Looking Forward #3

We are far into this “stay-at-home” life, with some states extending the orders into May and a few others looking at partial openings. School openings are questionable right now in most states. This raises a multitude of questions.

What about the lost school year? What about kids who were already falling behind? What about kids that weren’t provided a laptop or don’t have internet access to participate in distance learning? How will schools manage the outcomes of this hybrid home schooling model?

It’s not the end of the world as some would have you think. At the very least it is sparking innovative thinking and rational discourse on what is really important right now.

The pandemic response of closing schools led many school districts and state boards of education to rethink the mainstay principles of tracking student progress via grading as well as how to address grade level coverage of curriculum. State and local education officials vary widely in their responses.

Ideas/plans floating around include giving all students A’s, issuing pass/fail marks or counting these past few months as enrichment, not work done for credit. Some want students to attend summer school and others are waving attendance requirements. The word scrambling comes to mind.

How do you solve a problem that was created by the very nature of schooling itself?

None of these questions would present a problem if we shifted our school paradigm concerning grade levels and grading students. The issue is only present when you feel compelled to give students a grade. It’s present when you feel compelled to hold them back a grade level or push them thorough with interventions when they have not yet mastered the arbitrary grade level material.

Young people can learn without grades or the artificially imposed age-batching practice of grade leveling.

Sadly, some are still not convinced.

What are ways in which we can facilitate, observe and report on learning without using a flawed, inequitable and damaging system like grading?

What are ways in which we can group young people for learning experiences that are not based strictly on age?

Teachers are asking themselves these questions right now. They are trying to figure out how to transition and then meld the two realities of regular classroom school with school at a distance, to finalize student progress for this school year. It’s challenging to say the least.

I hear teachers sharing their stories of Zoom meetings with various age groups that include little brothers and sisters joining as well as one on one communications back and forth between students and their teachers. In general teachers, children and their families are going with the flow. Day by day, moment by moment, they are all doing a difficult and incredible job. As stated earlier, this is uncharted territory and we have much to learn from it.

Interestingly enough, MindShift posted this on Twitter recently, (ideas from Larry Ferlazzo), to help teachers navigate this time and it’s good advice.

Pandemic response

In my book, Learning Unleashed, I shared the importance of remembering the early childhood days of curiosity and intrinsic self-directed learning. Schooling proposes a different kind of learning than curious self-direction. It shifts the learner to a tightly constricted box that is a one size fits all approach.

This pandemic “shut down” response sheds light on what is really important and how we might transition back to classrooms next year with a newly developed sense of purpose.

For as long as I can remember, at least in my 30 plus years as an educator, the issues of grading and grade levels are on the “do not touch ” list of school reforms. The practice of grading is one of the sacred cows that we talk about but can’t seem to reach a consensus. The idea of grouping children based solely on their age is rarely questioned.

The idea of developmental and interest grouping instead of grade levels by age, is not even on school radars. Many credible and well respected educational visionaries speak on this regularly. Sir Ken Robinson is an example.

We listen and do little to change.

What will it take to make changes to these unproductive practices?

Perhaps a forced closing of all the schools in the country could set the change in motion.  It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention.

Maybe Pandemics are the Mother of Innovation.


My Photo taken at the Musee Olympique in Lusanne, Switzerland. The screen says CHANGE as my Grandson examines the information. Seems logical for a 16 month old!

Come back for Looking Forward # 4, the last in the series to celebrate the graduating class of 2020!


Looking Forward #2

We are still in the uncharted territory of a massive nationwide shutdown that has never been implemented before, at least not in my lifetime. Regardless of one’s political views or personal beliefs, this is devastating on many levels.

The loss of thousands of lives being the most tragic, as with any pandemic, places many in the heartache of unanticipated death of loved ones. There is never a more scary result than this. It is truly a sad time.

Other consequences as a result of this quarantine have left many unemployed, suicidal and hopeless. Those that are the most vulnerable to poverty, sickness and despair are suffering like no other group or individual. They are in survival mode right now.

Those who can still work from home, or as brave essential workers on the front lines still collect paychecks and can provide for themselves and their families. The stay-at-home directives are an inconvenience for some and for others a luxury of sorts. They are not as financially impacted as many filing for unemployment or those with no source of income at all.

It is unfathomable to think we can go on like this much longer. It’s not the way it’s suppose to be. We have to understand both the risks and the safety measures as an interwoven dilemma. We live our lives walking the delicate balance between both. It’s always been that way. Yet, in a world divided by ideology instead of reason, intellect and compassion, we seems to be at odds, or at least that’s what social media tells us.

One particular challenge area is how we are educating our children during this crisis. In Part 1 of this blog series, I elaborated on those challenges and our best efforts to meet them. Take a minute to read it if you haven’ t done so yet.

Since most schools will not resume for the duration of this school year, what does that mean for our children, for their teachers, for the system itself? Public school systems fare better since they are funded through various public sources. Private and religious schools are in a different reality. Home Schooling families carry on with adjustments.

