Blog Posts

At the Turning Point: Web3 and Education

I have recently immersed myself in an emerging concept incorporating blockchain technology with education called ed3. In their Mirror.xyz article From Web3 to Ed3 – Reimagining Education in a Decentralized World1 educators Atish Mistry, Blair Rorani, Scott David Meyer, and Vriti Saraf define ed3 as a model in which “learners own their education – validating their knowledge with decentralized technology.”

The authors posit that the future of education is using decentralized technologies owned by its builders and creators. This model of internet technology is now referred to as web3. Gavin Wood, who coined the term “web3”, defines it as “a decentralized and fair internet where users control their own data, identity and destiny.”2 (You can also refer to this article for additional information.)

Here’s a simple model offered by one of the piece’s authors Scott David Meyer in which he connects ed3 to web3 as defined by internet pioneer by Chris Dixon.

Ed3 and web3 emphasize ownership and decentralization. Distributed ledger technology (blockchain), the metaverse, cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are components that make up the web3 ecosystem. These terms can be challenging to conceptualize and explain. This is an emerging technology. Many of them require entirely new mental models.

I decided to write about ed3 in order to build dialogue among educators as we begin the process of maneuvering this new technology. As educators, we need to have a prominent role in shaping its implementation. It is inevitable that the models of education that are deployed over the next 20 years will be influenced by it.

Failure to Disrupt

Or will it?

A central thesis to Justin Reich’s book Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Can’t Transform Education3 is that technology by itself cannot disrupt education. His argument is that there are no shortcuts to large-scale institutional change. The scaling effects of technology conflict with the true innovation happening in smaller incremental improvements.

I completely agree with the perspective that Reich lays out. As an educator who considers himself a technologist, I rely heavily on Reich’s position. As the saying goes, there is no free lunch. It is important to be critical when dissecting new technologies that make broad claims about the impact of a new app or software.

So how are ed3/web3 technologies any different?

Reich doesn’t speak directly to web3, but he provides a useful explanation about new technologies in general.

“The rhetorical tropes of disruption and charismatic technologies center around a heroic developer creating new technology that leads to the transformation of educational systems.”3

And then a corollary to the “heroic developer” theory.

“Change won’t come from heroic developers or even technology firms, but from communities of educators, researchers, and designers oriented toward innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.”3

This viewpoint provides a valuable lens to critique web3’s potential for educational transformation. By definition, web3 is an internet technology that operates without a centralized authority. There is no “heroic developer” creating and distributing this new technology. Decentralization offers the potential for all of us (communities of educators, researchers, and designers) to lead the transformation.

We also need to look beyond decentralization and ownership for ways that web3 can support innovation in education. The last part of Reich’s second quote is critical, the orientation needs to be to pedagogy and equity. Any system that promises disruption or transformation that doesn’t support pedagogy and equity has no use in the future of education.

But Wait, There’s More

I invite educators to join the discussion and push the conversation about web3 further. It is important that we examine what could happen if (as ed3 promises) “learners own their education–validating their knowledge with decentralized technology”? How does this orientate communities of educators towards (Reich’s goal of) “innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity”?

To help us start to imagine the possibilities of a web3 driven education ecosystem I created the following conjecture. It combines Reichian theory with the definition of ed3 from the Mirror.xyz article:

Educational change will be propelled by decentralization in which communities drive ownership of their learning identities enabling innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.

I offer this statement as a lens to create conversation around the potential of ed3/web3 in our educational models. To amplify the discussion I will be exploring two questions.

  1. How does decentralized technology allow learners to own their education?
  2. How does the ownership of learning identities support innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity?

You are all welcome to join me in this dialogue. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DaganBernstein or subscribe to this blog wherever you are reading it. My goal is to get more educators involved in shaping the role of web3 technologies in education. I have a full conviction that this technology is coming. Join in on the conversation and come build with us.

1https://mirror.xyz/ed3.eth/0U3QG8-4K6CD_ltU6SJyKN3-uBD3x6nEFs-YeShzYmk?utm_source=pocket_mylist

2https://web3.foundation/about/

3https://failuretodisrupt.com

On Writing In 2021

At the beginning of 2021, I set a goal to improve my writing. I had started this blog at the very end of 2019 but did limited posting. One barrier was insecurities about my writing abilities.

I decided that the only way I was going to improve my writing was to learn about good writing and to write. There were two books that influenced this decision–On Writing Well by William Zinsser and The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin.

As the calendar year comes to a close I’d like to share some things I learned during this process.

Write Everyday

I set up a system in which I would write for 30 minutes every morning the moment I woke up. I used an online journal program called Penzu. I would make a cup of coffee, open up my page, set a timer for 30 minutes, and just write.

You might have your own time of the day that works best for you. You might have a preferred mode to write in–google docs, pen and paper, legal pad, whatever. The delivery method or time doesnʻt matter. What is important is that you have a scheduled block of time in which you allow yourself to just write.

