On May 9-10, 2018, the Learning Rebundled convening brought together a diverse group of about 20 people from direct-service and intermediary organizations, researchers, and philanthropists all working in the out-of-school education space with a focus on equitable student experiences. The goal of the convening, organized by the Donnell-Kay Foundation and ReSchool Colorado, was simple: to connect the growing number of groups around the country that are transforming education through learners, rather than through schools.
Our intention was to convene an extraordinary group of people, engage in conversation, identify opportunities and challenges, and ask important questions about this emerging ecosystem. Below you’ll find a brief summary of what we learned about the people in the room and what questions, concerns, and areas of shared excitement that surfaced during our time together.
While most of our time together focused on the student experience and the student point of view, we did take some time to learn about who was in the room. Below is what we discovere
WHAT WE HEARD
As we suspected, this work is happening now, not just in the future; at this very moment there are people all around the country doing it.
A number of important themes emerged during the convening:
What was the most valuable aspect of the convening to participants?
- The people in the room were thoughtful.
- The sense of community and overlapping visions. We have “a new community of people to learn from and lean on”.
- The size of the group was small enough to hear from and connect with everyone.
- The quality of the conversations, which were at once provocative and insightful.
- The questions and the absence of easy answers.
- The focus on equity: “I’m leaving with knowledge, fear, and drive because I understand that designing for equity needs to be much more rigorous and needs to be much more complicated than I had originally thought.”
- The emphasis on the student experience and agency: “We need to shift from ‘to and for’ to ‘by and with’.”
What did participants leave curious about?
- How do we scale these efforts?
- How do we fund this work for the long term?
- How do we spur more people into action around this effort?
- How do we engage with the “traditional” system? What can we learn from it? What can it learn from us? Are there assets we can leverage?
- Is this is a movement? Or, “Are we willing to forgo knowing how everything will be implemented, agree on the ‘why’, and live in ambiguity?”
- Are we working to disrupt the current system or build a parallel system?
- How do we imagine learning and education as a living, regenerative system?
- How do we reimagine structures and processes to facilitate decentralized resource sharing that creates equitable access to learning?
- How can we use storytelling to build momentum? “What we can measure isn’t what matters when it comes to enthusiasm and engagement. Compelling narratives are what matter.”
What gave participants energy?
- Stories of young people and their empowering relationships with adults.
- The aligned vision for students among people in the room.
- Discussion of social networks and social capital.
- The untapped potential of student agency and self-governance.
- The unanswered questions.
- The fact that there is so much to be done and so much potential to do it.
- Imagining new systems.
- The willingness among people in the room to learn and innovate.
What were participants worried/concerned about?
- The fragmentation in the room.
- The need for a deeper understanding of how privilege and power work everywhere.
- The fact that education innovation has historically been hard to scale.
- How do we sustain all these young organizations in the room fueled by philanthropy?
- If we’re not trying to re-create a problematic infrastructure, we need new language for the “connective tissue”.
- If, “In our society, the strongest rationale will always be the one you can measure”, what evidence should we gather? How will we know if we’re having the desired impact?
- Some people are hugely advantaged by the current system and they’re going to fight to keep it that way.
What might the next steps be?
The question of next steps proved difficult to answer. The initial instinct in the room was toward movement building, shared language, a shared agenda, etc. However, not everyone in the room agreed. If we name this work does it become a target? If we name it, and find shared principles and language, what might be lost in this process? If we in the room build a “movement” what happens to the agency and empowerment of the populations we’re working to support? How do we build momentum when we don’t name something? How can this group collaborate and coordinate in that context? Is an “ecosystem” - defined as “a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment” - a more appropriate paradigm? Here are some of the next steps participants suggested:
- Continue learning from other people in the room and collaborating when we can amplify each other’s efforts.
- Share outcomes data to support ecosystem development.
- Align this work with existing movements as appropriate.
- Transfer some of our power to the communities we serve.
- Write about the ecosystem’s values and ideas.
- Align a set of research questions.
- Define the “collective why”. Assuming the goal isn’t just unbundling and rebundling, what is our collective vision?
- Galvanize public will.
- Work on business model and policy innovations individually and collectively.
- Work to change the model of philanthropy in this space.
- Engage in deeper, more intentional, more inclusive conversations around equity, power, and privilege as it relates to this work.
- Keep things somewhat organic and somewhat “unnamed” so we don’t become the next labeled fad.
- Explore the possibility of this being a student-driven “movement” and think differently, more creatively about how ideas spread.
We are grateful for the participants time, open mindedness, creativity, and dedication. We look forward to seeing what collaborations emerge and how momentum continues to build and we’re eager to work with folks toward our shared and individual visions.Contact Amy