In October 2020 we launched the Education Innovators Series in partnership with Educate Maine and the Center for Innovation in Education at Thomas College in Waterville. This series invites education researchers and leaders from across the country to engage with Maine educators to reflect on a vision for a post-Covid system of education in Maine. Our conversations are meant to serve as critique not criticism. Our goal is to create a legislative and administrative environment that supports and advances innovative mindset for all educators.
Our first speaker in the series was Jason Swanson, Director of Strategic Foresight for KnowledgeWorks. He posits that education is “everybody’s business” and that there is a need for more synergistic efforts to involve citizens, educators, business leaders, and those politicians who serve as stewards of state and federal education dollars to, in all good faith, boldly face the challenges to restructure our education system.
Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Education at Thomas College
Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at MSAD #75
Alternative Education Teacher in Gorham, Maine and Maine Teacher of the Year 2019
Jason Swanson talked about these central topics:
- 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.
- Big bold agendas that challenge people to “co-design accountability systems.”
- The need for communities to develop “hyper-local narratives of success.”
- There are two potential categorical approaches to change that frame conversation moving forward:
- Inbound change: Changes that happen TO us. We use assumptions to think about direction and impact.
- Outbound change: Changes we create through our agency. A projection of values.
Matt Drewette-Card drilled down on specifics that get to the core of the “systemic” challenges that are considered obstacles to real innovation in Maine schools now.
- “Time” has now become the variable whereas “learning” is the constant (or it should be). 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 the system of grades (first, second, third, etc.) as opposed to learning “levels” and or appropriate learning groupings.
- Assessments under the current system are problematic on many levels and he can cite criticism of the assessment systems currently used in Maine. Matt referenced programs in other states that provide immediate and more useful feedback to teachers and students that incentivize learning. These systems, though successful elsewhere, are not currently available throughout the system.
- Making the changes we need will require legislative support and action.
Heather Whitaker was equally strong in advocating for personalized learning and the importance of outreach to parents.
- How do 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 voices, further enhancing “choice agency” into the students learning experience?
- How do we do a better job of incorporating students’ emotional and mental health needs into their learning program?