I tried different opening prompts as I was developing this habit. I have used a gratitude statement, or what can I change for today. Most recently I have settled on starting with “Today I feel…”. And from there I would just write. No thinking, no editing, no judging, just letting my ideas flow.

It is important that you find your own delivery. This book is frequently recommended on this topic. I personally haven’t read it, but there are many podcasts and interviews where people share the general idea behind it. There is also an actual journal that was developed from the book. This blog post by Tim Ferriss is a good resource too.

I learned three main things from implementing this daily writing practice:

  • Allowing your mind to go free uncovers new ideas
  • Daily repetition builds upon new ideas that emerge
  • Capturing interesting ideas is good for later use

Read Good Writing

I have always loved to read. I am constantly consuming books, blogs, and academic journals. By committing to improving my own writing I have become more cognizant of how other people write. This meant moving beyond what they were writing to how they were writing.

Here are three observations I made that I have used for my own writing:

  • Keep it clear–remove the clutter
  • Keep it simple–be direct and to the point
  • Keep it short–don’t overwrite

I still struggle with all of these. My writing can be convoluted. I complicate my ideas. I also tend to write long sentences and paragraphs. Consistently reading other writers has helped me see my own shortcomings and make improvements.

I have learned not to dwell on this. Writing is a process. The quality improves the more that we are aware of what good writing is. This is the same approach I took as a musician. My own playing improved the more I paid attention to the elements of good music.

Post In Public and Share

An authentic audience keeps us accountable. When I post to my blog it can be read by anyone. I have to make sure that I produce the best writing possible at that moment.

I also make sure that I share links to blog posts on my social media accounts. I use different strategies on each social media platform to ensure the widest reach possible. I don’t do this for likes. I want to hold myself accountable by making sure as many people as possible can read it.

Each platform has unique ways to increase visibility. For Instagram I create a custom graphic along with a link to the post in my bio. I also add hashtags to the post that are related to my topic. For Twitter I tag other educators I know and respect. I like their retweets and respond to comments.

All of these actions help me put my full self behind what I am writing. I don’t try to hide my writing in some corner of the internet. By getting my work out to as many people as possible it makes me more mindful about what I am posting.

Write What You Would Read

When I first started the blog I struggled to decide on blog topics. I would never start because I was so caught up in my head. I made the decision to write about topics that I want to read about.

My interests tend to center on education, community, and mindsets, so that’s what I wrote about. This gave me a specific voice to write from. Through this process, an internal editor emerges with me as the audience. As a result, my writing became more direct and to the point.

This approach gave me endless ideas to blog about. I am often reading books about mindsets, whether they are creative, design, or entrepreneurial mindsets. Same for education or community building. I’d make notes of different topics or ideas that I’d come across while reading and turn those into blog posts.

This also goes back to the first point to “write every day.” By getting my ideas out of my head, patterns would emerge that would become topics for posts. This is all grounded in the central idea of writing about things that I would want to read.

Looking to 2022

For the upcoming year my goal is to continue to write. I have a lot more growth to experience and I would like to get better. I will continue to apply the strategies I used in 2021. They have been effective at increasing my production.

I will also challenge myself with new goals. Being a guitar player and singer has taught me that disciplined practice of one’s craft leads to progress.

Here are some things I am looking to for 2022:

  • Read more books about the technique of writing
  • Write about topics that I am less familiar with
  • Post on new platforms–maybe Substack or Medium
  • Seek out opportunities to be published on other blogs

We will see how far I am able to progress on these goals. The point is to continue to challenge myself. I am confident that by setting my intention to write each day it will bring positive results.

Writing has been an exceptionally fulfilling way to express myself and learn new things. As you look to 2022 I hope that you can join me in your new challenge. I have one piece of advice–show yourself some grace, but to also hold yourself accountable.

I think it is possible to hold these two things at one time. In doing so you can allow yourself to thrive in whatever you pursue.

Coming Full Circle On Empowering Student Changemakers

Back in September, I started discussions with educators about empowering student changemakers. One of the first examples we explored on this topic was student council groups in our schools. Initially, I was not that interested in this idea. My intention with starting the conversation on empowering student changemakers was to think beyond the typical systems that we associate with enacting change.

Reflecting on our final session of this series I have come to realize the importance of student governments. These student-led programs are a key touchpoint to develop the skills necessary for students to become effective changemakers.

The problem at hand

International educator Mel started our conversation by sharing why our students struggle when given too much agency. Students have a difficult time engaging with inquiry-based learning without the proper scaffolding. Most students have been in compliance-based learning models for most of their school life. They are not able to just flip a switch and feel comfortable in a model that requires an entirely new set of skills. 

Mel shared two main challenges that students have in being effective problem-solvers. First, they can get overwhelmed when given too much choice. Students are used to clear directions and outcomes. They shut down when they are asked to identify problems and investigate solutions. It is too wide open for them and they struggle with autonomy.

