With equity becoming increasingly the focus of education systems around the world, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 experience, the contributions to the recent Fielding International webinar series have been a ‘breath of fresh air’, providing a sense of ‘what’s possible’ when we work together to design learning experiences and environments that accommodate the diversity represented in our student groups. It is appropriate timing given the news in this morning’s paper here in NZ titled One-size-fits-all’ teaching approach doesn’t always work for poor performing NZ students.
I’m using this blog post as a record of my thoughts and reflections having just participated in the third of a series of webinars titled ‘designing equitable learning‘ hosted by Fielding International. This final of the series focused on cultivating learning ecosystems and environments that meet the needs of all young people
This has been an outstanding series – I’ve blogged previously about the first webinar here – featuring a range of inspirational stories and speakers. My notes below are simply a summary to prompt my memory – the full webinar video is available at the bottom of this post and I strongly recommend viewing it to get the full story 🙂
This morning’s webinar began with an introduction from host, Nathan Strenge, focusing thoughts on the relationship between our conceptions of learning environments and the experiences of learners who come to us to learn there – moving beyond cells and bells to a learning community.
Nathan argued that designing equitable learning starts by aligning your vision, environment, and human capacity, and went on to share images of a number of learning environments designed by the team at Fielding International to illustrate how these three things had been taken into consideration in the design of these physical spaces.
The first speaker up was Alexis Gwin-Miller, principal of Crosstown High in Memphis, TN. Alexis shared stories of how her personal experience of growing up ‘cross town’ had formed the deep passion and beliefs she now holds as an educator, and that led her to the role she currently holds. Her stories were used to focus on designing for ‘cross-town’ (where kids live ‘cross town’ and not in the same neighbourhood where the school is. Her key design considerations are captured perfectly in her slide below:
Second speaker was Carlos Moreno, Co-Executive Director of Big Picture Learning, who spoke about growing our ecosystem, and building communities that support equitable learning environments. His quote used at the head of this post sums up the way Carlos views our responsibility as educators!
Carlos spoke about the need to ‘learn with love’, stating; “If you love your content more than you love young people, then you probably shouldn’t be teaching.” Learning with love in his view involves:
- making a genuine effort to understand each other
- listening deeply to what students & colleagues say
- having courageous conversations that blend mercy & truth
- unconditional positive regard
Carlos also highlighted the importance of student voice in the change process, noting that youth voice has always been associated with social and political change. He pointed us to 100 days of conversation, a collaborative project organized to catalyze conversations in communities across the country on each of the first 100 days of the new administration – January 20th – April 29th, 2021. Check out the facilitation guide to help you organise your own conversations with learners for the project.
His challenge to educators is:
Next up was Sofia Ervin, a young aspiring filmmaker from San Diego, CA. who is looking to go into the independent film industry to create feature films that explore identity and what it means to “understand yourself” as a young person.
She shared the first video she every directed which gives you a pretty good idea of here approach to this work and what she aspires to achieve – you can find it here.
A key comment of Sofie’s that stood out for me was; “Ethnic studies should be a part of every school curriculum. No student should have to wait until college to pay thousands of dollars to do an ethnic studies course!” She was speaking, of course, from her own experience of how important the understanding of her personal history, and the histories of other groups in her community was and is to the ideas she has about her own identity and of others she is working with in her film-making work. Made me think of the work being done in NZ currently with the NZ histories project, designed to achieve exactly this.
The webinar closed with an excellent summary by Ulcca Hansen, providing a great meta-level view of where the challenges are for us as educators in reconciling different philosophical views of education that remain present in our system. She noted; “If we’re not clear about the difference (between the conventional and the liberatory approaches), we might not get where I think we’re all committed to going.” Unfortunately her slides weren’t available to view in detail, so I’d recommend you watch her piece at the end of the webinar to hear what she has to say. The full recording is available below: