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Schenker: Deeper learning, leading are keys to reimagining education (Part 2)

In this Q&A, educator Jonah Schenker shares how he his thoughts on reimagining schools and education. (Part 1 discusses a new approach.)

5 min read

EducationEducational Leadership

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Jonah Schenker, superintendent of Ulster BOCES in New York, was the guest for the recent Closing the gap: Better learning recovery through deeper leadership” webinar (now free on-demand), and SmartBrief talked to him a few weeks later. This is part two of that conversation. (Did you miss part one?)

SmartBrief:  Let’s talk about Deeper Learning. Why is this a priority for you? How do you see it helping to drive learning recovery efforts?

headshot of Johan Schenker for article on embrace tech

Schenker: Deeper Learning, to me, is a catch-all for the shift toward centering all those skills and dispositions we’ve been talking about, along with some other things, including what we call Deeper Leading. Classroom teachers need to be able to create the environment in which their students can engage in Deeper Learning, and leaders will have to create those conditions for their teachers first. There’s a leadership strand and a learning strand.

When we think about these profound moments where we’ve learned something life-changing — those moments where trajectories shift, where “aha!” happens — we can look at the conditions we were in to see how those moments happened. Just as we can ask about the skills that the jobs of the future will require and get the same answers from all over the world, we have a shared body of answers about the conditions that lead to “aha!” moments. People say those moments happened when they were working on something meaningful and of service to their community or world. They will tell you they had mentors or that they were allowed to fail. We know we need to foster those conditions to create Deeper Learning.

Deeper Leading is modeling those experiences for adults so that we can actualize it and create a path forward to creating the conditions for students to have more of those “aha!” experiences. 

That is where we can begin to redefine the classroom. 

When we have looked across the country to see where this does exist, it wasn’t necessarily in classroom settings. It was happening in art rooms and band and chorus rooms, on sports teams, at events and club meetings. It was happening in environments where students came together to produce and celebrate performances of learning. How do we look at the traditional classroom and begin moving toward creating these experiences in that context? Our hope for kids is to create these magical moments in their lives that they can carry with them.

SmartBrief: Ulster BOCES is hosting a Deeper Learning conference in New York in July. The theme is “Leading for Deeper Learning.” Can you talk about what that means to you and how you make it a reality in your day-to-day work?

Schenker: Deeper Learning and the competencies underneath it — content expertise, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, effective communication, self-directed learning and an academic mindset — are our foundational windows into theories of change and theories of action.

The conference was a result of our long-standing partnership with High Tech High and years of attending and presenting at their Deeper Learning conference. We recognized that their work is amazing and that there was an opportunity to expand the focus of this work beyond the interactions between teachers and students. That is where the magic happens. 

For this to happen at scale, leaders need to create the conditions in schools that allow teachers to do this work. So we began these conversations by asking, “What does leading for Deeper Learning look like?” That was the birth of the global conferences on Deeper Learning. There’s one in China and others in Japan, Colombia and Boston. 

The programming for Deeper Leading New York will include “Deep Dives” — four-and-a-half-hour sessions where attendees are grouped into teams so that they can experience the same sort of collaborative learning we hope to create for students. 

The conference will be centered on relationships and student voice and will be bookended by two keynotes. Author and Columbia Teachers College professor Dr. Chris Emdin is starting the conference, and disability activist Hannah Gallivan is closing it out with the student perspective. Throughout the event, we will have student ambassadors taking part in every Deep Dive and Den Talk, both as participants and as partners who will offer in-the-moment critiques.

There will also be celebrations of the Deeper Learning that is happening in pockets all over the country. Celebrations of Learning or Presentations of Learning are about making learning public. They are about moving past a bulletin board and elevating all work — and, most importantly, the process of learning behind it. They are about engaging with experts and partners in hopes of receiving authentic feedback and generating reflection and refinement. Our ultimate goal is to celebrate projects that serve the community and world. 

The Celebration of Learning is a primary example of Deeper Learning in action. We often talk about project-based learning, but the project is the least important part of the process. The most important part is the elevation of voice through protocols that allow the work to be celebrated. So at the end of the process we’ll come together for this party that we’re just happening to call Deeper Leading New York.


Read part one of this conversation.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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