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preparing smaller humans for a future of who-knows-what

episode 13

Sarah Pottle

written by

(below is a transcript of the above recording. )

Hello everyone! I am back. Regenerative Ed is back after a much needed break of introspection, growth, and well just general 2020 survival. We took some time to consider how we want to proceed, we created and delivered some amazing workshops like our summer industry to ecosystem as well as some breathwork workshops, Jess and I had time to really think about the direction we want to take Grounded Teaching and came up with something that felt authentic and right, the book is coming along, all great stuff. And, while I wasn’t recording and publishing anything in this time off, I literally have 221 pages of notes for the podcast on my podcast notes doc. So, I’ve been writing in the best sort of way.

While we took a break I was SO encouraged by the folks who reached out who said “where’d you go? Keep making podcasts!” which, MAN, is that ever encouraging! Making podcasts is such a strange thing because you because it’s like you publish it, and it goes out into the ether, and maybe it really means something to someone but you just never know. By the way, if this podcast does mean something, please let me know! Making these podcasts is one of my genuinely most favorite things to do, and I am so excited to be back after this really restorative and re-centering break with a clearer picture than ever about messages of resilience, community, awareness, peace… oh my gosh, just so, so much. And that all of that is happening while the educational system is really going through some insane growing pains, which actually provides me with a lot of hope for the longer-term future of what educating our children in this world can look like. I started this podcast back towards the end of 2019 with this hope that something would shock us into rethinking the purpose of formal education, the goal of the whole thing. And whaddya know, we had the biggest disruption to education in modern history. We are doubling down on using this unique moment in time to help make that happen along with SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE who are seeing connections between all of this large almost archaic institutions now. And we are grateful to be right alongside them.

I thought about commencing this re-start by creating an official “Season 2”, but then thought against it because I sort of want this all to be one long stream of conversations-- and speaking of conversations, I’m excited to still do solo podcasts like I’m doing today, but also podcasts with Jess -- we’ll call them something cool like twin talks-- and I’m ALSO super excited to have conversations with inspiring folks who are doing wonderful things outside of education because let’s face it, the ideas for reimagining education are not going to come from inside the system itself. So, I’m going to invite people on so we can get TALK and get some ideas for how to become more regenerative in our field of ed. 

Today I want to talk about academics. We spend a lot of time on this podcast talking about what some people would call “soft skills”, which is starting to feel so laughable to me and Jess and probably you, too. Last night I watched something that got me thinking not so much of the soft skills but of the academics of the industrial education complex, which eventually led me back to quote unquote soft skills, and I just want to run some of my thinking by you. A little riff, as it were. Let me know how it lands. :)

So last night I had a date night with Mike while my mother-in-law watched our four year old, and we watched Fargo--- a classic-- and then felt like watching something else so we started that new George Clooney movie on Netflix that’s set post-apocalypse-- it’s like a space movie, anyways, it’s set perhaps 50 years in the future, and it got me thinking a lot about allllll the technology and what those folks know. Of course, this is fiction, but honestly all of the tech seemed perfectly well-predicted to me, like a holographic e-d image that you can sit in… it basically already exists in the VR world, right? So, the tech side of this movie led me to think about what ed will probably look like in 50 years to prepare people for this sort of world, and I literally laughed out loud. A sad sort of like “BAH!”, not a jolly laugh. I can’t really replicate it here-- like something out of exasperation. Because it all seemed so concrete and SO obvious, so obvious that I’ve thought of it before and you’ve thought of it before but sometimes you really just need to mull on things to understand their effects, you know what I mean?

Here’s what I realized: as I was contemplating school just 50 short years from now, I contemplated school 50 years in the past. Which looks VERY much like school now. And so, then I thought, when was the last time we had a big school shake-up. Ahhh, 2009 with the NEW Common Core Standards.

