A Virtual Symposium in Response to the Pandemic

“From Gathering to Transformation” is a weekly virtual collaboration with global partners in education to move towards learner centered transformation. Hosted by Fielding International, and in partnership with Open Way Learning, Transcend, Education Reimagined, hundrED, Student Voice, and Next Generation Learning Challenges, our summit is introduced with a mini keynote by a leader in education followed by the exploration of two guiding questions in small breakout groups.

Zhao has been recognized as one of the most influential education scholars. His works focus on the implications of globalization and technology on education. He has published over 100 articles and 30 books. Zhao is a Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas and is an elected member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow of the International Academy of Education.

Zhao delivered a message of hope and transformation during this time of great uncertainty: “This is a pivotal moment to interrupt the education crisis that has been festering long before COVID19.” While it’s easy for individuals to feel powerless facing the challenges of education, Zhao reminded us that we are all agents of change. “We must take actions on our own and be a model for others to follow as we cannot expect society and the education system to change on its own.” 

What does this change look like? Conventional schools have displaced student voice and agency for far too long. If we don’t want to waste this education crisis, we must remember that students are the creators of the future and have the right to self determination, autonomy, and the right to be partners in changing the system. “Learning belongs to the learner and we are just there to support them.” 

Zhao cautioned that we must be very careful about researched approaches to education during this crisis and beyond. Oftentimes, our best intentions to improve learning include critical blind spots. What may show up in a research study to improve one outcome may actually have strong negative effects for another. For example, using a researched approach to improve student academic performance in math  may have harmful side effects like crushing students’ curiosity and creativity. Short term instructional and cognitive gains may come at a huge cost, and some of that cost can be difficult to quantify.

This week’s conversation was informed by the following guiding questions:

1) When we look back at this time some years in the future, how would you like to finish this statement? “COVID19 was the silver lining education transformation needed because…”

2) What actions catalyze the silver lining you’re discussing to be actualized?

Importantly, the silver lining comes not from the virus itself, but the disruption caused by it. For this, the two patterns that emerged from 150+ participants working across 18 breakout groups were “necessity is the mother of invention” and “conventional education’s institutional inequities have been largely exposed.” 

While several groups recognized forward thinking schools and districts have focused more on students’ holistic well-being by prioritizing relationships, one Minnesota superintendent summed it up best, “Compassion over Content.” 

Addressing systemic inequities, the digital divide has posed immediately challenges disproportionally spread out across communities nationally and globally. Additionally, and building off Yong Zhao 2019 publication An Education Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste, the conventional model of school has been riddled with inequities. Nathan Strenge commented, “A standardized system designed to rank-and sort students as they consume antiquated content may be the modern educational definition of inequity.” 

In the introduction of the webinar, Chip and Dan Heath’s New York Times best-selling book Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard was referenced to consider actions that lead to transformation (we encourage everyone interested in this to watch an 8-minute animation that overviews the book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmmwWxVzSsw). Here is a list of actions that were generated in the breakouts that align to the message of Switch.

Key Findings From Educator Nathan Strenge

Yong Zhao asked us to think about “When we look back at this time and the actions that catalyzed this silver lining, what will we see?” The compounding synthesis feels more like diagnostic work to separate the current educational system statements about when we return to “school” from the reimagine a whole “new future” of learner-centered innovation statements.

This week the participants sometimes got mired down in the vast complexity of their own beliefs, values, and less in the crisis. Although many common themes emerged, participants consistently shared and built upon the need to value student-voice and the relationships that shape the learner.

Almost palpable is this sense of urgency to bring kids, students, learners into the fold and seat them at the head of the table. As Yong Zhao said, “Learning belongs to the learner.”How do we take action around this shared value and build on common ground?

Here is a list of actions that were generated in the breakouts that align to the message of Switch.

“We need to move beyond the preaching to the converted. Most parents and students aren’t even aware of this work.”

“Flatten the structures of decision making and governance. We have to figure it out together in whatever local context we serve.”

“Have a coalition of students reach out to their state legislature to get rid of seat time.”

“Bring this conversation back to neighbors, friends, family, and colleagues.”

“Collect, curate, and share student stories of social good.”

“Network with multigenerational champions of learner-centered education.”

“Let kids move as they need to move, offer menus to know, show, and go and move forward. Don’t lock things behind the door of the next grade level.”

“Host an education documentary to show what school could be.”

Collaborate with World Educators to Explore the Potential for Change in the New Normal

Register and Join the Meeting Every Thursday at Noon ET/11am CT (1600 GMT)


The findings from each event will be summarized in our Insight section on this website, and will be shared on social. This work is meant to be shared freely, and expanded by your own community.