Secondly, students can sometimes feel jaded in school by the time they reach their teenage years. Students will push back when presented with a long-term project and sometimes prefer to just take a test. They have become so used to playing the grading game that the idea of an inquiry-based project is a turnoff. They have figured out how to follow directions and do what the teacher wants. After years of schooling with this approach, they have little interest in doing something that involves sustained inquiry.

The indifferent student council student

I listened to what Mel had shared and made a connection to an experience I had when I asked my students to sign up for the student council. Students were indifferent to the whole idea. This was not what I had initially expected. I had anticipated that at least a few of my homeroom students would be eager to sign up.

When I asked them why they didn’t want to sign up, they shared their experiences in their previous grades. The consensus was that it was a waste of time. That nothing of importance ever got done. They would plan a recess activity or organize a pizza party, but they never had the chance to enact real change. If they proposed a dress code change, or how to improve the lunch service their ideas were dismissed. Students felt their voices weren’t being heard or taken seriously.

I understood their frustration. I flashed back to my own time in middle school when I completely wrote off student government groups. My burgeoning punk rock anti-establishment ethos had already dictated that real change never happens through the system. On the contrary, I also regretted how this attitude carried over to my adulthood. It wasn’t until much later in life that I saw the value of engaging in civic duties in my community. I didn’t want my students to have that same experience.

Changing the narrative

In the middle of our conversation, a new person named Kyle joined in. He shared his experience in how he re-imagined the student council at his school. His perspective really changed the tenor of the conversation. After listening to him describe the model he implemented, my thinking shifted about the role that the student council can play in empowering student changemakers.

The model that Kyle shared was dynamic, engaging, and involved real-world learning. The program was centered around authentic citizenship for the students. They were given real autonomy over the impact the student council could have along with support by teacher coaches. 

To join the student council students were asked to complete an application along with an interview. Each applicant was vetted to ensure that they met certain criteria. This was done on the front end because the students were given the power to be a part of making decisions at their school. They were invited to faculty meetings and space was given for students to provide input on policy.

These experiences were authentic. The expectation of the students was that they would be actively involved in school policy. As a result, the students took the responsibility of their position much more seriously. The teachers trusted the students. They had all gone through a screening process so the teacher knew that their input had merit. By partnering the student council members with a teacher-coach they were given guidance about how to best articulate the changes that they wanted.

Post-covid implications

Our world underwent a rapid change as a result of the COVID pandemic. Major decisions had to be made in real-time–decisions that had major implications on our day-to-day life.  

Unfortunately, the speed at which these decisions were made left out the students’ voices. Most schools didn’t have systems set up that made space for students to provide input on what changes should and shouldn’t be made. Imagine if all schools had a student representative present when decisions were being made. These representatives would have gone through an application process and been screened to fulfill the responsibility for the job. This would allow for input from the students that would be impacted by the decisions being made.

This does not mean that all decisions should have to go through a student channel. But what about those choices that have a direct impact on the lives of the students? There could be collaborative decision-making between the teachers and students. Instead, all those decisions made about how schools should look post-COVID were made in a vacuum. Not all of the stakeholders were involved. Unfortunately, we saw that many of these decisions had a negative impact on the health and wellness of our students.

I don’t think it is too late. We are still navigating our post-covid reality. We still have the opportunity to create a space for these student voices to be heard. In creating this space we can acknowledge their experience. By meeting students where they are at we can create the conditions that will enable them to thrive in our schools.

Coming full circle

I admit that I originally had little hope for student-led governments to be a place where I would see students empowered as changemakers. I had been holding onto the idea that it was an outdated model that had no place in our changing schools. I am grateful for these conversations because they opened up my eyes to the potential of these systems.

In his podcast How to Citizen Baratunde Thurston talks about “Reimaging ʻcitizen’ as a verb and reclaiming our collective power.” I cannot think of a better definition of empowering student changemakers. From these conversations, I will take with me the idea that rethinking our student council and student governments is a place where we can empower student changemakers. As the old biblical proverb states “the stone that builders refuse, will be the head cornerstone.”

As I close out this series of discussions I look forward to the next iteration of this experience. I am grateful for all the educators that joined in and made these conversations the impactful discussions that they were. None of this would have been possible without their gracious contributions. 

And a huge thank you to all the people at Swivl and Skilled.Space for supporting educators to come together to have conversations. As Swivl says on their homepage “relationships are the foundation”. And with Skilled.Space we can “Build relationships with more conversations.” I encourage all educators to have more conversations and to build more relationships. Together, we can.

Building Relationships Through Conversation

Conversations are living things that evolve. Things usually start with a  provocation to initiate discussion, but it is up to the participants to move the ideas forward. The Skilled.Space conversations on “Empowering Student Changemakers” that I host every other Sunday is a great example of how we can use our collective input to build on each others’ ideas.