The new common core standards that are now 11.5 years old. Only dinosaur institutions would call something that is 11.5 years old, new. And still, many schools are struggling to adopt those standards. They started in 2009. Let’s travel back in time to 2009 just for some perspective. In 2009,, pew research hadn’t even begun collecting data on Americans who have smartphones because SMARTPHONES were so new. The first time they did collect that data was in 2011, almost 2 years later, and only 35% of people had a smartphone. That means most of us were still printing out Mapquest directions when common core came out. Instagram wasn’t created until 2010. Google drive wasn’t created until 2012. In 2009 I traveled through several countries in Europe without a cell phone and it was totally normal. In 2009, studded jean pockets were a thing. Come ON, folks.

My point is-- it is 11.5 years after Common Core came out, and we are still treating these standards as if they are new. 11 years ago getting into a car with a stranger would have seemed crazy. Legal recreational marijuana sounded absurd. Having an always- listening robot in your kitchen play your favorite song or give you a reminder would have seemed nuts. Fully electric cars, two hour grocery delivery, I could go on and on. 

YET-- We are still training teachers and creating curriculum around these new standards which logic would tell us are probably a little behind the times. As someone who has run training on literacy standards, we even STILL call these 11.5 year old standards “shifts’... as if they’ve only just shifted. As if it’s new. 

This is ridiculous. 11 years people! Some first-year teachers were in FIFTH GRADE when the standards were perhaps adopted. I was talking to jess about this and she mentioned iif some of this acceptance off 11 years not being a long time is that adults right now don’t really see it as such-- right? It’s like the things that happened 10 years ago for me do only seem like yesterday, but things are moving faster and faster. 

Why am I going off here? First of, because our very institution is built on the concept of learning. To learn is to be curious and flexible-- and it is just heartbreakingly ironic how much that does NOT describe education. Because it’s education. It’s not another industry like construction or even medicine. The very thing we’re attempting to do is teach how to learn, and we can’t even model that.

And, also, I’m going off here because it’s obvious that the pace of KNOWLEDGE is like never before, and the giant ship of the insitution of education is much too giant to turn. It’s not flexible enough.. How do we remain flexible and responsive to kids needs and not just waste their precious childhood time teaching them something that will be obsolete in 5 years?

When we talk about the academic content being taught, it’s true that maybe the content of phonics or basic math or even calculus will not change, though I am POSITIVE as we lean more about how we learn--brain science, child development and all that, HOW we learn phonics and math will change. But clearly, in order for our children to be READY for a future that we can’t even predict, we will need to be flexible enough to LET GO of certain content that we are currently filling our students’ days with. 

For Christmas, our 4-year-old Owen got a globe that is pretty cool-- you put the stylus on a country and it can tell you the flag, the language, animals, etc. in that region. I sort of feel like, this globe, if he played with it consistently for two weeks, it would probably knock out an entire year or more of geography knowledge that a teacher would slowly and maybe painfully :) encode into Owen’s brain, particularly if he’s already used the globe. 

Let’s run this through our own experience: Raise your had if you have ever taught anything that most of your students already knew. I’m going to bet it is 100% of us with a raised hand. If your hand is still up, put it down if you only did that once or twice. You are a superb unicorn teacher. Put your hand down if you’ve only done it 10 times. Put your hand down if you’ve only done it in maybe 20 lessons. Put your hand down if you’ve only done it in about 20% of your lessons. If we’re being honest, I think many of our hands are still up, at least for some percentage of our kids.

This is a waste of time on so many levels. It would be better to just tell them to go creatively play instead of sit through another class where they will further encode that school is boring and you have to do x, y, and z just to play the game of get good grades get into a good college to do… what. We need to think about what kids need for a future we don’t really have a good clue about.

I think that some people right here might start to argue that we prioritize STEM. STEM is going to be increasingly important in the future, yes. But it is an incomplete picture, because we will never be caught up with the next technological craze, and we will increasingly create artificial intelligence that will outpace us. So, do we double down on STEM, then, if we’re thinking about prioritizing academic content for a new future we can’t quite predict? Is more stem education the solution? 

