Attending Education Reimagined Symposium: Furthering Learner-Centered Education

I had the pleasure of being part of Education Reimagined’s Symposium in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 2019. It was a day of learning, connecting, committing and celebrating!

A little background about how I became associated with Education Reimagined

When I was Superintendent of Pike Road Schools, a few of our staff members heard Stephan Turnipseed speak at Auburn University at Montgomery. They were stunned by how he spoke “our language”. I remember them sharing about how others in attendance continued to look at them and say, “This is what you guys are trying to do in Pike Road.” We were striving to create a school system in which learning is authentic and meaningful to children. Our Mission was to create a culture of intellectual curiosity where all students have ownership over their learning and are inspired to think, innovate, and create. Even though we had conducted eleven neighborhood/community meetings to build capacity for The Pike Road Way, we were experiencing many challenges with space, limited resources, and pushback from some parents because our approach was so different to what they were accustomed. Stephan Turnipseed is a national voice on education reform by advocating for hands-on learning. He visited our school and suddenly gave us credibility for pushing the boundaries of what school can be for learners. The timing could not have been better!

Stephan connected us with Education Reimagined and several of us attended The Pioneer Lab (now The Learning Lab) in Atlanta in 2016.  Through Education Reimagined, we became part of a movement to transform schools into student-centered environments. Participating in the Learning Lab enabled us to network with others doing this work, speak a common language by reading A Practitioner’s Lexicon-Learner-Center Education and go deeper in our understanding of each component, which when fully present creates a learner-centered environment.

The Education Reimagined Symposium in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 2019

The room was filled with over 200 passionate and committed people who came together to celebrate how learner-centered education has already impacted the lives of many young people and to pledge our commitment for all young people to experience learner-centered education.

There were many speakers, but I want to highlight just a few below. 

The symposium was kicked off by Gisele Huff and Becky Pringle. Gisele Huff is the Executive Director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation in San Francisco and serves on numerous boards promoting innovation in education. Becky Pringle is a middle school science teacher, a social justice advocate, and Vice-President of National Education Association. Their paths intersected when they became part of a group of 28 education stakeholders to create A Transformational Vision for Education. Both are staunch advocates for learner-centered education for all young people. These two leaders set the tone for the day with their inspiring words.

Gisele Huff and Becky Pringle

Becky Pringle made a compelling argument, “Of all the civil rights that have been fought, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental.”  

Gisele Huff ended this session with a powerful challenge to all of us, “There’s a new urgency now as the world is shifting underneath our feet as we are walking. I want you to leave this place with your hair on fire because the situation is that dire.”

Kelly Young, President of Education Reimagined and Jemar Lee, a Fellow with Education Reimagined and an alumni of Iowa BIG asked everyone to form small groups and get connected by sharing their responses to, “Why did you accept the invitation to come to this Symposium on learner-centered education?” and “What matters to you about that?” This was an opportunity for those in the room (teachers, student learners, policy makers, business leaders, advocates, etc.) to get connected with other like-minded people.

Kelly Young and Jemar Lee

Ulcca Joshi Hansen facilitated a conversation with Todd Rose, who is the author of The End of Average and Dark Horse.

Todd Rose and Ulcca Joshi Hansen

When Todd shared his personal story about how he went from being a .9 GPA high school dropout to a 3.97 GPA college graduate, he stated, “It wasn’t about hard work. It was about finding the fit for me and an environment that served my needs.”

Todd referred to John Dewey’s notion that we are “human beings right now” and how schools are just focusing on output. He emphatically stated, “We need to be focused on the here and now.”

More Todd Rose quotes from the morning:

“It’s the use of average to shape our institutions that is the source of so many problems. Average doesn’t represent any individual and we’ve built a school system that ignores individuals.”

In talking about what he wanted from a doctor, “If you can’t save my life, I don’t care how good you are on average. If average is not appropriate for treating cancer why is it accepted in teaching students.”

“What drives folks to go off the beaten path has nothing to do with personality. It has everything to do with how they defined success. They all wanted fulfillment.”

“Sixty percent of people believe fulfillment is the most important indicator of success. But they believe only five percent of the population hold the same belief.”

“Parents of young children are the greatest proponents of fulfillment success. It starts to shift towards zero sum success as kids approach high school. They say, ‘My kid will be at a disadvantage if we don’t play the game.’”

