Lessons from Kentucky Deeper Learning Symposium to inspire a strong start to the school year

By Devin Vodicka

It was an absolute thrill to attend and participate in the Deeper Learning Symposium in Kentucky last week in Louisville.  Most of the attendees were teachers from Jefferson County Public Schools and I was so impressed with their engagement and optimism throughout the event.  While it will be impossible to capture the spirit of the event in a blog post, I will share some of the highlights in the hopes that it inspires a strong start to the school year. 

Kelsey Payne, my colleague from Learner-Centered Collaborative, facilitated a powerful session about how to incorporate learner-centered strategies into the start of the new school year.  In this interactive experience, teachers first defined “learner–centered,” then jigsawed articles and then brainstormed ways to promote learner agency and a strong sense of connectedness and collaboration.  Ideas such as empathy interviews, “love boards,” and co-developing community agreements were some of the favorites. 

The general sessions at the conference included performances from students as well as several keynote speakers. One of the speakers was Dr. Eric Chagala, principal of Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA) in the Vista Unified School District, and he shared the story of transforming the school through implementation of human-centered design thinking.  Having been in Vista Unified behind the scenes as Superintendent in the early phases of the change almost a decade ago, it was encouraging to hear about the enduring impact of the hard work of the students, staff, and community.  For more about VIDA, be sure to watch this video which provides some insights into the amazing school.

Dr. Kaleb Rashad, co-founder of the Center for Love and Justice at High Tech High, also gave an inspiring talk where he shared strategies for projects, visible learning, and student voice.  These elements combine to form a framework for anti-racist deeper learning where students learn to read their world, love and know themselves, and have standing in the community.  

My keynote speech included a brief rationale for why we need to change to learner-centered education and then offered four lessons-learned: listen to the learners, new models require new metrics, relationships are everything, and we can all be leaders.  

Thanks to Eric Chagala for this photo (source here)

It was humbling and energizing to be a part of this incredible event.  After all of the challenges of the pandemic, I continue to be impressed and inspired by the dedication and optimism of educators who relentlessly push themselves to better serve all students.  

There were many, many more profound and powerful learning experiences and I encourage you to check out #JCPSDL for more posts.  

Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.

Use #LCLeadership to share your ideas

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