Getting the Conversation Started

The provocation in our recent session was about student presentations. I shared about the student-led presentations I viewed at the recent Schools of the Future conference. This annual event was held virtually this year and featured special sessions of live presentations solely by students. In addition to viewing some of these from the audience perspective, I also had the opportunity to mentor two of my former students for their presentations. 

These presentations covered a wide range of topics including a model United Nations program, developing curriculum on Filipino culture, and student-led DEI programming. It was clear in watching these presentations that these were topics that students were passionate about. They were engaged in their topic and communicated how they took a central role in driving these learning experiences.

Shifting the Discussion

After introducing the topic the group shifted into a discussion about the state of presentations in our classrooms. We asked, “are they really student-driven?”. One educator shared about the difference between how students engage with presenting in primary versus secondary school. In the younger ages, students tend to be more engaged with their learning, but then a noticeable shift happens as students mature. As they develop their identity they become more selective about which learning experiences they choose to engage with.

This can impact how they approach presenting their learning to their peers. They are much more self-conscious about the process. It is no longer viewed as an opportunity to speak excitedly about their learning. Instead, it is a time when they are forced to be in front of their peers and susceptible to judgment.

There is also an impact from the compliance-based learning models that students engage in starting in their secondary years. Students start to understand the grading game and view presentations as another way to be graded and scored by their teacher. In these cases are presentations really the authentic assessment that we think they are? Or are they another teacher-driven assignment that the students sheepishly complete to check a box and move on to the next thing? These were great points for the group to consider as we explored the topic of students as changemakers.

The Conversation Evolves

Here is where the conversation evolved to the next stage, and I often observe education discussions hit this point. A high school chemistry teacher asked how these presentations fit into courses like theirs that are standards-heavy, particularly AP courses. There is always a sense of dissonance when perspectives like this are brought up. How do you square the transformational ideas being discussed with the practical realities we are facing in our classrooms in the present moment? It was nice to see how the group navigated this incongruity.

We explored the role of PBL models to deliver content and provide opportunities for authentic student presentations. This led to others sharing about the need for professional development in order to train teachers to deliver this complex teaching model. This led to conversation about the challenges that cash-strapped districts face to support teachers that need PD centered on project-based learning.

Ideas were being exchanged at a face pace. Each participant gave each other the space to share their ideas and pass when they were done. It was a great opportunity to listen to a wide range of perspectives on this point. Among those participating we had a diversity of teaching experiences that helped examine this topic from different angles.

Through this process, we were able to see the full scope of a vicious cycle that occurs in our schooling system. Students test below standard, new pedagogies are discussed to address gaps in learning, schools talk about changes to implement, funds aren’t made available to train teachers, students struggle, more testing is done, and on and on. One teacher from a lower-income district emphasized the point that the schools that could utilize funds to develop PD to support project-based learning are often in these poorer districts.

Conversations as Relationship Builders

Skilled.Space says that with their platform you can “build relationships with more conversations”. I have definitely experienced this throughout the five sessions I have led on empowering student changemakers. Skilled.Space has allowed me the opportunity to build relationships with educators from different schools and from different parts of the world. 

The relationships I have built exist on three levels:

  • The ones I’ve had with educators before engaging on Skilled.Space have flourished
  • Connections among people I’ve met for the first time in these sessions have grown
  • New one-off correspondences Iʻve had on Skilled.Space have transitioned to other platforms where we’ve built on that initial interaction

I look forward to the sixth and final session of the “Empowering Student Changemakers” series. It has inspired me to evolve the work I do in my classroom and also the relationships I have with other educators. There has been a certain energy to the gatherings that is a reflection of our shared desire to support our students as drivers of their learning in school. Come join us for the closing session and let’s build something.

To read my other blog posts on my Skilled.Space conversations go to the following links:

Starting a Discussion On Empowering Student Changemakers

Contribution as Creativity

Parent-Teacher Collaboration

Defeating the Algorithm With Conversation

Defeating the Algorithm With Conversation

A recent article in The Atlantic titled “How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire” is a deep dive into the role of social media and technology on how we exchange ideas in our society. The authors propose some alternatives to our current conversations “ruled by algorithms that are designed to capture attention, harvest data, and sell advertising”. 

During my time hosting bi-monthly conversations on Skilled.Space, I am becoming more and more convinced that this platform can play an essential role in defeating these algorithms. I’d like to offer a summary of how I view the value of these “conversations that propel”.

The Value of Openly Sharing Ideas

One primary means of leveling up our conversations is allowing for an open sharing of our experiences without fear of judgment. This past week a teacher shared their concerns about a new statewide computer science requirement. They were worried that by standardizing these classes they would lose the autonomy they currently have in grading their after-school computer elective. This opened up a dialogue about how they use a feedback-centered assessment model and if this can be incorporated into the new program as it is formalized in our schools. 