“Personalized learning is critical but it has to be secondary to the conversation about different outcomes. We have to first know where we are going and why.”

“When young learners realize what they’re learning in school can be connected to the world they live in, that’s when rigor is developed.”

Todd reminded us that every field is shifting to more personalization and education is too. Hence, we must create systems that provide diverse pathways which support young people to reach their full potential.

He shared that we must be focused on transformation, not reform, by saying “Reform will not work, not the one home run, but coordination across the system and tied to a public desire.”

One of my favorite quotes from this segment was from Ulcca when she was referencing open-walled, “The world becomes a playground for learning.” I like the image this creates as we shift to a 24/7 learning mindset.

The Transformative Impact of Learner-Centered Education

Carlos Moreno, Co-Executive Director of Big Picture Learning kicked off this portion of the symposium. He shared about his personal experiences at Fordham University in which he was robbed and yet never received support through this tragic event. He compared this to what many students experience and how they go through school without the emotional support they need to manage challenging life circumstances.

Carlos Moreno

He set the stage by saying, “There is no one right way to prepare students.” He went on to say how we should “not use a cookie cutter approach” to educating students. He reminded us that we are ignoring the talents our learners bring to school. Hence, we should “be relentless in being student-centered.”

Carlos shared about their learner-centered approach at Big Picture Learning.

  1. Pay attention to the whole student
  2. Focus on students’ strengths
  3. Encourage leaving to learn
  4. Assess in multiple ways

The most impactful part of the day was hearing directly from learners. Their powerful stories brought to life the importance of learner-centered education. 

Angel Velez, Jasmine McBride, and Megan Matson

Jasmine McBride is a multidisciplinary artist and student leader at High School for Recording Arts in Minneapolis. She talked about the irony of how students in traditional schools do not have the opportunity to make any choices for 12 years, but when they get out of high school, they are expected to make choices. (So true, Jasmine!) She also talked about how she was able to test and try different areas of interest, which included ruling out some, and find the path that worked best for her. She shared about how people see others on social media and wonder why am I not that person succeeding and doing what I want to do. She then used this to make the case that mental health and the economy would be better if people had opportunities to find their passion in school and do what they love doing. Jasmine has found her passion in her learning environment. She hosted the opening of the High School for Recording Arts in Los Angeles. She is changing the world by helping other learners find their passion! (Keep going, Jasmine!)

Angel Velez, a learner at Camden Big Picture Learning Academyshared his powerful story as a learner. In describing his transition to Big Picture Learning Academy, he said, “Just when I thought I was rejected from something good, I was redirected to something better.” (I love this statement!) When talking about their emphasis on leaving to learn, Angel shared about the power of internships and working with mentors outside of school with whom he has built relationships and how these mentors have taught him things beyond what school could teach him. He shared, “Learning doesn’t happen behind a desk; learning happens in the world.” I was deeply moved when Angel said, “I learned who I am and my place in the world.” (Yes, Angel!)

Megan Matson, a learner at Iowa BIG, shared about how she works on projects she is passionate about. She spends half of the day in school and half in her community. She explained that the transition to a learner-centered school was tough for her. She was accustomed to teachers handing out worksheets and giving tests. She went on to say she never learned how to work and learn on her own in her previous school. She described that a few weeks into school (Iowa BIG), she was part of a project in which she interviewed people on the street, then wrote and podcasted their stories. From this experience, she learned she liked to talk with people. She is working on a new project in which she and others are hosting professional development days for traditional teachers. Through this project, she is working with business leaders and acting as their student voice. In addition, she is talking with local colleges and universities about how to transition learning in their environment to real-world experiences. She is also talking with Harvard University about their scholarship and application process.

Megan reflected on her early days at Iowa Big and how advisors asked her (and all learners), “What makes you mad?” She didn’t have an answer because she did not know her passion. She went on to say that schools should be structured so that young people can start now to make a difference in the world and not wait until they are out of college. Through her experiences at Iowa Big, she found her passion: Changing the educational opportunities in her community, state and nation. (Go Megan!)

