Words cannot express the awe I am in. After attending the Jefferson County Public Schools Deeper Learning Symposium, I am left energized to go to work, as well as hopeful for the future of education. The conversations, themes, and topics around deeper learning were not necessarily new, yet the major change I saw was how teachers received the conversations. There was very little naysaying or disbelief, rather a desire to change the status quo because the status quo is becoming antiquated.
Before the Symposium, I researched what “deeper learning” actually meant. According to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, deeper learning revolves around “deeper learning competencies, stronger assessment, high quality instructional materials, and an engagement in the research base around instructional practices.” Deeperlearning4all.org goes a bit further, stating that deeper learning prepares students to, “know and master core academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and be self-directed and able to incorporate feedback.”
So, knowing all of this, why was the Deeper Learning Symposium so powerful? To me, the power in the three days rested in that people from all over the country spoke on deeper learning for not only students, but also, Dr. Marty Polio stated, teachers and those who support teachers.
Those Who Teach
Deeper learning is clearly a student-centered practice. From using Google tools in the classroom, to incorporating project-based learning, the sessions offered provided insights into how to change instructional practices to personalize and deepen student learning. Session after session sparked ideas, shifts in mindsets, and growth in skills to allow teachers to provide students the opportunity to learn not only in a way that is personal to them, but also to learn in a way that prepares them for a future that today’s educational model does support.
It is imperative to note that teachers still have much work to do. Whether it is further changing their own methodologies, the practices of fellow teachers, or the mindsets of the administrative staff around them, teachers will have to take the energy and motivation from the Symposium and work tirelessly through struggle, failure, and naysayers to do what is best for students.
Those Who Support Teachers
Clearly, classroom practitioners are the front line of engagement, but there are many allies who support the front line. To me, this is where the Deeper Learning Symposium was truly innovative and empowering. Teacher leaders, from both inside and outside the classroom, were encouraged to raise their voices in support of improving the pedagogy of the United States.
Outside of the sessions, teachers and organizations were cultivating interconnectedness between teachers and those that can support them. As time went on through the Symposium, it was clear that those supports came in more than one form; there were those whose title was to support teacher-leaders, but there were also teacher-leaders stepping up to support their fellow teachers. This community spirit will improve the professional practice of all involved. Everyone, from coaches to teachers to administrators, is bettered through collaboration, critical feedback, productive struggle, and mutual mission and vision. To me, the true power of deeper learning came in these moments. Teachers internalized the need to change and found those who could support them in that endeavor.
So What Now?
Honestly, I am having trouble identifying the words to express the power of the Symposium. The movement has begun. That much is evident. And while I am struggling to express the past, I have no issues with expressing the vision of the future.
All teachers, whether they attended the Deeper Learning Symposium or not, need to rethink their practices.
Whether it was changing, as Dr. Christopher Emdin suggests, mindsets, or changing what it means to be connected, we all need to improve every aspect of our practice to improve the outcomes and futures of the students we serve. This is a whole child issue. It is not a grades or tests issue. So what can you do? Research. Read.
JCPSForward is a good place to start. They are an organization, of which I am a member, of teachers and support staff dedicated to connecting and empowering teachers in their search for better practices. You can also join the JCPSForward Twitter chats by following the hashtag #JCPSChat. The next one is Monday, June 19th at 8 PM. If you don’t know how to engage in a Twitter chat, please reach out to me and I would be happy to support you in that practice.
Keep up the energy and the belief. Keep up the spirit of the Deeper Learning Symposium (check out the hashtag #jcpsdl). And, as always, move forward for our students because #ourstudentsdeserveit.