They were not being judged for not having the answers or that they were confused about best practices. Fellow educators offered their own experiences and shared their own fears about dealing with similar situations. Ideas were openly discussed and considered. Resources were shared and offered freely as a potential source of information.

These are not the types of responses that data-driven social media algorithms prioritize. In those cases discourse that is incendiary and divisive takes the attention trophy. People jockey for position to tout their opinions and solutions. Collective efficacy is forgotten, only to be replaced by individual braggadocio.

I appreciate the openness that this new generation of platforms offers. There is a diminished sense of having to share to impress. The focus is on sharing to learn. By being vulnerable to our own worries and fears we invite productive input. The ability for the group to develop their ideas actually relies on the sincerity of the users. 

The Value of Openly Questioning Systems

A number of rhetorical questions were exchanged as we dug deeper into trying to understand the role of assessment in supporting student voice and agency. These questions were not presented with the hope of being answered at the moment, but rather to spur deeper thought.

“How are districts/schools/states supporting changes in assessment models?” someone asked.

This is a difficult question to tackle. It demands a broad inquiry that would require years of research and analysis. But by simply proposing the question to the group we all had to pause. We had to thoroughly reflect on how exactly our schools can support changes in assessment within our learning communities. There was no need to respond to this question as if it were a threat. 

In our current attention-driven correspondences we view anything that questions the systems we are a part of as a critique of our very selves. But here no one felt the need to defend their role as a district administrator or school principal. We are all aware that the system needs fixing. We were comfortable allowing each other the space to pose questions that invite us to consider how to enact change.

The Value of Openly Offering Resources

The ability to openly share resources lays at the heart of productive dialogue. Knowing that you are engaged in a collective effort to learn and grow makes the procurement of the resources you suggest even more important.

When a link is shared or an article is suggested, it is not to demonstrate a superior understanding of a topic, but to help us better understand what is being discussed. The attention-capture construct creates a dynamic where the most bombastic headline wins. Content and quality are replaced with the allure of clickbait and dissension.

In our conversation, someone shared an in-depth article from the Washington Post titled “A Crusade to End Grading in High Schools”. This allowed for future reading and additional investigation on the topic of assessment.

The person who shared the article contributed their own thoughts on the topic. They communicated their own struggle to introduce radical change with nuance and articulation. This article wasn’t a prop to be used in some scheme to outwit the other people present. It was an offering freely given to those who were interested.

The Value of Openly Examining Oneself 

Ego dissolution is not an experience to be had publicly in our influencer social media culture. To admit defeat is to surely surrender to a potential “victor” in the conversation. Fortunately, this is not true in a conversation that is focused on propulsion rather than deceleration.

Throughout our discussion, I started to see the possibility that we don’t have all the answers. I came back to the original reason we gathered–to empower our students as changemakers.

Have we imagined that it could be the current students in our classrooms to be the ones to enter the education field and finally defeat the dragon of grade-based assessment? Is it possible that the current crop of young teachers starting new careers will be the voices of dissent?

Are we selfless enough to admit that it might be the high-energy multi-taskers of today that are the ones who will enact this change which for us only seems to be a utopian edu-fantasy?

I hope so.

The willingness to concede to the idea that we don’t have all the answers is an anathema to our current social media platforms. Rarely will the comment section in our newsfeed end with “sounds like none of us are sure, let’s move on”. The very levers being programmed by the engineers of these platforms have been set to dissuade this outcome. 

Like a panicked swimmer caught in a raging riptide, we are being manipulated to rage against the dying light. Is it possible Dylan Thomas had it wrong? Maybe it’s time we let go and surrender. Stay calm and resist fighting against the current. Swim parallel to the shore to get out of the rip. Calmer waters await outside the pull of the current.

Conversations that Propel

I have always been a first adopter, I am most comfortable trying new things. And I will admit that sometimes anything new appears to be a panacea for the problems that I tend to observe. But I also keep an open mind and keep showing up. I hold each space I enter as an opportunity for open conversation in order to learn and grow. 

Are other social media platforms providing space to learn and grow? Yes. I’ve made very deep and substantial connections on Twitter. I’ve viewed insightful videos on YouTube. Instagram has introduced me to thought leaders and quotes that have fundamentally shifted how I see the world. But I have only felt my practice truly propel through the conversations I’ve had on Skilled.Space. 

It’s still early in this transformation in how we communicate via technology. New problems are emerging every day and new solutions are being set up to address them. I get excited when I feel I’ve tapped into something new. The potential of these new spaces gives me hope. In these spaces, I actually feel part of the democratic exchange of ideas that we all value as being the essence of the American experiment.

I hope that you too are inspired by the things I’ve experienced. I see value in openly sharing ideas, questioning systems, offering resources, and examining oneself as an alternative to the closed systems of communication proliferating across the internet. I am sure if you disagree you will let me know. Come join me in a Skilled.Space and let’s have a conversation about it.