County Fair Lunch

One of the best parts of the day was the County Fair Lunch; it was an opportunity to visit with learners from several learner-centered schools in attendance. I captured several videos of learners. (Note: Some of the videos have background noise, but you don’t want to miss what these learners have to share!)I

Meet Olivia who is an Alumni from Iowa BIG in Cedar Rapids, IA. Click here to listen to her story.


Meet Alonzo from Springhouse Community School in Floyd, VA. Click here to listen to his story.


Meet Tenaj from Camden Big Picture Learning Academy in Camden, NJ. Click here to listen to his story.


Meet Ashanti from The Met School in Providence, RI. Click here to listen to her story.


The Movement: Going from Pockets Across the Country to Every Child

We worked in small groups and listed What must be dealt with to make learner-centered a reality for all children in our country. When I participated in the gallery walk to review each group’s work, the commonalities were evident.

Then each person wrote down the year we believed experiencing a learner-center education would be a reality for ALL children. I had never contemplated that question until that day. After a group discussion, the consensus was 2030-2035. In other words, we believe all children in our country will experience a learner-centered environment in 11 to 16 years. We have work to do to make this a reality!

Taking Action in Our Own Arenas

Kelly acknowledged all the work that has taken place thus far and yet there is still more work to be done. She challenged us to take action in our communities and within our own areas of influence. She discussed how we need more examples of learner-centered environments to show people what can be possible for all children. She also talked about the three levers that we need to push using the Theory of Change:

  • Increase public will
  • Build proof of concept
  • Refine public policy

Kelly recapped the three Education Reimagined Communities:

  • The Learning Lab
  • SparkHouse
  • Movement Builder Network

Kelly also shared three Important Movement Efforts and how each one of us can use our influence  to have a broader impact through the Year of Learning.

  • Learner Outcomes and Model Quality
  • Regional Deep Dives
  • Year of Learning

What it Will Take

This was a time for those present to make a Declaration of a Learner-Centered Future. Each participant read the declaration and those who are committed to this work signed it.

Toast and Completion

Robert Fersh, President and Founder of Convergence, Megan Matson, a learner from Iowa Big, Olivia Christensen, an Iowa Big Alumni and Education Reimagined Board Member, Angel Velez, a learner at Camden Big Picture Learning Academy, and Kelly Young, President of Education Reimagined concluded the day by each making a toast as we all held up a glass of sparkling cider. Kelly thanked Convergence for launching Education Reimagined and all those who are courageously working to make student-centered education a reality for all children in our country.

Why does this matter to me and what is my role in furthering learner-centered education?

This was a celebratory day of reuniting with friends from across the country who are working tirelessly to create learner-centered environments. I also met new friends who want to get involved in this work. At each Education Reimagined event, I network and experience powerful learning with others and this event was no different.

Creating learner-centered schools/environments is hard and work. We need to learn from and support others doing this work. I believe every human being has unique talents and interests. I believe every human being should have opportunities to learn and develop these gifts and interests – – to find their passion. I believe we need to change schools to accommodate the needs and interests of learners and not force learners to adapt to an outdated school model. Don’t we want all people to experience joy, happiness, fulfillment and a lifetime of learning? I do and will continue partnering with others as an education consultant, a blogger, an influencer, and an active member of the Education Reimagined community to use my influence to make this a reality for all young people.  

If this work resonates with you, I invite you to join the movement and share your gifts and influence to make this a reality for ALL children!

For more powerful quotes and highlights from the day, check out the hashtag whyLCE

See below for more information about the work of Education Reimagined:

A Transformational Vision for Education in the US:  This is a learner-centered vision, which is the foundation for Education Reimagined’s work.

Practitioner’s Lexicon—Learner-Centered Education: What is meant by Learner-Centered

Practitioner’s Lexicon: What is Meant by Key Terminology (This includes the 5 elements of learner-centered education.)

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4 thoughts on “Attending Education Reimagined Symposium: Furthering Learner-Centered Education”

  1. I am sad I missed this! ? Thanks for taking the time to recap the symposium for those who could not attend. The quotes are powerful.

  2. Suzanne,
    Every time I read your blog, I wish my three children (now adults) could have been students under your leadership. I am grateful you are sharing your wisdom.

  3. The students in the videos are knowledgeable. When students can talk about their learning, I know they own their learning.

  4. I am a grandmother and this way of learning is what I want for my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing. I will share about this organization with my daughter so she can share with my grandchildren’s school.

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