TLI Virtual Keynote Speaker Symposium 2022

TLI Keynote Series speakers discuss the pandemic after-math as an opportunity for change

The world of education is not the same as it was pre-pandemic. Experts argue now is an ideal time to implement changes to educational practices and spaces to ensure schools offer better opportunities for students to thrive as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

Among those experts are Will Richardson and Homa Tavangar, co-founders of the Big Question Institute, who view this post-pandemic era as perfect for bringing innovative teaching methods to the classroom. On April 29 they presented “Passing through the Pandemic Portal: Who Will We Choose to Become as Individuals and as Institutions?” at the Technology Leadership Institute’s Virtual Keynotes Series, hosted by the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center at Southern Westchester BOCES.

A former public school educator for 22 years, Mr. Richardson, has become an internationally known writer and speaker leading the discussion on the “intersection of social online learning networks, education, and systematic change.”

Ms. Tavangar’s work has focused on themes of “culture, innovation, leadership, global citizenship and global competence, and deep diversity, equity, belonging and inclusion.” She has worked with Fortune 50 companies as well as K-12 schools around the world.

“Our question is how might we lead school communities to design systems, structure, practices, and pedagogies that move us toward greater relevance, wellness and justice,” Mr. Richardson said.

“As we frame this conversation, it is important to offer context,” Ms. Tavangar said. “We are in a historically challenging moment in the world.”

The co-founders were inspired by Indian author Arundhati Roy, whose reflections on the global pandemic led her to conclude:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers, and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

“We want you to think about this pandemic portal,” Ms. Tavangar said. “What are we carrying with us through this portal? It is not just the pandemic. There is this racial recognition, this war, the recognition of extremes of wealth and poverty. Democracy is under siege, an infodemic in which it his hard to discover the truth. The climate crisis is here.”“There is this crisis of mental health,” she continued. “Our brains are not built for all of this. Reports have shown that pandemic anxiety has not gone away.”

All of this is overwhelming, to educators, to parents and students. However, finding solutions to guide us to a better place, is not without hope, Ms. Tavangar assured.

“Going back is not the optimal goal,” Ms. Tavangar said of the way schools functioned before the pandemic.

To that end, Mr. Richardson said, the goal now is to figure out who we, as educators, are and who we will become.

“It’s heavy. It sounds hyperbolic. This is a big undertaking, a big challenge,” he said.

The two shared what they feel is the starting point for change: asking questions. They outline several questions for consideration in their eBook, ‘9 Big Questions Schools Must Answer to Avoid Going ‘Back to Normal.’

The questions they ask are:      

       What is sacred?

       What is learning?

       Where is the power?

       Why do we (fill in the blank)?

       Who is unheard?

       Are we literate?

       Are we OK?

       Are we connected?

       What’s next?

During an interactive session at the event, they asked participants to answer the question, what is sacred? Several respondents said relationships. Others shared: collaboration, rigor, mentors, safety, community, and SEL.

Focusing in on the question about what learning is, Mr. Richardson said as an educator it was something he never thought about. Now, he said, he’s concluded that humans by their very nature are learners.

“The challenge in school is that there is a dissonance there,” he said. “We can’t not learn. It’s how we evolve. It’s how we grow. The problem in schools, these are not natural places of learning. It’s a contrived, unnatural space.”

“What are the conditions required for deep and powerful learning,” was another question participants were asked to consider. Answers included: a safe learning environment, fun, social, shows relevance in their lives, passion, and feedback.

Mr. Richardson noted that no one answered this question with the reality of what schools look like today — students sitting in rows for 45-60 minutes while grades are emphasized.

Another important question Ms. Tavangar said must be considered is, “are we OK?” Or “what stands in the way of our well-being?”

“Once we understand the barriers, then we can address our collective wellness,” she said.

She suggested educators take inspiration from writer and teacher Margaret Wheatley, who created the concept of what she called “islands of sanity.”

“Within our own sphere of influence there is a lot we can do,” Ms. Tavangar said, including “play more, tell different stories, grade and test less, create space for time and reflection and do work that matters,” all items that could be placed on the aforementioned island.

Two new questions the speakers said they have added to their eBook, include ‘what is your story?’ and ‘what is success?’

Admittedly, confronting these challenges, and more importantly, finding solutions for them is not an easy task.“This process is a marathon,” Ms. Tavangar said. “It’s mindset building. All those entry points create a beautiful tapestry of our school and district.”

“Every one of these questions is now framed as a design question,” Ms. Tavangar said. “We want to practice our hope every day.”

The LHRIC TLI series concludes on May 20th with the capstone Tech Expo event at the Edith Macy Conference Center.  For details and registration, please visit: https://it.lhric.org/tli_technology_leadership_institute.