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Back to the Beginning

For years, we were lucky enough to attend the Deeper Learning conference in San Diego, and it’s where we find ourselves again right now (well, provided that you’re reading this between Wednesday, 3/26 and Friday, 3/28). We missed attending it last year, and I don’t just mean that we weren’t able to go. Kris and I felt sad that we weren’t there, and while its location played into that, it was really because this conference feels satisfying to us. For me, it boils down to getting like-minded educators together and talking about what shifts (small, large, and every size between) can make a difference in the lives (social, emotional, & academic) of our students. There’s energy at this conference, and the energy is laser-focused on kids. The timing of this conference is also fortuitous—it comes just as we (The Astra Center for Innovative Education) are about to release our first report, in conjunction with Center for Inspired Teaching, on engagement-based education. It’s the result of almost a year’s worth of work, and its imminent release invited me to go back and think about how we got here. Last spring, I was fortunate to hear Ted Dintersmith speak in Pittsburgh. Something he said spurred on our first blog post, as it helped to explain our organization’s origin story. So, it’s fitting that he will also be the closing keynote speaker at Deeper Learning. As a nod to this, we’ve included the text of our first blog post. While you may not be able to enjoy it from a restaurant in San Diego (margarita in hand), we hope that wherever you are, you’re feeling the distinct energy of a group of people working to support kids in all the ways they need it. Changes, Quick & Slow (first published May 9th, 2018) Last Wednesday night, I was able to see Ted Dintersmith talk in Pittsburgh about his new book, What School Could Be. I’ve been thinking of what he said about change: “Change happens slowly, right up until it happens quickly.” This is really resonating, and it’s in a few different ways. Superficially, I’m feeling the effects of the weather. In Pittsburgh, it’s gone from snowy and 40 degrees just two weeks ago to muggy and over 80. It felt like winter would never end, and now, very quickly, here’s summer. It makes me think of my teacher friends, who desperately long for summer’s warmth and slower pace to recharge. It also makes me think of teachers because this type of weather isn’t easy on them: A long, snowy winter translates into extra days in June when the increasing heat and humidity makes for squirrely students.

In a deeper way, this quote makes me think of Astra’s Center for Innovative Education. This has been the story of our creation. The Center for Innovative Education has been brewing for well over a year, but it wasn’t until a meeting last August that we really hit on the idea for it. Before this moment, Kris and I had been strictly employees of The Astra Foundation, which has been in existence for almost 20 years. The Foundation’s work has centered around kids with special needs and thinking about how to get those working most closely with them (including parents and childcare workers) to be better able to start from the strengths that the child has. But here’s the truth: What works best for kids who have particular needs is also good practice for all kids. And so the relationship-driven, child-centered approach of the Foundation was one that we wanted to be able to cultivate in education and, more specifically, in general education. We found ourselves with big hopes and ideas about the education system, and we acknowledged that we’ve been thinking, asking questions, and engaging in conversation (and going back and back and back to the drawing board) about our “right” next step. And then it came in focus; we needed a separate (though connected) organization to spearhead our efforts in this direction. The Astra Center for Innovative Education was our result. We find ourselves still working out some of the details of this change, because even though the process of realization was slow and then quick, maintaining a change, really being committed to one, requires thinking about it each day. (So here’s a reminder that change in the larger system, but also change in a school, classroom, teacher, or child takes time.) The final way I’m feeling resonance is in the sense of urgency that often accompanies change. And I don’t mean the urgency that comes from preparing students to know how to format a short response question on a standardized test. There often is urgency behind that, but it’s never felt the same to me as the spiritedness that comes from altering who’s doing the work in schools (I deeply believe it should be the kids doing the work) or changing what that work is (hopefully authentic, relevant tasks). Urgency isn’t bad. Expecting a school, a team, a teacher, or a student to change overnight may not be realistic, but the desire to have someone or something shift, in important, thoughtful, and creative ways is often immediate.

At Astra’s CIE, we want to see the kinds of changes that make our schools humane, decent, encouraging, and thoughtful places for our nation’s children. Our tag line references three qualities for our mission: Equity, engagement, and advocacy. Those are what we’re working for, but we believe that education is about a host of other things (humanity, trust, courage, and empathy come to mind). We’ll write about these ideas and share our thinking here each week. I’ll invite and encourage you to join alongside us, ask questions, and share your reflections to build a community of like-minded folks.

For more of our thoughts, please Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter (we can be found on both through @AstraInnovate).


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