Listening To Learners And Their Families

I hosted two conversations over the past couple weeks that presented windows into how different individuals have historically interacted with the education system—each with significant implications for the future schools and learning programs we build.

One thing that struck me in both conversations is the assumptions that are so easy to make about individuals that are all too often false.

In the first, Nitzan Pelman talked about how she finished high school unable to write a sentence that made sense to most people—and the assumptions that people had made about her along the way that contributed to her academic abilities. Sisanda Ntlantsana told me her story of not graduating from university in South Africa because of financial hardship after her mother passed away—and what that cost imposed on the jobs available to her when she relocated to the United States of America.

In the second, Johns Hopkins Professor Annette Anderson spoke about how many Black families who are not sending their children to public schools right now—even when they are open in-person—are making that decision because they feel that the schools haven’t served them well historically, they lack trust in public institutions because of the rapidly shifting information they have received about the pandemic, and they have concerns around economic hardship and racism that pre-date the pandemic and George Floyd’s killing.

But amidst these challenging starts to the stories, all three gave me significant hope for the road ahead.

Nitzan told the story of how who she knew helped her change her life. She’s now founded a non-profit, Climb Hire, to allow individuals like Sisanda to not only learn new skills, but also to change their life trajectories by building a community of “Climbers” around them to unlock opportunities. The design is incredibly clever. Listen to the full conversation to learn more here and what it helped Sisanda accomplish.

And Annette, who is the deputy director of the new Center for Safe and Healthy Schools at Johns Hopkins and one of three cofounders of the eSchool+ Initiative around ensuring equity in schools in the pandemic response, shared how many Black families are only now realizing the real power they have to force change in districts—by not sending their children. And that many won’t send their children back to in-person schooling until trust is rebuilt, which will take time. But as a result of this, Annette shared that districts seem to be responding. Many, for example, are now offering virtual schools that they never otherwise would have launched. She foresees schools making more changes in the future to be responsive—changes that they would have resisted in the past. I highly recommend watching the full conversation here to understand the hope she has for the future and what we can build.

More listening

Listening to others is becoming a theme of mine for 2021. In that vein, here are two other highlights from the past couple weeks.

1)    LinkedIn Survey Contains Important Insights, But Digging Beneath Averages Required To Benefit. My latest at Forbes here details an important survey from LinkedIn and SimpsonScarborough that uncovers facets around adults’ increased interest in education and online learning since the start of the pandemic. But it also shows why you have to look beneath the reported averages and aggregated totals of adults to gain a full understanding. Not doing so could cause institutions to lump people together who are seeking more education for fundamentally different sets of reasons, rather than listening to the causal reasons and understanding different individuals’ struggling circumstances. Read the piece to learn more about the opportunities and challenges in surveys like these.

2)    Good Jobs in Bad Times. Our latest Future U podcast features Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, as we detail how the pandemic has dramatically changed the outlook for new college graduates—and discuss the implications.

As always, you can follow my latest writings, interviews, podcasts, and more on my personal website here. And thanks for reading, listening, and writing.