Class Disrupted is a bi-weekly education podcast featuring author Michael Horn and Summit Public Schools’ Diane Tavenner in conversation with educators, school leaders, students and other members of school communities as they investigate the challenges facing the education system amid this pandemic — and where we should go from here. Find every episode by bookmarking our Class Disrupted page or subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher (new episodes every other Tuesday).
In this final episode of 2021, Diane and Michael share three wishes for schooling in the new year that focus on personalization, grace, and renewing the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Listen to the episode below. A full transcript follows.
Diane Tavenner: Hey, Michael.
Michael Horn: Hey, Diane. How are you?
Diane: I am ready for a bit of time off. I don’t know about you, but that’s where I am.
Michael: I hear you, and I will one up you. I think we’re all ready for a little breather, a little break. Maybe that’s a perfect segue into what we’re going to do with this episode that caps off our 2021, Diane.
Diane: I think that’s right, Michael. As we close out 2021, and the first half of what is the third school year that has been disrupted by the pandemic, we are remembering why we even began this podcast.
Michael: That was to unpack what was happening, and how things were changing, with an eye toward bending it in ways that were more favorable towards students, and ways that we both imagine are possible, that we can do this.
Diane: The reality, Michael, is we both desperately want a school system in America that serves to develop every child, and prepare them for a good life. It sounds simple, but it’s really important.
Michael: That prepared moniker, I think, just grows in importance. To that end, Diane, rather than do what we have been doing this season, answering a series of questions around the current state of schooling and with an eye toward what it could be, we thought it’d be fun to close out this year with our three wishes for 2022.
Diane: Michael, I love this. We often bring our different perspectives to a topic, that’s the fun of what we do. Today, we have collaborated to come up with the top three things that we both are wishing for the new year.
Michael: It’s a busy season, so we’re going to try to keep this short and sweet. Let me get us started, Diane, with our first wish, which is for true personalization for each student and family. My riff for this would be, recently there was an article on The 74, about parents not wanting to hold their kids back a grade when schools were starting to give them more and more options saying, “We know they’re not, perhaps, have learned all that you thought they would. They’re not at the academic preparedness we would expect. Do you want to hold them back?” Parents are emphatically saying, “No.” No surprise there, I think, in my mind. What I suggest is, this is time to finally use this moment to break this trade-off that has historically existed, between social promotion, on one hand, and academic preparedness, on the other. We can have students learning with their peers, continuing to have fun with them, experience all that they bring from different backgrounds, and so forth, and getting the learning and support that they, as individuals, need, Diane. I want to see leaning into personalization.
Diane: You and me both, Michael. It can go even further than what you’re talking about. Certainly, breaking and this crazy mindset we have about these rigid grade levels, and specific things that you do at specific moments in time. We can go further. We could have multi-aged groups of kids.
Diane: We could have so many different ways that we are actually personalizing. You know me, I would take it so far that the students actually have a lot of control in that personalization. That they are choosing when and how, and where and a whole bunch of parts of their learning. Let’s just say, let’s just finish this one off with, we actually are really clear that this doesn’t… It sometimes feels totally overwhelming to people like, “Oh my gosh, every child’s going to be doing something completely different, it will be chaos.” It doesn’t need to be that way. It doesn’t need to look that way. We both know, and are very clear, about the ways that it can work in a community, in a school setting, in a system, and still be personalized. That’s what we want.
Michael: Well said, Diane. It’s been done. You’re doing it. Lots of school systems are doing it. Let’s turn to our second wish.
Diane: Great. Our second wish, Michael, really does feel like it is of this season. It is that we, and as I use we here, I’m talking this collective “we,” society, return to the mindset and approach that we feel we saw at the start of the pandemic. When we think back to the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a lot of grace. There were a lot of beautiful things that were happening at the start, it’s hard to remember them now, because we’ve moved away from that. The ability to recognize that everyone has been through a lot, is still going through a lot, that everyone has some level of frustration, or anger, or loss, or trauma, and stress. There’s so much going on with folks. We might not be able to see it, we might be able to see it. The idea that we can have some empathy, we can give each other some space and grace. We think that this could get our schools, and quite frankly, our society, back to a place where we can, quite frankly, stop hurting each other and ourselves.
Michael: This hearkens back, obviously, to the previous episode we did around a lot of the challenges we see right now, with even violence, in schools from students. Also, the debates that are riling so many schools right now, from critical race theory to masks, to vaccination status, and all the rest. This isn’t to say that people can’t stand on principle, but they should do so with humanity, and giving others the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t bad people, that they just might be in a different circumstance, have a genuinely different view.
