In July, I had the privilege of being one of the opening speakers for the Tales of Transformation: Sharing Stories of Deeper Learning conference. The event featured presentations from three districts from each of the eight regional educational cooperatives sharing their experiences with deeper learning that can be replicated across the Commonwealth.
I feel like I was brought back to my home state three years ago to help Kentucky along the path of expanding deeper learning and creating more engaging educational experiences for all of our public school students. There are generations of educators who have been focused on deeper learning in Kentucky. Its roots go back to the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.
Deeper learning experiences go beyond just memorization or learning to do a repetitive task and require us to demonstrate a higher-level set of skills. Deeper learning certainly touches on and requires “core” content knowledge such as reading, writing, mathematics, science or social studies – but it also means that we go beyond just the basics and use that knowledge to solve a real problem or create something new and important.
Over the years, we have had thousands of educators creating vibrant learning experiences for their students, yet those opportunities are not available to all of our students – especially those who are from traditionally underserved and marginalized groups. One of the common arguments you hear from adults against the focus on deeper learning is, “These kids aren’t ready for that kind of learning. We need to focus on the basics.”
If we deny our students access to these kinds of meaningful learning experiences, we become complicit to a system that has denied opportunity to people for generations. These kinds of deep, rich learning experiences are good for every child, especially for children who too often have been given shallow, test preparation-only learning experiences.
If we want deeper, more vibrant learning experiences to spread faster in Kentucky, we must create the same kind of deep, meaningful learning experiences for the adults in the education system that we want to see for our young people. Too often, our professional learning experiences for our educators are also shallow. We must intentionally create those deeper learning experiences for adults to see and experience what it looks like, so they can create those kinds of experiences for their students.
For teachers to begin creating this kind of deep and engaging learning environment for their students, it does not require any new policy or statute to be enacted. We just need different practices in place with our students, and our educators need support, motivation and professional learning to support this shift.
This type of learning is why most of our educators got into teaching in the first place. We just need to rekindle the spirit that brought many of them into education. That is the fun part. Do not wait for anybody to give you permission to do it.
For our principals and superintendents, I ask you to support educators who have the motivation and skills to bring about this type of learning and support it. There is an opportunity here for something to look different for our students. If nobody tries anything, nothing will change.