In my last blog entry, I floated the idea of learning valuable schooling lessons from this pandemic response. Ones that could inform the future of education for students around the country. Crisis situations, while difficult and sometimes overwhelming, can also provide an opportunity for re-evaluating basic services, the status quo, the institutional constructs that once bound us to a one size fits all approach. Innovation often rises from the ashes of crisis situations.

Innovation is not necessarily welcomed by the faint at heart. Most early adopters of innovation do so at their own risk but they are often deep thinkers, doers instead of talkers, and most importantly, fearless explorers. Many teachers fit that category. Given the opportunity, individually and collectively, they rise to the occasion and innovate.

Teachers are innovating right now. They are navigating uncharted waters every day. They are discovering what to keep and what to let go, what’s important and what is irrelevant or unnecessary.  It’s not their normal school routine and they are working so hard to balance once considered “essential” activities with the inability to pull some of these off at a distance. They have discovered a new way of working with their students.

School will resume eventually. How will what we’ve learned about necessary and unnecessary carry over to next year? What can we let go? What can we do differently? Will we go back to the way things were before this pandemic? When teachers have flexibility during this time and young people are still learning, what can we can take away from this experience? What should we consider when looking forward?

The possibilities are endless. We can aim high. The view is exhilarating.


My Photo looking up from a boat on Sydney Harbor Bay Australia 2009 seems appropriate. Being in the right place at the right time.

For the record: These possibilities should not include students having to repeat the grade level, attend summer school, or in any other way be punished or stigmatized for a pandemic response imposed by adults. If anything, we should rethink grade levels and the harm that does to a growing young mind. That’s next in this series by the way. Stay tuned.







Looking Forward – #1

Looking forward to what?

When things get back to normal. When our lives are not sequestered. When we are free to leave the house again and visit with family and friends. When fear and loss is replaced with hope and life.

All of us are looking forward to these things.

For those of us who advocate for educational freedom, our list includes a few additional items, especially given that schools are closed right now and distance learning is happening.

What are we looking forward to?

  • The day when all teachers are free to facilitate learning without restrictive system constructs.
  • The day when all parents are free to access educational options.
  • The day when all children are free to learn unleashed from school labels and artificial barriers.

What’s happening?

Teachers are working from home to provide “distance learning” for their students. This looks very different from state to state, zip code to zip code but there are some commonalities. No state tests. No pressure for grading. No need for elaborate classroom management strategies and no getting sent to the office. This is hard work for sure and a steep learning curve for many. Communication and continued relationship building are emphasized and most teachers and kids are engaged and enjoying it.

Parents (some as teachers), are juggling home schedules that include whatever distance learning the school is providing, with their own work from home requirements. There are parents who say they feel ill-prepared and under-qualified, but are rising to the challenge. They are realizing that their kids are learning in spite of what they perceive as less than optimal circumstances.

Children are missing their school friends, many missing their teachers, and most spending a lot more (structured and unstructured) time with their parents. For the most part kids are enjoying the new found freedom that learning at home provides.

Homeschooling families are plugging away as usual, but with limited “out of house” adventures and community co-ops with their friends. They are sharing “at home” and “online” ideas with teachers and other parents who find themselves in a sort of “hybrid” homeschooling model.

What can we learn?

What we learn during this time with regard to conventional school system structures, has the potential to shape an illuminating and liberating future for learners, teachers and parents alike.

What will  “getting an education” look like after this particular time, or in ten years, twenty years, and beyond? The possibilities are endless and exhilarating if we see this time through the lens of innovation, opportunity and fearless exploration.

It’s innovation that shapes our future. It’s thinking out of the box that opens up ways of learning that we never thought possible. It’s shifting the “industrial” model of hours in seat and grade level curriculum to a new and far reaching understanding of authentic learning. It’s thinking differently about how we DO school.

It takes a VISION of the future.

Imagine a time when teachers are not tethered to a union mentality working for the system, but can work for themselves, set their own parameters, salaries and working conditions. Parents and students would seek them out for their expertise and rapport with young people. Teachers could band together in their communities and elsewhere to provide their services. There are multiple ways to make this affordable, especially when parents have state and federal funding follow their child instead of a school system.

There are trade offs with this model as with any venture. Entrepreneurial types do well. Those who want others to manage their profession, ultimately live with the limited choices that decision brings. Those limitations are too lengthy to list here as one would imagine, but here is a recent example below.

Alfie Kohn
I’ve been asked my reaction to schools’ having temporarily stopped grading students because of online instruction challenges due to the pandemic. Hmm. What would your reaction be to news that the CIA had ordered a brief moratorium on waterboarding prisoners due to a drought?
9:51 AM · Apr 5, 2020


There is much more to say about looking forward in education. This is just the first in a series so stay tuned.

There is a grand picture on the horizon if we have the VISION to see it!


My own photo from Newport. R.I. 2010