Diane: Without personal attack.
Michael: You can disagree without being disagreeable. Bring a measure of humility that none of us have all the answers in the world. Grace and gratitude, and bringing that mindset that we saw where the teddy bears went up in the neighborhoods, and the rainbows, and so forth. Let’s just extend that measure, even as we have these difficult conversations. I think it’s absolutely critical, because conversations from one human to another are so important right now.
Diane: I couldn’t agree more. My last thought on this is, sometimes, as a parent, we need to be reminded of this, but I think we need our society reminded, the children are watching. They watch every single move we make. The adults in our society are not doing this right now, and the children are watching. They’re doing the same stuff. I just think this is such an important wish. Our third wish is a bit of a right turn from this, Michael. We had to slide it in there. Bring us home.
Michael: Let’s do it. Through the end of actions speak louder than words, this one might seem funny given the first two. I don’t know that it is, because we’re both wishing for a reauthorization of The Elementary Secondary Education Act, or what’s currently called the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. In a way that really incentivizes the focus and redesign that we want to see in our schools. Acceleration of next generation assessments that are really innovative in measuring the growth of each child, and allowing for a variety of different ways to show that you actually know and have mastered different knowledge, skills, habits even. Ultimately, you treasure what you measure, and you measure what you treasure.
Michael: We’re not doing that today. There’s a lot of lack of clarity around that. We can be doing better. We really need to lean in on this moment. I think we’d like to both see that. It feels maybe just like yesterday that we reauthorized this act in 2015, I think it was. It’s been six years, it’s time to take that next step. I think it could do a tremendous amount of good, of giving people the space and opportunity to really lean into the things that we’re talking about in these first two items.
Diane: So critical and two quick thoughts on that, Michael. One, you and I are not people who hate the previous acts. In fact, we feel they served purposes, they moved forward. We also are people who don’t think we should just keep doing the same thing forever. We think that this is a moment in time that, look at the world, even if it was just 2015, the world is fundamentally different today. What is in that current act, lots of it, not applicable, not happening. Some people are like, “Fine. Just let it be nothing.” I’m not one to just have policy sit there, big policy like that, that’s not actually working and doing something for us, even if it’s neutral, which I don’t think it’s neutral right now. It’s time to move forward, and to take the next step. We have an opportunity to be really thoughtful about that.
Michael: Well said. Well said. Let’s bring us home. Wrap us up, Diane.
Diane: We like to conclude every episode with what we’re thinking about, reading, watching, etc. outside of maybe this intense focus on education. I don’t know. I think we’ve both been super busy, so I don’t know that we’re doing anything in the moment. Michael, maybe what we should talk about today is what are you looking forward to reading, or watching, or listening to.
Michael: I love it.
Diane: As we move into a little bit of time off.
Michael: I love it. These times off are super important. One of my mentors, Giselle Huff, has written a first draft of her autobiography. I’m excited to read that draft. I think it’ll be a really interesting story. I will tell you, Diane, we, actually, my wife and I, got the chance to watch something. We’re an interfaith couple, as you know, and we watched a super lighthearted movie about the interplay between Hanukkah and Christmas. To be totally frank, was a really bad movie. But, it was a really good reminder to focus on what binds us together as a people, rather than what pulls us apart. I listened to a podcast shortly after called The Living Jewishly Podcast. It talked, actually, a lot about the complexity, and even controversy, in the holiday of Hanukkah. Stuff that I wasn’t super familiar with. At the end of the day, these Rabbis were talking about it, they basically said, “It should be seen as a holiday of gratitude. The more universal idea of creating light emits darkness.” I thought that was an appropriate message, given what we’re talking about, really, today. What’s on your list, Diane, as you recharge?
Diane: Beautiful. I love that. I think in the same vein, Michael, in keeping with the theme, today, and in hopes of a positive and fresh start to the new year, I picked up a book at my very favorite local bookstore, that I just love. It brings me such joy. I’m looking forward to reading All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I think that maybe our hearts are both in the same place as we wrap up this year.
Michael: You’ll have to report back at the start of next year on it, when we come back. With that, we will leave you all for 2021. We all hope you’re able to celebrate, unplug, take a deep breath, and really celebrate the togetherness of these holidays, and have that gratitude. We will see you next year on Class Disrupted.
Michael Horn is the author of numerous books on the future of learning including Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. He works with a portfolio of organizations to help transform education so that all individuals can build their passions and fulfill their potential.
Diane Tavenner is CEO of Summit Public Schools and co-founder of the Summit Learning Program. She is a life-long educator, innovator, and the author of Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life.