Strengthening models at the intersection of equity and the future of learning

Remake Learning Director Sunanna Chand reflects on a recent Network gathering focused on equity.

For two full days in mid-January, 25 individuals from nonprofits, schools, museums, libraries, higher education institutions and more came together. I’m proud to say this type of cross-sector collaboration happens often via Remake Learning—people emerge from silos, find points of similarity across difference, and commit to work together for a brighter future for our region’s youth.

But this gathering was a bit different.

First, and most importantly, we spent that entire time focused on equity. We concentrated on our own identities and understandings. We reflected on our communities. And we considered how the systems in which we operate influence the inequity we see in the world around us. Skilled facilitators from our own community, Dr. Gretchen Generett, Tiffany Wilhelm, and Michelle King, led the conversation, bringing expertise, research, humanity, and kindness. As Tyler Samstag of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit described, “The facilitation was thoughtful. Pedagogically one piece clearly lead into next, which was obviously leading to something much larger.”

Second, the gathering was entirely comprised of professional development providers—people who often think about not just how to provide engaging, relevant, and equitable experiences to youth, but also to educators. They brought professional learning lesson plans and tuned them, collaborating with colleagues from across institutions, to bring an equity lens to their work in practical ways. As John Balash from the Entertainment Technology Center put it, “Right away the stuff we discussed can be applied tomorrow, which is really cool.”

The people in this group, collectively, influence thousands of educators via professional learning opportunities each year. This is powerful. As Jessica Webster of the Beaver County Innovation & Learning Consortium (BCILC) noted, “The more we infuse [these conversations and practices] as leaders, the more intentional we are about modeling it and making it part of our repertoire, the more likely it is that we will open the door to others to join the conversation. They’ll feel like we have that sense of empathy and non-judgement and true desire to make things better.” Similarly, Kelly Young of Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus reflected, “If this was transformative to participants as individuals, if it becomes a lifestyle, it could reverberate through our entire community.”

Third, it was long. As Gretchen said during the convening, “The work of equity takes exquisite intentionality.” We sat in community with each other for two full days, immersing ourselves in one another’s perspectives, communicating our struggles and successes, and having deep, authentic conversations. The number one struggle participants had with the workshop was about its length: not that it was too long, but that it was too short.

As the new Director of Remake Learning, this experience was inspiring for many reasons. It laid bare the work we must do to understand ourselves and our contexts in order to remake learning for a more just and equitable world. It also demonstrated plainly that there are many people willing to dedicate time and energy to this critical work. It built community across people that was less transactional and more transformative. And I have no doubt that it will create reverberations long after the time we spent together.

Michelle King offered this reflection on those reverberations: “When we are asked to think or speculate about the future, images of flying cars, living on Mars and fighting off zombie apocalypses are conjured up immediately. However, when we are asked to imagine a future that is compassionate, just and treats each life with dignity, our collective vision is silent. For me, this work is about manifesting the science fiction of a just and compassionate world by creating and supporting opportunities to practice equity, inclusion, justice, empathy and compassion. By forging a link between our present practices and our future aspirations, perhaps one day we will live an equitable and just Pittsburgh into reality.”

Why is this work important from a network perspective? As Chip Lindsay from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh said:
“There needs to be a critical mass of people that have similar experiences around thinking about systems, equity and diversity, cultural competence and awareness in order for change to happen. We’ve started that conversation and now have similar language that we can talk about in this community to create change.

It will be impossible to know what the ripple will be but you can know it will happen. Actions we take will motivate ourselves and motivate others to do the good work. By carefully constructing our own understanding, finding allies, coming together as a cadre, and being reflective in our practice, we have the ability to sense the larger scale of issues in our society and find those moments where we can nudge and push and cause big things to happen. It will start here but it doesn’t have to end here.”

It won’t end here: We as a network will continue to nudge and push to ensure that every learner, regardless of class, race, geography, gender or ability, has engaging, relevant experiences that help them thrive.

I will, however, end this blog post, and I couldn’t end it any other way than with a quote from Gretchen.

“People often wonder why we don’t have more allies in this work. Is it perhaps that we don’t have more models of them?”

25 models were strengthened over two days this month. I’m honored to be in community with them, and look forward to continuing these conversations in our work ahead.

Interested in supporting or participating in a future Remake Learning deep-dive equity workshop? Please contact Sunanna Chand, Director of Remake Learning:

Published January 30, 2018

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