Here’s where we pause, for a moment, and think about what the future will NEED. A future filled with artificial intelligence. What will our students need to be prepared for that world? 

I think if you are a building leader, you have SO MANY OPTIONS to really dig into personalized learning and creative scheduling where you can create cohorts of students to go through #edshed projects together-- no matter the grade level. Now is the time to do this!

If you are a teacher, here’s something that I think we can start doing because certainly individual classrooms have the power to change before the industrial educational complex turns itself around. So, while we wait for massive restructuring, it is up to us. Here are some simple things we can do to know that we aren’t teaching something that is going to be obsolete in 3 years

What makes kids humans? The concepts of care, stewardship, gentleness, creativity, imagination, art in general, music, nuanced communication, critical thinking, and so much more. Start there and trumpet those elements. Build the things that makes kids humans into your rubrics if you have the freedom to. Measure success there-- even if it’s not reflected in the gradebook. Report those measures to parents. This is not just stuff for kindergarten report cards, and shame on us for thinking that you grow out of these things when you get into first grade or whenever schools stop reporting on these things. What if you wrote on the comment section of report cards for your 10th grade history students “In addition to these numerical grades, I’ve also seen an improvement in how Jazz contributes to the community of this classroom. She has started bringing people together in discussion and is showing evidence of truly listening when other students talk. I could not be prouder of her progress in this skill.” What we measure is what gets done, right? If there’s no space to measure it on a report card, make another space. 

Where possible, make the learning about the learning, not the content. This takes a metacognitive lens. Instead of a question on a test that just says “Why did this math problem turn out this way?” or “Explain the reign of Caesar”, add: “how did you remember that? How did you learn it? Where are you getting tripped up? What can you do differently next time?” These can actually be questions on the actual test, or seriously taken discussion questions afterwards. They shouldn’t feel like a frivolous add-on, rather, these questions should be treated as the meat-- the absolute most important part of your class, of any assessment, of any reflection. Learning how to learn and how to unlearn, by the way, will be key for the success of our students.

Create the conditions so that your class feels like a joy-filled, safe, creative space. If you have no freedom with your content, if you’re teaching things that will be obsolete before kids can even use them, if all else fails: create joy for those kids in the moment. Build up their sense of selves and let them experience how wonderful it is to be alive. We are NOT just biding our time waiting for school years to be over. This is an important moment. Every moment is an important moment. You can start your class or your school day if you teach elementary by saying “this is the only January 4th 2021 you’re going to get. When someone says what were you doing on January 4th, 2021, this will be it. We only get to have this day, now. This is something special. Let’s have some fun today.

So, three things you can do: emphasize the traits that make us human, make the learning about the learning, and create a joy-filled, safe, creative space that emphasizes the now. 

Those are three things that aren’t written into standards by and large, and that aren’t emphasized. But you can do them right now in your own classroom to start preparing kids for a future where they may or may not need the standards you are spending time teaching. Look at it like the standards and the academic content you are teaching are IN SERVICE OF these three things, not the other way around, and we’ll start prioritizing the right things!

That’s it for now, thanks so much folks! Happy New year. 

Regenerative Ed is a community supported show produced by Grounded Teaching and made possible by listeners like you. If our show moved you, you can support us on our new Patreon page patreon.com/Grounded Teaching .Your direct support will make sure we can keep making episodes, content , classes, and workshops available to the public, so we can promote the de-mechanization of our educational system and continue this discussion on how we can shift the paradigm of formal k-12 education from one that mimics an industrial system to one that mimics a regenerative ecosystem. Plus, there are some goodies on there for you if you join 9check out those tiers!) Thank you so much for your direct support. And as always you can find us on our website groundedteaching.com and our instagram @groundeteaching. You rule, thanks for being here-- for letting us into your ears on this day. Love you ALL! mwah!

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