S3: E4 - Innovation in Progressive Education feat. Bennett Jester, Ted Fujimoto, Deanna Hess, & Sophie Fenton

By far the most inspiring thing about living in the communication age is seeing school innovation at work throughout the world. Sometimes we can get trapped in our microcosm obsessing over what doesn’t work in schools - after all, there is a lot that needs changing. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that there aren’t awesome things happening.

To expand on the word "innovation" - I know that these word can be "fad worthy" - if you will. The education community tends to look at every new initiative as innovative, including those that just do everything most normally do - better. But that's not what I'm getting at here...innovation is taking a risk against the status quo, doing something that little to no other people are doing. It's important to highlight and express these ideas are not only legitimate, but extraordinary - we should celebrate work and be careful of solely critiquing the established system.

In this episode, we’re speaking to a variety of people - from students in high school to business leaders - on what innovation looks like in schools. However, instead of focusing on broad, sweeping topics on progressive education (which lends itself to a lot of banal conversations about “inspiring creativity” or “preparing for life”), we want to hone in on specifics. Each person we’ve invited has a different specialty. Whether it be going gradeless, mastering a portfolio, enabling student/teacher relationships, tackling AI and digital literacy, or scaling progressive education to multiple schools, I guarantee you’ll learn from these conversations!

The expectation isn’t that we jump into our classrooms tomorrow and rapidly change everything based on what we’ve heard here. No - our goal is to have these conversations in order to shift the pedagogical dialogue. There’s not a set curriculum or step-by-step you can purchase, or a podcast that you’ll hear, that will make changes in your school. Instead, developing a mindset of progressive education - hearing these thoughts and bringing your perspective, then (of course) taking action is the only way we’ll see true innovation in schools.

In other words, listen, dissect, question, reflect, and engage in this field. Don’t let time and “that’s just not realistic’s” wear you down. Any measure of progressive education is possible anywhere - our guests on this podcast have been from all walks of life, all stages of teaching, across the United States and many countries. Once you understand what you feel when it comes to what “restoring humanity” means in schools, have the ample research and expert voices to back you up, and form that into mitigated risks you can take, we’ll see more and more communities embracing positive educative change for the souls of our students. After all, that’s the Human Restoration Project’s goal! A one-stop for everything you’ll need: research, resources, pedagogical guides, expert opinions, and opinionated, targeted blogs that actually push some boundaries. Let’s push forward together.

GUESTS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE

Bennett Jester, a high school freshman at the progressive Clark Street Community School in Middleton, Wisconsin, who blogs and speaks on issues of grades and traditional education at-large.

Ted Fujimoto, the president of Landmark Consulting Group, a business that focuses on scaling, leadership, and redesign, and whose hand shaped the growth of New Tech Network and Big Picture Learning, both of which have seen massive whole-school progressive redesigns.

Deanna Hess, an English educator at Dover High School in Dover, Delaware, who teaches a range of classes including dual-credit courses, where she focuses on developing purpose in writing and reading in what is typically regarded as a traditional setting.

Sophie Fenton, the Head of Education Design at the Asia Education Foundation in Melbourne, Australia, who focuses on promoting intercultural and communicative schools in an increasingly connected world.

RESOURCES

FURTHER LISTENING

S3: E3: Building a Global Equitable Community feat. Ara Aman, Tania Mansfield, Lisa Liss, Colleen Mascenik, and Evin Schwartz

We speak with someone exposed to progressive education throughout the world, a human-centered school in Vietnam, an elementary school teacher reaching out, and two tech-experts leading the way in global communications.

One of the fundamental shifts of the information age is being able to connect globally with barely any limitations. I'm still shocked that I can connect to a classroom in Vietnam - see and speak with the person - and it's almost like I'm there. And that's a semi-normal thing to do.

And I often think about: what does that mean for education? Not only from a communicative standpoint in perspective-building, but specifically progressive education. I know starting off: adopting critical pedagogy in the classroom, giving students projects that weren't necessarily completely aligned with standards, letting students choose what to do each day - those were radical concepts to me that I took away...at least mostly...from books. I was incredibly hesitant to really go "full on" with any of my ideas...until I started engaging online. It turns out, I wasn't crazy - there are plenty of other people tackling and contemplating these ideas on social media and elsewhere.

Our pockets of progressive education - of people who care and reflect on education and the humanity of each person in their classroom - are no longer isolated. And now we can hear stories, see people affected - really it brings to light the necessity of progressive practice. Now that we can see this - visualize it - be supported by it - we have a backing to buckle down and keep at it. We can unite together and see drastic change...and those sails are already in motion. Organically, there is a rallied movement of people taking on what were once insane ideas at most traditional public schools. Everyday I'm so happy to read a Teachers Going Gradeless blog, people tweeting - even debating publicly - the goals of an often-too teacher-centric classroom, or discovering whole new pockets of progressive ed. - like Belouga's social justice centered global education initiative, who I'll be talking to this episode.

The point is - it's a lot more common than I ever thought - and assumedly it's more common than most who attempt it believe. We can do this together - just listen to the voices of this episode and tell me if progressive education isn't here to change the world. And now that we're starting to spread progressive ed. further - we need to make sure it's for the whole world - not just a select few.