Zooming Into My Lens as a Hawaiʻi Educator

It was 3:30 am when I finally logged off Zoom. I checked the mug on my desk and it remained filled with the lukewarm coffee leftover from at least an hour ago. Still energized from the 3-4 cups I had consumed since 9:30 the previous night, the spectrum of colors scribbled on my iPad looked like a kaleidoscope.

This is what professional development looks like in the year 2021. A potentially unhealthy mix of odd time zones and way too much caffeine. But it is not all poor sleep patterns and poor beverage choices. Video conferencing technology has provided educators the opportunity to connect with others from all around the world that they would have never been able to meet. In the last year alone I’ve collaborated with people from Estonia, Sweden, Finland, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda, and many more. Sometimes all in the course of one night, and always from the comfort of my own home.

However, this is not about the potential for Hawaiʻi educators to develop their pedagogy through online professional development or the appeal of connecting with new people. It is about the opportunity presented in these online spaces for Hawaiʻi-based educators to share their perspective. A perspective that is rooted in relationships, ‘āina, and community.

Initially, it was not clear to me that my voice had value in these global conversations. But over time I have realized that I have something unique to offer in these discussions. That I have a kuleana to both share my thinking and to make sure that I am honoring the people and place of Hawaiʻi as the source of my knowledge. I have also recognized that to fully hold space with this kuleana there is additional work that I have to do to unpack my own identity as a white settler in this pae ʻāina. This means I have to ask some deep questions about my role in this power structure.

The first step is to examine my impact as a white settler in a colonized land. I have to acknowledge the damage done to Kānaka Maoli through colonization, as well as how I may be perpetuating the pain and inequities through my own narrow lens as a white educator. While this has been uncomfortable, I have leaned into the discomfort with the goal of being able to recognize my blind spots and to understand the steps I can take to dismantle the Euro-centric narrative of learning in our Hawaiʻi classrooms.

I would like to offer some of my experiences that have helped me to re-center myself.

  • Practice kilo (observation) when participating in ʻāina-based learning experiences
  • Connect with and learn from the ʻāina and ʻāina-based educators in order to seek to better understand ancestral/indigenous knowledge
  • Reflect on how this knowledge can be used to change a system that privileges the holders of power
  • Humble myself to my limitations as one who is privileged by the system

Through this re-centering, I have re-evaluated my curriculum, content, and pedagogies. Iʻve asked myself, how am I perpetuating a history of control and power through the manner in which I structure my teaching? How are students, particularly Black, Brown, and Indigenous students not given voice and agency in the classroom? And what are the specific actions I am taking that may or may not be supporting student agency?

The answer to all these questions comes back to a concept that is the center of all Hawaiian cultural practices–aloha ʻāina. During this process of understanding my kuleana, I have actively sought out teachers around me that are rooted in Hawaiian-based cultural practices. This has allowed me the opportunity to observe how they operate within the systems of oppression that have been forced upon them.

When I began reflecting on my experiences with online professional development during the past year I thought I would primarily be focusing on the strategies I have gained as an educator. But I have gone much deeper. It is not just my pedagogy and practice as an educator that has changed. I have been given a new lens to view the world around me, and my place in it. 

I have developed a new strategy because this lens has provided me with a voice. A voice as a Hawaiʻi-based educator that reminds me I have a kuleana to live and share the tenants of Aloha ʻĀina. And the knowledge that with this voice I must help to teach others how they can shape learning across Hawaiʻi and across the world.

This post was originally written for the Hawaiʻi Society for Technology in Education monthly blog series. See the original post here.

Parent-Teacher Collaboration

Can parents help play the role of teacher? Can teachers help play the role of parent? Can both happen at the same time? These are some of the questions that were explored during our third session of the “Empowering Student Changemakers” series on Skilled.Space.

I started our discussion with a quote I heard during a podcast interview with author Julie Lythcott-Haims–“We’ve jettisoned the stuff of life out the window, and we shouldn’t be surprised that we graduate people with high GPAs who cannot do much for themselves”. This prompted some interesting sharing about the role of partnering with parents to ensure that we are raising young people who are well-rounded in the skills they will need to succeed as adults.

Celeste, an educator from Oʻahu in Hawaiʻi shared, “Teachers have caregiving roles as much as any parent”. And Georgina, an educator with international experience now based in the UK added “Learn things about what is happening at home to support students in school”. This back and forth helped guide the conversation towards the idea of effective partnering with parents. We began to chip away at the dichotomy of “teachers are responsible for this” and “parents are responsible for that”. What emerged instead is “we are in this together”.

These ideas are supported by research. John Hattie in his expansive meta-analysis of 138 influences that are related to learning outcomes, identified “parental involvement” as playing a key role in supporting student learning.1 In addition, teacher-student relationships play an important role as well. When we combine these two we can see the importance of effective partnering to ensure students have the skills to be facilitators of change in their world.

