Fresh Perspectives

Sorry, it's been a while ... 320 days to be exact. Here's a fresh perspective on what this journey has been about.

Day 400.

Hello!

It’s been a while since I last updated you all … Here’s why: When every day of your life is filled with extreme novelty, it takes a great deal of presence, energy, and space to absorb these experiences fully. This makes articulating and sharing reflections on these moments quite burdensome. I thus decided that this platform was a nice-to-have, but not worth laboring over.

Since my journey through the Nordics (see all prior posts), I’ve traveled to Portugal, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Senegal. I’ve attended intimate conferences with the Dalai Lama, hiked through the Himalayas, lived silently with monks, participated in transformative teacher trainings, and visited remarkable leadership, sustainability, and vocational academies. Most recently, I was in Portugal to complete phase one of a 9-month blended training (in-person/digital) to lead mindfulness and emotional intelligence programs with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. It was one of the most illuminating weeks of my life. In November, I will finish my journey in Malaysia to participate in an UnSchool Fellowship, where I’ll be learning tools to design solutions to complex social and environmental issues with 15 global participants and renowned mentors.

In this post, I am not going to overwhelm you with all my learnings from the past 10 plus months. I’m saving that for a free-style “master’s dissertation” of sorts on Education, Learning, and Wellbeing. I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to organize and articulate that piece, but at some point it will happen and I will share that with you. In the meantime, I think it could be useful to provide an updated perspective on what this journey has been about.

The language and focus of my Bristol project has shifted continuously since its initial conception two years ago. This is largely because I didn’t fully know what I was looking for prior to leaving. I knew that education systems had to be transformed to be more holistic, experiential, engaging, differentiated, and purposeful, but I didn’t know too much beyond this. I had to go through an unknown territory to begin defining myself and the elements of an education system that does not yet exist. Now, after many months of navigating this foreign territory, I feel some sense of clarity:

My life’s work is about creating accessible, equitable, and lifelong learning opportunities for everyone to flourish and co-create change.

There’s a lot to unpack in this sentence, so I’ll provide some overly simplified explanations. “Accessible” and “equitable” indicates that “everyone” should be able to participate in high quality learning experiences. “Lifelong” suggests that learning should not stop once you leave school and that we need better structures to support continuous growth, agility, and reinvention. “Flourishing” is a holistic construct which includes health and happiness, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, social and environmental connection, and work satisfaction and success. Finally, “co-creat[ing] change” is getting at our responsibility, capacity, and opportunities to collaboratively create a world that works better for all of us. By prioritizing flourishing and change-making as foundations and critical aims of learning, we can expand beyond the narrow focus on “college and career readiness” to imbue education with a deeper sense of purpose that leaves everyone better off.

A major part of this effort is focused on transforming education systems to support students in developing the competencies required to show up fully in our increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world.

When I say “transforming education systems” I am referring to the process of designing and implementing fundamentally new systems of education — tweaks around the edges will no longer cut it. To imagine this way of learning, we must throw away all prior conceptions of education and schooling. “Competencies” is referring to the broad set of wisdom, skills, and dispositions that students need to “show up fully,” or manifest their highest potential self. This goes far beyond traditional academic content and lower-order cognitive skills to include holistic and change-making competencies like mindfulness, emotional intelligence, purpose, design and systems thinking. Finally, “VUCA” is referring to the rapidly changing landscape of the present and future world that students will need to navigate. In this context, human-centered and agile skills will separate individuals as technology erodes the “knowledge capital” that ruled much of the 20th century.

In order to understand how we might transform education systems and cultivate accessible, equitable, and lifelong learning experiences, I conducted a multidimensional investigation of:

  1. the competencies that allow individuals to flourish and co-create change,

  2. the conditions and practices of learning environments that foster those competencies, and

  3. the structures necessary to realize those environments.

In the prior paragraph and previous post, I talk about some of the “competencies that allow people to flourish and co-create change.” In learning environments, “conditions and practices” are referring to things like culture, curriculum, and teaching and learning methods. Finally, “structures” is referring to how learning environments are conceptualized and implemented. For instance, in this post, I talk about how Finland’s collaboration networks have allowed for innovative learning models to come about, spread, and influence systems.

By looking at the individual/student level, the environmental/experiential level, and the structural/systemic level, I was able to get a multifaceted perspective on designing, facilitating, and spreading exceptional learning. While my lens continually shifted between these areas, it is worth noting that the logic of the above sequence stems from the level of the individual — the source from which transformational change will manifest itself.

In a day, week, or month, I’ll likely look back at this piece and think to myself, “What the hell was I talking about?” But for now, this seems to decently articulate the nature of my Bristol project and life’s work.

With the utmost gratitude,

Joe

. . .

p.s. If you would like to learn more about SIYLI/Unschool and help me pay off the outstanding balances, check out this link!

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