LISTEN: Introducing the Class Disrupted Podcast, a Weekly Pandemic Education Conversation Hosted by Author Michael Horn & Summit Public Schools’ Diane Tavenner

Michael Horn and Diane Tavenner. (Courtesy of Class Disrupted)

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted education across the U.S. and changed our assumptions about what it means to go to school. Districts have shifted to remote instruction, but many teachers and students are struggling to continue learning while classrooms are closed.

Class Disrupted is a new podcast that investigates the challenges facing our schools and explores where we go from here. Each week, we will answer questions from parents and speak with educators and thought leaders about how schools can change to better meet the needs of all students. Every edition will go live at our Class Disrupted page; bookmark this link to hear our newest episodes, and subscribe to The 74 Newsletter for alerts on our latest conversations. 

In this short introductory episode, we talk about why we’re launching this podcast. Listen, and read the full transcript below. (We’ve also published Episode 1 this morning, and you can stream that audio right here.)

Listen to the introductory episode below. A full transcript follows.

Diane: Hi, this is Diane. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Julie, parent: Hey Diane, can you give me a call when you get a chance. We just heard that the schools are closed indefinitely. We are sort of panicking here. Thanks!

Jenna, parent: Hey Diane, I would love it if I could pick your brain for a few minutes. I’ve noticed some stuff about Elizabeth in math. Can you give me a call? Thanks! Bye.

Paul, parent: Diane, help! I just found out that our high school is moving to pass/fail for the year!

Scott, parent: Hey Diane, I’d love to get your opinion on the upcoming AP testing.

Julie, parent: Diane, please call me. I’m sort of going out of my mind with Mason. He’s not doing any of the assigned distance learning work. Thanks.

Diane: I’m Diane Tavenner, co-founder of Summit Public Schools. We run 11 schools on the West Coast, and our learning platform is used in hundreds of schools around the country. I’m also the mom of a high school senior who cares about our world and is trying to do his part but is also pretty sad to be missing the second half of his senior year. I’m getting a lot of calls from friends around the country lately who are frustrated with the transition to distance learning. And it’s awkward for me to say this, but the reason they’re calling me is that Summit schools are doing really well.

Our kids haven’t been told, “Hey, everything’s moving to pass/fail.” Instead, they’re owning the choice. They get to choose between four personalized pathways of learning for the rest of the year. Do they want to be on an accelerated program where they can work at their own pace and finish distance learning early? Or, if they’re helping take care of siblings, do they need to focus on the most important learning? Something in between? Whatever they choose, they have a platform of learning they can use to guide them, a mentor checking in with them regularly, and teachers who are using familiar materials and resources to support them.

It’s not like it was easy for us. A lot of the work we’ve spent years doing has prepared us for this moment — though we certainly didn’t see this particular moment coming. We started to redesign our schools back in 2011 because we believed it was best for our kids, and one of the first things we did was read Disrupting Class, a book co-authored by Michael Horn.

Michael is a writer, speaker and brilliant thinker on education. The two of us became friends, and when I considered doing a podcast to try to answer all of these questions, I asked Michael if he would do it with me.

Michael: And I said yes because I always say yes to Diane. But seriously, I said yes because I wish there were more schools like Summit here in the Boston area, where I live. I loved Diane’s book about rethinking education, which is called Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, and I wish more parents, educators and policymakers took its messages to heart.

With COVID-19, class has quite literally been disrupted. I am reminded of that every morning when I tread downstairs to do a morning huddle with my 5-year-old twins, whose school has been closed, about what’s in store for the day. Or every time I’m on a Zoom call, and I get a knock at my office door from one of my girls asking when I’m done with work — and it’s only noon. You get the idea.

For people like me and Diane, who have been pushing for major changes in American education, the opportunity here is clear. The lid has been lifted on education in America. And it’s shown how it’s working — or not working. This moment is opening all of us up to the idea that maybe school can work differently from here on out. Maybe school doesn’t have to — and shouldn’t — operate like it has for the last many, many decades.

All those things you’re frustrated about as a parent right now? The grading confusion, the busywork, the schedule, the technology, the sense of purpose your kids lack, the sense of self-direction you’re trying to force on them? Diane and I have been looking at those things, and tackling them, for years. And we know there are a lot of great ideas out there about how to fix them.

Diane: In each episode, we’re going to look at questions parents are struggling with right now. We pull back the curtain to show a little bit of why the issue exists in the first place. And we’ll talk to thought leaders, educators, parents and, most importantly, students to share the good news about changes that are already happening in schools — and how we can seize this moment of large-scale disruption to change the way we do school — for the better — from here on out.

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 a co-founder of the Summit Learning Program. She is a lifelong educator and innovator and the author of Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life.

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