As the conversation continued, Kiki from New York shared her personal experience with her kids. She gives them agency in a number of small decisions to empower them to be independent thinkers and problem solvers. From tying their own shoes, to deciding what backpack to buy, to creating routines around homework–all of these actions help support kids that are able to “own the outcome of their education”.

This is a great description of what a student changemaker can be, one who owns the outcome of their education. In education, we are exploring ways to move away from the passive role of the student to one of an active participant. We have a better chance of nurturing these skills in students when parents and teachers are working in collaboration. 

The conversation had a surprise coda when the author of “How to Raise an Adult” Julie Lythcott-Haims joined in to take a few questions and show her gratitude. In this process, Julie offered this gem, “undermining of agency is an undermining of mental health”. I took this as an endorsement of the work that this group of educators has been engaging in. As the converation came to an end I felt confident that we are addressing issues that are at the heart of supporting students as changemakers.

1 https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/

Contribution as Creativity

Words are powerful. Words matter. One word that Iʻve been reflecting on this past week is compliance. This is a word that we hear a lot about in education, as in “the industrial model of education rewards compliance.”

It was during a conversation in my second session about “Empowering Student Changemakers” on the Skilled.Space platform that got me thinking about compliance in education. We were discussing ways to get students to engage with their learning and one of the participants said, “Creativity is a way to fight compliance”. They added, “If you have a culture of compliance it is working against everything you are trying to do to get them to be creative.”

I found these statements interesting so I quickly jotted them down. I made a mental note to do some further research to do dig into these ideas. But there was still a conversation happening. As the conversation continued additional ideas about empowering students were added. 

Someone shared about using an asset-based approach to shine the light on proper student behavior during school versus emphasizing rules on what not to do. Another participant explained how they disrupt the paradigm of the “sage on a stage” dynamic by using speaking prompts to provide space for students to act as content experts. And finally, one of the other attendees revealed how they utilize a student vote to decide a classroom activity.

All this sharing led to more questions that I wrote in my notes. What is the role of creativity in the classroom? How else do we fight compliance? Do we talk enough about how to fight compliance? What does it mean to be creative?

When the conversation ended I took a walk outside to reflect on the discussion. The word compliance remained at the top of my mind. I recalled that one of my favorite writers Seth Godin had described the role of compliance in our education models. When I returned home a quick google search led me to his Medium article “Stop Stealing Dreams”. But also to a shorter lesser-known blog post titled “Compliance is quite different from contribution”.

Reading that post put together a new idea in my mind. My thinking progressed from compliance as a relic of education to creativity as a way to fight compliance, and finally to contribution as a foil of compliance. The only logical conclusion is that contribution can be an expression of creativity. Thatʻs how conversation can propel!

Prior to this conversation, I had not thought of including contribution as part of the changemaker word cloud. Nor had I thought of contribution as having a relationship with creativity. I am grateful for this insight as a way to make creativity more accessible to educators that may be intimidated by creativity being solely an expression of artistry. 

As a musician, I am comfortable with the concept of creativity, but I have found that many educators without an artistic background are not. I hope that sharing this insight from our conversation will help other educators see contribution as a window into creativity.

This is why these open conversations are so important. Joining a group of thoughtful educators for a conversation increases your chances of hearing something that will challenge you to explore an idea in new ways. Having hosted two of these sessions now I believe even more in the power of conversation to propel.

If you are interested in joining this conversation go to http://skilled.space to start your free account.

What Musical Minds Teach Us About Innovation In Education: Coda

Author’s note: This post is based on the ideas from the book Two Beats Ahead by R. Michael Hendrix and Panos A. Panay.

As this series of blog posts come to an end the final post will not be a summary of what was covered in the chapter. Instead, in honor of the coda of this final chapter I will pause to write my final resolution about this experience.

My first exposure to music as a mindset for innovation came in a podcast hosted by IDEO with R. Michael Hendrix one of the authors of this book. It’s amazing now to look back almost two years later and reflect on this journey. I now have a master’s in Education Entrepreneurship, a new position at my school I could have only dreamed up, and a renewed philosophy on the role of music in my creative life.

One thing I still ask myself though is how can the concepts from this book be related to someone who isn’t musical? In sharing my experiences with the concepts in the book educators have said to me, “that’s great, but I am not a musical person so I don’t get it”.

I do not believe that people are inherently “not musical”. Just like I do not believe someone is “not a math person”, or can’t draw. I have the belief that these skills and mindsets can be nurtured in anyone. But what is a relatable entry point for someone who has not developed a musical mindset?

The answer came to me in an interview with actor, comedian, musician Ahmad Best speaking about the role of emotion in learning.

“What I am interested in is letting you know that you are the only you in this universe, and that is special. And I want to hear what you have to say, right? I don’t want you to do algebra. I want you to do your algebra. What does that mean? I don’t want you to learn history. I want you to be able to learn history your way, right?”.