GUESTS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE

Ara Aman, a sophomore at Bennington College in Vermont, a progressive higher education experience. Ara grew up in progressive environments in India and the United Kingdom.

Tania Mansfield, the PYP (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme) Coordinator at Ho Chi Minh City International School in Vietnam, which is piloting a self-directed education program.

Lisa Liss & her elementary students, located in Sacramento, California, organizing around an experiential project, the aptly named Bandage Project, which seeks to build tolerance and understanding of the Holocaust.

Colleen Mascenik, founder of BreakawayLearning.org, a non-profit organization which connects students and educators with individuals around the world, teaching anything from life under the Taliban to piano instruction.

Evin Schwartz, founder of Belouga, an online platform aimed at connecting classrooms across the world, centered on social impact campaigns.

RESOURCES

FURTHER LISTENING

S3: E2: It All Orbits Purpose feat. Kendall Cotton Bronk, John Cagle, Skylar Primm, and Elizabeth Martin

Frankly, I’m astonished by how little school systems spend on covering purpose in students’ lives. Where do they see themselves in 10, 20 years? We leave them to the “next step” (either lost and apathetic or in incredible amounts of debt) to figure it out for themselves. How do we go about creating a purposeful society? Is it possible for a teacher to actually make a change? And, in addition, what about our sense as educators in the classroom? What about our purpose?

GUESTS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE

Dr. Kendall Cotton Bronk, head of the Adolescent Morality Lab at Claremont Graduate School, Dr. Cotton Bronk is one of the founding/leading researchers surrounding youth purpose-finding.

Dr. John Cagle, a 27-year public education educator who currently serves as Assistant Principal at Jefferson County High School in Tennessee. His dissertation focused on relationship building and academic success.

Skylar Primm, an educator at High Marq Environmental Charter School in Montello, Wisconsin*, a fascinating small public charter school centered on interdisciplinary experiential learning, with a focus on the environment.

*This were mentioned incorrectly during the podcast, sorry!

Elizabeth Martin, an English teacher who recently ventured to a county school after years spent at a large urban district. She has started to document this shift on Medium.

RESOURCES

FURTHER LISTENING

S3: E1: The Good Life feat. Steven Gumbay, REENVISIONED, The Future Project, Anne Connolly, Richard Loeper-Viti, & Gamal Sherif

In this podcast, we're talking about "the good life." What is it exactly that we want students to have in their future? Is it a great career, a content lifestyle, a family, solidarity, freedom, respect for one another, a mixture of all of the above? And if we can't agree on that question or at least have somewhat unified goals in getting there, how can education exist to serve that question? In addition, do teachers have and deserve "the good life"?

We've spoken to various educators from across the world, and I hope you enjoy listening to their amazing thoughts and ideas.

Guests, in order of appearance:

Steven Gumbay, who has taught for over 40 years, starting in Denver, CO, then transitioning to Taiwan, Zambia, Kenya, Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Ethiopia. Steven has served as a science department chair and as a consultant building secondary, primary, and preschool programs.

Dr. Erin Raab and Nicole Hensel of REENVISIONED and The Future Project. Erin holds a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University, where her scholarship pertained to the question of how we can transform education systems to foster individual flourishing and thriving democracies. Nicole obtained a dual Masters in Public Policy and Education Leadership from Stanford University. You can find their work below. Currently, Erin also serves as the Vice President of Research and Evaluation and Nicole, the Deputy Vice President of Research and Evaluation, at The Future Project, a non-profit organization that aims to ensure all young people can build a life and world they love.

Richard Loeper-Viti, whose progressive practices have transformed his English international classroom. Starting in a top-ranked charter school in the United States, he ventured to Chengdu, China after his wife, a US Diplomat, received a new position.

Anne Connolly, a CERT inclusion specialist and special education primary instructor, who has taught for over 20 years. Anne currently uses her progressive practices in an elementary classroom in Ontario.

Gamal Sherif, who has taught over 20 years in middle and high school, served as a fellow for the US Department of Education, and is an ambassador for the UN Sustainable Goals Project. Gamal has a focus on sustainable teaching practices.

Resources

Further Listening


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Next time: purpose, passion, and developing the future w/ Dr. Kendall Cotton-Bronk, and many more!

S2 Highlight: Shifting from Industry to Well-Being w/ Dr. Susan Engel

We are joined by Dr. Susan Engel, professor of developmental psychology at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Dr. Engel has authored a variety of publications and books, including The End of the Rainbow: How Educating for Happiness (not money) Would Transform Our Schools and A School of Our Own: The Story of the First Student-Run High School and a New Vision for American Education, among many more - including her latest book, The Children You Teach: Using a Developmental Framework in the Classroom. Furthermore, Dr. Engel co-founded the Hayground School, a non-profit school focused on experiential learning and the teachings of John Dewey.

In our conversation, we talk about so many important topics:

  • Why is “next step” and industry-prep (e.g. “Preparing students for tomorrow’s industries.”) potentially a problem?

  • Why is well-being imperative to learning? How does this contradict those who focus so much on rigor?

  • How can we convince educators and administrators that progressive policies help students learn?

  • How can we enact this research without eliminating standardized testing?

  • How can testing (if shifted to other realms) actually help us in progressive education?