On October 15th, 2020, the Education Action Forum of Maine, Educate Maine The Education Foundation of the Maine Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Innovation in Education at Thomas College launched the first of the Education Innovators Series.  This series serves as a forum by which educators and families across the state of Maine can engage with researchers in an effort to co-create a vision for a post-Covid system of education in the State. 

On March 22, 2020, Pender Makin, Commissioner of Education addressed the citizens of Maine in response to the pandemic that had closed the schools.   She challenged Maine families to envision a new system that needed to be restructured to meet the new challenges and emerging insights into learning the pandemic opened. 

This series endeavors to better inform citizens and legislators on what needs to be done to realize this important goal.   Undergirding our discussions will be educational outcome data.  Educate Maine and the Maine Chamber of Commerce have invested significant funding for research that tries in good faith, to get a snapshot of how Maine students are doing on standardized tests as well as related growth assessments.    The 2019 report was released in December 2020.  Our intention is to use that data as a benchmark to better inform areas for improvement.  Our goal is to create a legislative and administrative environment that supports and advances innovative mindset for all educators.

The recording of the session can be found at this link.   The speaker was Jason Swanson, Director of Strategic Foresight for KnowledgeWorks.   Ed Cervone, Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Education at Thomas College moderated and Matt Drewette-Card, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at MSAD #75 and Heather Whitaker, Alternative Education Teacher at Gorham, Maine School District and Maine Teacher of the Year 2019 served as respondents. 

Jason Swanson’s explained his research at KnowledgeWorks which affirms that education is “everybody’s business.” He suggests states need to involve every citizen: educators, business leaders and legislators to reimagine a more robust education system.  The key findings of the Knowledgeworks national research are:

  • many teachers feel that administrators “need to get out of the way” especially when change takes place “on the backs of teachers.”
  • the importance of student voice and student advisory panels.
  • the importance for schools to create directors of family engagement.
  • the need for communities to develop “hyper local narratives of success.”

The two Maine educators were asked to comment on the relevance this research has for Maine.   Matt Drewette-Card addresses the “systemic” challenges that are considered obstacles to real innovation in Maine. He points out how the pandemic has forced teachers to operate with improvisation which has provided new learning opportunities.   The pandemic has revealed new understanding that must be addressed:

  • “Time” can be variable whereas “learning” is the constant.  Remote learning provides opportunities to vary the time a student needs to stay on task and deepen understanding of content.  The “system” needs to articulate which it values most and how to adjust.  Current legislation is structured around a preference for time rather than learning.  There is too much emphasis on “butts in seats” rather than learning assessments.
  • Time-based systems result in “grades” 1st, 2nd, 3rd opposed to learning “levels” and or appropriate learning groupings.
  • Assessments under the current system are problematic on many levels. He references programs in other states that that provide immediate and more useful feedback to teachers and students that incentivize learning. These systems, though successful elsewhere, are not currently available in Maine.
  • Matt was very clear that making the changes we need will require legislative support and action.

Heather was equally strong advocating for personalized learning and the important of outreach to parents.

  • How to we create structures that facilitate self-advocacy for students and their families.   The pandemic has changed the parent-teacher relationship forever.
  • How do we encourage administrators to incorporate parent/student and community voice further enhancing “choice agency” into the students learning experience?
  • How do we to a better job of incorporating students emotional and mental health needs into their learning program?

Summing up the conversations, Jason mentioned two categorial approaches to change.  Educators and organizations can adopt

  • Inbound Change: which Happens TO us.  We use assumptions to think about direction and impact.
  • Outbound Change:  Changes we create through our agency.  A projection of values.

Which approach will Maine adopt to restructure its system?