For the educator who feels that they are “not musical” and they do not connect with the mindsets shared in the book, do not worry. To borrow the words of Lisa Kay Solomon when interviewing Best I have realized that true innovation is in your ability to “amplify their (students) emotional engines. The best learning happens with emotion, not devoid of emotion.”.

This emotional language comes from those human and creative endeavors that are a part of everyone’s life, the arts. To quote T Bone Burnett in the final pages of the book–”There were decisions made in the last century; we became more and more organized around systems. Within the school system, for example, there were decisions made about the most efficient way to teach children that stripped art of of the school system because art is the opposite of efficient. Art has nothing to do with efficiency, and efficiency has nothing to do with art. Art is inspired, or it’s not art”.

So I would like to remind all my educator peers to discover and bring your creative self into your instruction. These creative expressions are as varied as we are unique–surfing, painting, drawing, sewing, baking, photography, writing, dance, poetry, sport, flower arranging, cooking, juggling, comedy, and on and on…

As Hank Shocklee says, “We’re multi-dimensional beings. People who step into this, those are the kinds of people that are going to make the future. They’re going to replace people who are one-dimensional. Those who don’t understand are out of step, out of key, out of tune, out of time”. And finally, “The only way forward for us is through creativity–creativity which we have an enormous abundance of.”

This is the tenth and final part in a series connecting the ideas from Two Beats Ahead by R. Michael Hendrix and Pano A. Panay to education. To read part 1 on listening go here, part 2 on experimenting go here, part 3 on collaborating go here, part 4 on demoing go here, part 5 on producing go here, part 6 on connecting go here, part 7 on remixing go here, part 8 on sensing go here, and part 9 on reinventing go here.

Starting a Discussion On Empowering Student Changemakers

After a few weeks of planning with my friend Sara from the Swivl team, I was ready to open my “space”. Not a Twitter space, but my space. No no THAT Myspace, but a Skilled.Space”. What is Skilled.Space? The team at Swivl calls it “Live conversation spaces that propel students and teachers forward”.

Already five minutes into the conversation I could feel ourselves being propelled to the outer reaches of our topic. We were all gathered in our little corner of the internet to discuss empowering students as changemakers. Hawaiʻi (Oʻahu, and Hawaiʻi Island), California, the UK, Canada, and the Mid-Western United States were all gathered together, and everyone was bringing their full self to the conversation.

Quickly our conversation evolved into a back and forth with each teacher taking turns sharing about what happens when students bring their energy into the classroom. “Things go to another level”, one teacher noted. Someone else jumped in that in their social studies curriculum they de-emphasize the need to memorize content and instead push students to gain content knowledge through learning how to connect with their communities.

This prompted another share about how they use student input to review the school’s rules for behavior. Students rewrite the school “behavior charter” in their own language through collaboration and critical thinking. In this process, students are able to present their views to the admin and have the policies updated. I quickly made a note as they shared enthusiastically; “There is something very raw, pure, authentic, about letting those values and routines live the way they actually describe it, and makes it unique, it makes authentic. It really pops out at you because you can see it was really written by kids”.

As I stopped to breathe and take in the depth of thought being delivered in this digital space I was in awe. Here teachers were sharing freely from their heart, from their experience, from the very depths of what they believed as educators. I knew I had tapped into something.

Over the next 45 minutes, each participant shared stories about how they approach their classroom as a place where students can exhibit agency over their learning experience. A principal at a K-5 school went into detail about how students are involved in all aspects of life at their school from what clubs they form, to what they do for spirit week, to how they structure teams in their classroom. From this, we all converged around the idea that the classroom is the perfect place to start small. Students can best discover their own voice as changemakers in the intimacy of their small cohort of peers. “Starting smaller is better!” a district area teacher chimed in.

Ideas were being blasted through the galaxy (sorry I’m a little late on the space metaphors so had to slip one in) until our conversation concluded with some actionable items for each other to consider. One teacher related how they renamed their student council the “student action leadership team” in order to increase engagement. Another teacher shared the Twitter handle of an educator who had a blueprint for tapping into your PLN on social media to make a list of subject area experts for students to connect with to invite into the classroom for video chats.

The hour came to a close and I felt a great sense of gratitude for this group of educators who took time out of their Sunday to engage with each other. I felt a relationship with this group that I wouldn’t have gotten in a Twitter thread or even at a conference session. The conversation was real, without judgment, and full of the honest desire to offer our experience as a way to potentially help a fellow colleague.

I am looking forward to our next discussion on Sunday, and who knows where the conversation will go on “empowering student changemakers”. I know I’ll post on Twitter about it, and I’ll share some articles or maybe a podcast to spark some insights. But at the end of the day, it is our relationships that will further drive the conversation. And it is in those conversations where the magic happens.

If you’re interested in joining the conversation on “Empowering Student Changemakers” start a free account at Skilled.Space and join us on September 26 and then every other Sunday at 3 pm Eastern time. Follow me on Twitter @daganbernstein to get a link to our next conversation.