Improving K-12 Education

Our Systems of Learning Will Evolve When We Lead with Empathy

This blog accompanies the Kickstarter launch of REVOLVE, a card-based immersive experience that builds empathy for young people and highlights the valuable learning that happens everywhere. REVOLVE is a powerful tool to generate the ideas needed to better support our young people in their learning. Learn more about the effort to make REVOLVE widely available at https://bit.ly/3603hcb.

“How are you doing?” This is how our staff meetings started in the weeks following COVID. There was never an agenda behind it and it wasn’t a place to problem solve. It was simply a place to process and share about our experiences,  as well as the experiences of the families, communities and organizations we work with.

We had taken a step back to reflect. To center the experiences of families and young people. To grapple with what work mattered and what didn’t during a global pandemic. What structures should stay in place and what was now obsolete.

Then naturally, a shift started to take place. Ideas started to emerge. Our work pivoted to respond to the moment. We focused on discovering where we could support rather than attempting to preserve the way we used to do things before.

It will be impossible for the smart, creative people in our education system to keep young people meaningfully connected and learning during a pandemic if they do not have space to think and innovate. Time is a luxury many in education do not have as they work around the clock  to respond to immediate needs in their communities. It’s my belief though that we have to prioritize this because while it may feel like the only way is to plow straight ahead, we may find ourselves on the other end of this only to discover that all our work didn’t actually translate into young people having meaningful learning experiences. I’m not suggesting there’s a way to a perfect solution, but I do believe there’s a way to unleash our creativity in this moment.

Most importantly, our young people are asking the adults in their lives to see them and to come up with creative solutions to the challenges they are facing.

In August I listened to a student panel hosted by Chalkbeat Colorado and sponsored by Gates Family Foundation and Colorado Education Initiative full of amazing high school students from across our state to learn how they feel about going back to school. The themes that stay with me most are:

We have more going on in our lives right now than being students. We need empathy and grace.

Adults need to hold physical health and social well-being as equally important. When that was said, my immediate thought was that, to do this, solutions will likely look different than anything we’ve ever seen before.

Clubs and sports are things that motivate us and feed our interests. While some of these activities can’t take place, we need to make sure some are still available to us so we can stay connected.

Young people are asking us to empathize. To see them as more than students, and that their interests are important to their overall well-being.

While COVID makes these sentiments from young people particularly acute, these are not new issues. So as many professionals in education, families and young people stare down a daunting road to keep learning meaningfully during a pandemic this year, how do we  provide them space to think, innovate, create and dream?

We can’t wait for one education leader, one school, one nonprofit organization or one policy to come along and fix this for us. We need to engage the unique talents, experiences and networks of everybody who impacts education from parents and young people, to teachers and administrators, to nonprofits, policymakers, funders, community leaders, businesses and beyond. In the little over a decade I’ve spent in education, I’m consistently floored by how incredible the people involved in education are. The trouble is, more times than not, they’re  too busy with their job, or not asked, to share their ideas and have them authentically listened to. To have a moment to reflect on the work that is happening and how it is impacting learners.

How do we start?

As a full-time working mom of two kids under 5 myself, one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned during this time is that it doesn’t have to take an enormous chunk out of the day to step outside of yourself and approach situations differently. A 20-minute ride on my bike clears my head so that I enter my next work task energized. I can turn on a 10-minute podcast that challenges me while I’m in the car. 5-minutes of quiet (with coffee as my only company) before the people in my home wake sets me up to be a more patient human during the day.

Adults in education go into several situations a day where they are making decisions that will impact young people and families. We need to be constantly reminded of what it feels like to navigate learning as a young person, especially those of us in education who don’t spend every day with young people. To have tools that we can use often and that don’t take a ton of time to make sure learners stay front and center in our work.  What would happen if we entered decision-making from that perspective?  As virtually everything about how we’ve educated our children shifts, are we making sure our decisions are learner-centered?

RESCHOOL, a nonprofit that started as an initiative of the DK Foundation in 2013, created a prototype of  REVOLVE back in 2016, a 90-minute card-based immersive experience where players step into the shoes of a young person and live a year in their life. It’s a way to center young people and empathize with their experiences, recognize their broader lives past being students and the valuable learning that’s happening no matter where they are. We have facilitated the prototype for REVOLVE in many different contexts through the years-with educators, youth, systems leaders, policy makers, funders and more. In 2019 we started gathering feedback from those that played, identified areas for improvement and partnered with MATTER, a Denver-based design studio to (greatly) improve design and game-play so we could bring the game to market and reach a broader audience. After spending the last year and a half updating, designing, conducting focus groups, iterating and tweaking the experience, we were ready to share it far and wide. And then COVID happened.



Click the video above or this link to see REVOLVE’s launch video

REVOLVE wasn’t designed specifically for a pandemic, but it couldn’t be more valuable than it is now.

REVOLVE isn’t the only way to center learners in our work. What is unique about it though is it gives the players the opportunity to assume the personas of young people in made-up scenarios. The personas and scenarios are relevant to (and inspired by) young people today, and since it’s a gamified experience, players have the opportunity to create without restraints.Playing a game brings different energy and creativity to the conversation when players dig into debrief questions after gameplay about how we might better design our systems of learning for young people. While the personas in the game are of young people 17-21 years old, those who have played it in the plast have found inspiration out of the experience for their work with any age or person group. It’s intentionally set up to be flexible so that the players can authentically build in context about their persona based on their lived experiences and take the conversation wherever it leads them. REVOLVE will prompt you to generate ideas from a fresh perspective that is centered around young people.

We’ve launched a Kickstarter to bring this tool to a broader audience. Head over to REVOLVE’s Kickstarter page to learn more about the tool, and if you think it is valuable, and want to see it available across the country, share with your networks and consider backing REVOLVE on Kickstarter. In consideration of your time, RESCHOOL put together this media toolkit which can be used for outreach on various communications channels and will be updated throughout the campaign. The campaign ends 10/27.

If all of us pause, even for 90-minutes to reflect and empathize, and yes dream, we’ll all be able to take part in generating the ideas needed to keep our young people supported and learning meaningfully through this pandemic and beyond. We have the opportunity to come out on the other end of this better off than we were before.

It’s going to take all of us though.

Written by: Jess Fuller

Jessica Fuller

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