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What is education's “next big thing”? (5/365)

This question was central to a conversation I once had, while working with a leadership coach, turned mentor. We’d developed a good working relationship, and a rhythm with one another. The timing of this question coincided with the near end of our time together.

Looking back, I’d experienced a wide range of emotions on our shared leadership journey.


Anticipation. Preparation. Resistance. Reflection. Growth. Discovery. Gratitude.


And more.


At one point, we’d engaged in dialogue around “the next big thing” in or for education.

Combined, we’d had over 50 years of experience. Spanning several overlapping generations, together, we covered a full scope of the education field, from newborn to adult learners.


First, we’d each seen, acknowledged, and chuckled (while grimacing a bit), that we weren’t talking about “the swinging pendulum of education”.


This wasn’t a matter of “everything old is new again”.


And it wasn’t what happens with a new administration with new initiatives. We weren’t talking about how, as the administration changes, so do priorities.


This conversation was more. It was about the paradigm shift that would be necessary for real and sustainable improvement to take root. It was about mental models and the “politics of distraction”, about obstacles, and restraints, and what it will take for education to remain relevant. It was about education…surviving.


This is now a five year old conversation. It happened before a global pandemic and events that have impacted society and will continue to do so, for the next generation.


Recently, a friend shared this video from Getting Smarter Every Day. Chuckling as I watched, I had wondered where it was that I had seen or heard about this site before?


The video (worth watching), is about how an adult challenged himself to unlearn and relearn how to ride a bicycle. While it took him eight months, his young son, with encouragement and incentive, conquered the same challenge, but in two weeks.


This got me thinking about school since March 2020, my mentor conversation, and the “next big thing”. It also got me jogging my memory on where I first (or last) saw a Getting Smarter video.


Then, it dawned on me.





Three years ago, I accepted the challenge to mentor a new middle schooler. This school year marked his return to school, as we phased students back into the building. First attending remotely, then hybrid, then fully in-person, every day. In a time when schools experienced “losing kids”, this student found himself, and with a renewed sense of focus and maturity. During one of our mutually beneficial daily check-ins, he’d shared he was exploring what it takes to train to become a Navy Seal after high school.


Excitedly, he shared one of the video clips from the very site where I had watched the bicycle clip. Only, the one he showed me was about tactics involved with defusing bombs, underwater, in high stress situations. He was thrilled about this because it suited his passion, his curiosity, and for the first time in his life, he could see his path to success.


And I was excited because this was a breakthrough for us: it demonstrated his being autonomous, forward-thinking, and ambitious. It’s what we want for all adolescents.


But still, the question remains: What will be the “next big thing” for education?


Here's a thought.


Maybe, through a global pandemic, societal strife, and everyday living and working with middle school kids, maybe it’s a lot simpler than we think. Maybe adults learning first, and teaching second, through a measured and safe reopening, have taught us something. And we learned it (and will continue to learn it) from kids, if we let them teach us.


Maybe it’s not that flashy, not as glamorous as we think. Maybe, in fact, it’s “just” learning.


Could the next big thing...be learning?


What if we bravely and curiously took the next step on the path to lifelong learning?


And what if we did this, together?




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