By: Jeanine Collins
We came together, as the InspirED Global Fellows, intending to travel to Singapore to learn about how that small country’s big investment in human talent has created one of the highest-performing education systems in the world. Our partner, Las Vegas Sands, believed in our mission to bring what we learned back to local educators and leaders to inspire collective action.
What might a group of diverse Southern Nevada educators, with different scopes of practice, experiences, and perspectives, collectively learn and share that could inspire our next steps in education practice and policy?
Then COVID-19 happened.
Pivot became the buzz word for not only the private and public sectors but also for individuals and families. Those previously impacted by inequitable access to education found themselves even more removed from opportunity as resources like WI-FI and laptops were now unequivocally essential for learning. Implementing virtual teaching and learning practices on the fly, honoring the social and emotional needs of scholars, and simply trying to maintain community amidst such uncertainty was overwhelming. No matter your vantage point, as governments, businesses, and nonprofits sprang into crisis response mode, the groundlessness of the moment was palpable.
As our fellowship pivoted to a virtual context, research on Singapore’s system revealed the values, policies, and structures that support their approach to educator preparation: rigorous standards of entry, a focus on an educator’s content expertise and research capacity, a career ladder with milestones and growth that support ongoing professional excellence, and a shift to prioritize 21st-century learning as essential learner outcomes: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Our fellows came together in mid-July with the recognition the international travel they’d applied for was no longer on the table. We’d bring Singapore to our fellows the way the whole world was connecting, on Zoom. As we assembled, cautious optimism was strengthened by the realization that the lever for change would be their impact, something always within their control. Design Team 1 remained committed to the idea the most important thing they could do as leaders of learning was to learn.
After six weeks of building rapport, engaging in introductory human-centered design exercises, and processing research inviting us to examine ourselves as leaders of innovation and learning, we invited education community leaders to join us in an external call with respected thought leaders; Tom Vander Ark, Michael Fullan, Dr. Mary Jean Gallagher, and Dr. Marion Smith Jr. brought the core values of equity, excellence, and well-being in a 21st century learning context to life.
An important goal of our InspirED Global Fellowship is empowering our fellows and community to convene in dialogue about education practice and policy for success, so we have intentionally built in public-facing milestones to spark shared learning and reflection.
Key takeaways from our earliest inspirED learning:
- Equity is a LASIK, not a lens. Dr. Marion Smith Jr., shared that a lens is something that can be removed, whereas a LASIK is enduring. Recognizing that inequitable access, resources, and expectations need to be acknowledged and addressed so that ALL scholars get what they need to thrive is a permanent perspective.
- need to drive educational narratives. When the values associated with global competencies are at the center of learning, we can create experiences that more profoundly transform our scholars, their understanding of their learning to impact their lives, and even uncover individual purpose.
- Educators can lead from the seat that we’re in, and success will accelerate when the layers of our system collaborate with each other. Both Dr. Gallagher and Dr. Smith’s paradigms focus on recognizing what is possible. A teacher can innovate within their classroom and collaborate with peers to facilitate learning experiences that go beyond rote learning. School leaders can push on the levers they can control to create the culture and flexibility for teachers to innovate for better outcomes. District and state agencies can leverage successful individuals and contexts to create networks that share learning. Dr. Smith’s pilot’s perspective analogy reminds us no matter our position in the work, we have a moral imperative to get all scholars safely to their destination.
- Revolutionary mindsets, evolutionary approaches. There’s a saying: “You eat an elephant one bite at a time.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of challenging assumptions and clarifying values, mindsets, and skills throughout an entire system that serves so many with varying perspectives and experiences. That challenge cannot and should not stop scholars, educators, families, policy leaders, and community members from convening to get clear on a shared vision, implementing it one bite at a time.
Our container is formed, and our InspirED fellows navigate the heaviest lift our American education system has undertaken as the school continues on a fully virtual platform. We recognize success is not a linear path. It will require pivots within pivots.
And likely, a healthy dose of inspiration.
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Jeanine Collins is the Executive Director at NV Succeeds, a Las Vegas-based education nonprofit focused on empowering systems transformation through educator impact, policy, and design thinking. She has been a public high school performing arts educator, Critical Friends Group Coach, university instructor, and learning design consultant.
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