Learner-Centered
Bright Spots to Celebrate During a Challenging Year—Remarkable Collaboration Bridging Distances
by
Devin Vodicka
In a particularly challenging year we recognize remarkable collaboration and celebrate the many brilliant efforts of educators who are empowering students to shine as changemakers
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Winter can be a dark and cold season and many cultures have traditions that incorporate lights in their celebrations at this time of year. In this particularly challenging year, this is an especially important time to focus on the brilliance of bright spots that inspire and illuminate the path ahead. As the COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many aspects of our lives, education has been a particularly critical and complex endeavor this past year. Just as we can be inspired by the bright lights of the season, we can similarly celebrate the many brilliant efforts of educators who are empowering students to shine as changemakers. 


One of our core values at Altitude Learning is collaboration. We believe that social connectedness is fundamental for authentic learning and our organizational structures and systems are designed to promote meaningful collaboration across individuals and teams. When we think about student success in a learner-centered context, we orient to our Impact Framework which focuses on outcomes tied to agency, collaboration, and problem-solving (click here for more about how we think about “Measuring What Matters”). In terms of bright spots, I have never seen a year where so many have been eager to connect and collaborate with us on the journey to accelerate the shift to learner-centered education for all. As a result of these productive collaborative efforts, students are better served and better equipped for success. 

Learner-centered collaborations in an era of distancing

One of the first collaborative efforts that became apparent was immediate connectedness across our partner schools. During the beginning stages of the pandemic, we hosted numerous conversations where educators shared perspectives, insights, questions, and resources to help navigate through very unfamiliar territory. We have also seen particularly inspiring collaboration with Higher Ground Education, a network of Montessori schools that includes the schools that we launched and formerly operated. Many Montessori schools across the country were perplexed when considering how to adapt a 100+ year old model focused on physical materials and teacher observation to an all-virtual model. However, with the help of Higher Ground’s high-quality digital Montessori curriculum housed in the Altitude Learning platform, they were able to find creative ways to support learners in an otherwise challenging time.


In the spring we also saw the emergence of a coalition of learner-centered organizations to create “A New Way Forward,” a collaboration that provides free events and resources for educators, parents, and students who are ready to explore new and powerful ways to think about education and learning. Together we have put on two virtual summits and we are now planning a third summit. Many of our partner schools, including Paramount Unified School District, El Segundo Unified School District, and Peninsula School District, contributed to these gatherings to share lessons learned and plans for the future. 


Over the summer our collaboration with Getting Smart continued in the form of a joint project called the Texas Learning Exchange (TxLx) which has provided an opportunity to create a network of school leaders from districts throughout the state, generate resources such as an Instructional Support Guide and an Open Educational Resources Library, and now, identify models to inspire continued improvements in Texas and beyond. 


Another inspiring collaborative effort was the launch of ‘This is Our Chance,’ a 3-week virtual film festival focused on the intersection of Race, Education, and Youth Empowerment. Embark Education was a co-host along with other organizations including ‘Education Reimagined’ and ‘HundrED’. Hosting these virtual discussion dens created opportunities to interact with individuals whose experience, expertise and opinions may be new to us in order to build community and grow our individual and collective understanding and spark sustained change in communities and beyond. 

Finally, we launched our inaugural Educator Institute, a 5-week synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunity for educators, instructional coaches and leaders focused on instructional practices that support academic, social, and emotional learning and how to apply them in distance and in-person learning. The culminating virtual Exhibition of Learning created by each of the participants was inspiring—providing clear evidence of how their new learning from the Institute and weekly collaboration had been applied to their individual learning environments and the impact of this on their students. We are looking forward to hosting the next Educator Institute in January and a one-day deep dive on assessment in February. 

To learn more and register for one of our Educator Institutes visit our calendar of events here. 

Together, we can achieve so much more than is possible on our own. This is one of the reasons that we continue to embrace movement in the direction of a learner-centered ecosystem. We are adding to our list of strategic alliances to share our formalized partnerships and we look forward to continued additions as we grow our network of collaborators. 


I have long believed that relationships are fundamental in any transformational change. While the pandemic has been undeniably challenging, we can take great comfort in the bright spots that are emerging through these collaborative efforts and growing networks. I am so grateful to be connected with so many inspiring, curious, learner-centered individuals and organizations. Thanks for being a bright spot and for lighting the way forward. 


With Gratitude,

Devin Vodicka