leaders must backup ideas with solid evidence of success.

Education is the Great Uniter

Education is a powerful campaign issue. Just ask Congressional leaders who finally passed a bipartisan reauthorization of ESEA late last year at a time when political leaders could agree on nothing – and I mean nothing. Americans care about the future of their children, the state of the economy, and their national security, and they seem to get that it’s all tied to the strength of our education system. Presidential candidates should raise the level of debate in this country by talking about education issues on the campaign trail. We encourage them to start with a quick read of KnowledgeWorks’ presidential playbook at www.educationplaybook.com for ideas and concrete recommendations to strengthen our education system for the challenges of tomorrow. A strong education platform will pay dividends in the voting booth.

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Raising the Level of Education Debate

Posts from WOL - Wed, 2016-01-13 09:27

It’s time to raise the level of education debate throughout the country. It’s time to discuss how to best educate students for life beyond high school as they enter an ever-changing, increasingly innovative, interconnected workforce where many of their future jobs have yet to be created.

It’s time to think forward. It’s time to close achievement gaps and help all students succeed. It’s time for America’s students to once again compete on an international stage.

And it’s time we ask those running for President to rise to the challenge.

This is why KnowledgeWorks created the Education Playbook for the Next President of the United States. This set of policy proposals was developed with a lens towards transforming our education system and not just tweaking the status quo. With that lens, we believe by using strategic foresight and partnering with educators in both traditional and innovative environments, we have developed five key policy proposals which drive innovation and results:

  1. We encourage support and flexibility for States that want to voluntarily develop and improve systems of competency based education. These systems, will allow students to learn and master the skills and knowledge they need to be successful through a personalized learning approach that is geared toward the needs of each and every individual learner.
  2. We recommend support for States to develop digital registries of personalized learning opportunities that utilize innovative partnerships with business and postsecondary institutions. This effort would spur educational innovation by accessing the learning and instructional power in schools, higher education, and out-of-school organizations to develop and validate successful learning opportunities and pathways to college and career readiness.
  3. We recommend support for partnerships of States and institutions of higher education to improve certification and develop a new pipeline of educators that can implement personalized learning approaches. This will harness the educational power across the spectrum, from community volunteers to full-time classroom teachers.
  4. Our nation’s federal student aid system should be redesigned to pay for the actual acquisition and demonstration of knowledge and skills, not simply covering the costs of credit hour courses that may not lead to any actual learning. This approach would allow students to access their total amount of Federal aid at any time during their academic careers, allowing them to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the workplace at a pace that works for them.
  5. We recognize the need to support a new approach to investing in education technology through a competition to spur new ideas and approaches. This support can incent technological innovation away from simply digitizing print media, and instead focus on new ways to impact learning.

I invite you to engage with us and with our Education Playbook and spread the word if you’d like. Join the conversation using #EdDebate and visit www.educationplaybook.com to learn even more.


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Beef with Grit(s)

Posts from WOL - Fri, 2016-01-08 13:35

I have to admit, I came up with the title “Beef with Grit(s)” before I came up with the content for this post. I actually came up with the title about a month ago, when I decided it would be great to write about why I struggle with prioritizing student “grit” in the classroom. But then I got distracted, forgot to write the post, and was left nothing but a catchy title.

Does that mean I don’t have grit? Let’s check. As published in a recent Atlantic article, a student’s level of grit is often gauged by using prompts like “New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones,” “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one,” or “I finish whatever I begin.”

If the quality of my grit is based on the first two questions, I severely lack it. I’m easily excited by new ideas, as evidenced by the 27 tabs I currently have open on Chrome to read.

I’ve always considered myself a rather driven person, but I’m never quite sure where that drive is going to lead me… in other words, I change my mind. Is that so bad? To some people, it is. But this is where I have privilege. I would argue that because of my race and class, society is set up for me to succeed, which allows me some leeway. I have grown up with support systems that keep me moving ahead, who understand that, though I may come up with a title and forget about the post for an entire month, I am adding value to work and relationships in other ways Not so coincidentally, this same privilege and support has enabled me to develop grit over time. (More exploration on that in a future post.)

When we talk about having grit, or not having grit, in the classroom, we often prioritize it as a one-size-fits-all concept. We are imposing middle class, “bootstraps” values for diverse student bodies that include student with myriad abilities, some of which don’t include sitting still at a desk and completing a project start to finish no matter the struggle.

When we talk about grit in the classroom, we often prioritize it as a one-size-fits-all concept.
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We also easily leave behind children who come from different cultural perspectives. For instance, some cultures value community over individuality. If a student wants to work in a team and let others lead, they may not have “grit” the way it is defined now. Does that mean they are a poor student? (Spoiler alert, I don’t think so.)

Many students work to overcome obstacles even before they get to school. The grit they display may look completely different than the grit prioritized in the classroom. Does the student who had to cook breakfast and dress their four younger siblings every morning, but can’t quite finish that report have less grit than the student whose mom drove them to school today and finished the report in a week? Absolutely not. So then why are we assessing them that way?

Tyrone Howard, PhD, associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA, offers alternative scaling questions that expand what student engagement means in a classroom and views the whole student at a deeper level. Some of his scaling questions include, “I always have bus fare to get to school.” “Whenever I get sick, I am able to go to a doctor.” “I have at least one teacher who cares about me.” Dr. Howard argues heavily in favor of an academic climate that is as mindful of the prompts in the second category as much as those in the first grit scale.

As schools begin to focus more on social emotional development, it seems to me that we need a careful review of what type of social emotional learning we prioritize in the classroom. (And what policymakers determine classrooms should prioritize.)

Districts should consider perhaps personalizing social emotional development and assessment. With the reauthorization of the ESEA, schools are now measured on performance that can include school climate or engagement. There is a tie between the soft skills students learn and how they engage in school, so social emotional development should be culturally competent and personalized to reflect each student’s development.

Social emotional development and trauma-informed teaching / learning are extremely important topics to me. Here are some questions I’ve been considering as I start this blog series on the topic, and I hope they make you stop and ponder as well.

What kind of “grit” are students showing by simply coming to school? What type of resiliency are they already showing? How can practitioners (teachers, social workers, other students) show empathy around each student’s experience?

What other social emotional skills and qualities can we teach students in the classroom that help a student succeed and become an independent learner? How does grit still fit in?

How can we adjust our thinking to include a more trauma-informed approach to a student’s education? How will that affect our view of grit?

How does social emotional learning intersect with accountability systems? Is it “good” to quantify and scale social emotional development?

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