At the recent Global Change Leaders gathering hosted by Ashoka with support from partners, a foundational premise was that our current education systems are not working – not just well enough for enough learners, but not working for the time in which we live and the conditions that are emerging. The gathering sought to define further a framework for creating learning ecosystems that focus on empowering every young person to live for the greater good. It also sought to foster collaboration by weaving together the efforts of many people and organizations around the world in order to increase those efforts’ systemic impact.
With that framing of transformational systems change, the gathering emphasized the responsibility of individual changemakers to own that we are the system, even as we work to change it. That’s partly because we are all living in the current paradigm even as we week to help a new paradigm emerge. It’s also because changemakers need to attend to and nourish ourselves even as we seek to shepherd solutions for coming challenges.
At the gathering, we worked with critical paths, or strategies that could help people realize the potential of learning ecosystems. The conversations also emphasized the primacy of culture, of the human filed that enables and sustains significant change. That emphasis resonated with what I’ve been hearing more and more often in the conversations that I facilitate: that we need to shift both adult and youth cultures to realize the best opportunities for the future of learning.
Another strand of the Global Change Leaders gathering addressed the purpose of education systems. As KnowledgeWorks explored in our future strategy guide, there is a pressing need to reexamine what we want from our education systems and who gets to say. That entails redefining readiness for the emerging world of work. It also, as Valerie Hannon of Innovation Unit highlighted, involves reaching further to redefine success around thriving.
Whole-systems change is demanding and long-term work. Cultivating vibrant learning ecosystems requires making significant changes now, as well as continuing to tend learning ecosystems as they and their surrounding conditions evolve. As Anthony Mackay of Innovation Unit pointed out, our systems are on the move. In my twelve years with KnowledgeWorks, I’ve seen the capacity and appetite for innovation and risk-taking, as well as a sense of urgency for change, increase considerably. And, as Sean Slade of ASCD emphasized, we all have the power to bring about that change by acting in our spheres of influence.
At this time in U.S. education changemaking, we have great opportunity to channel social, political, and economic shifts to create vibrant and equitable learning ecosystems. We inhabit a unique moment in which the many people who are working to shape the future of education could come together to pursue adaptive rather than technical change – to shift our frame from school systems to learning ecosystems. At this unique moment, we face a critical point of choice:
- Might the efforts, investments, and innovations of an expanding array of changemakers reflect or inspire new commitment to the promise of public education?
- Or might the myriad perspectives on how to change the system, no matter how well-intentioned, undermine or further erode collective belief in public education, threatening the social fabric that the system helps uphold?
As the Global Change Leaders gathering emphasized, that choice is up to us. We will make this and other choices about the future of learning not once, but many times as we go about our work and connect it with the good work being done by others.