By Paul Leather, C!E's Director of the Interstate Learning Community
This blog post originally appeared on Future Focused Education's blog on Monday, December 6, 2021.
As the sun comes up over the green forested hills and ignites the fall colors in the leaves of the trees surrounding my house in Concord, New Hampshire, I am writing this post to you. As you have entered another school year, one with continuing challenges, it has been edifying to see how you have kept the well-being of the children in your care top of mind. Although some students have become disconnected from learning over the last year, you have learned new ways to connect with them and their families.
This year, many of you have answered the call for a new way of teaching, through greater engagement with students and community through capstones and Graduate Profiles. In doing this, you are addressing deep fault lines within your communities, reaching out to those children who have so often found themselves on the other side of the chasm. To support this new way of teaching, wise leaders from your communities and the NM Public Education Department gathered during the darkest days of the pandemic to determine a more fair and equitable approach to learning in your state.
YOU HAVE LISTENED DEEPLY TO YOUR COMMUNITIES
First, they extensively interviewed children, families, educators, community leaders, from Zuni to Logan, from Cuba to Las Cruces. Emerging from those interviews were the voices of children, parents, Indigenous nations, and rural communities. Those voices rang out with stories of inequity, racism, of children not being seen or heard or understood. The songs of these people echoed across the land, in the canyons and the valleys, from the rooftops and the mountain tops, they sang a song demanding to be heard, of connections lost from culture and language, and ways of being.
The wise leaders coalesced around a statement of hope, underlying the pain they heard in those voices:
“To address the education system’s history of structural and inherent racism, New Mexico’s high school students need a more expansive learning and assessment system that honors their cultural and linguistic strengths while providing feedback and other engaging opportunities allowing them to take ownership of their learning, build strong identities and see a rich future ahead."
So many of you have heard the challenges embedded within these words. In response, you have joined a Community of Practice to examine what it would mean to paint a picture of the expectations your communities hold for your children. You created a Portrait of a Graduate, and built a new pathway to learning, the Capstone process, where each child can embrace their identity and their future through deepening connections with you and those in their communities.
YOU ARE COMMITTED TO THE CHALLENGE
This is not easy work, not when you work every day to re-instill the routines of learning in schools for those children who have returned to your buildings. Not when we still do not have a vaccine for all children, and you find yourself quarantining for days on end, while continuing to teach, either in person or remotely.
People from across the country are interested in how you are going about this work, something Future Focused Education is addressing deeply this year in the Community of Practice. You have refused to define yourself strictly by state test results and the deficit thinking that those tend to offer. Instead, your different approach includes a thoughtful Graduate Profile model that includes something you don’t always see elsewhere—a launch pad as a basis to support the rising graduate.
Not only are you looking at deeper kinds of assessments—capstones designed to address the whole child within the school environment—you are also focused on ways to increase their success as they become adults in their community. Through burgeoning internships and work-based learning, you are reframing your schools as community development hubs, something they were always meant to be.
As educators, you have always recognized that children are the future and so you must always seek to help them rise. Your hope is that when New Mexico students graduate by going through the Capstone process, you will have fostered the growth of the whole child and prepared students to take their rightful place in their communities, something youth and their families desperately want and desire.
It is the love that you have for this work, the love you hold for the children in your classes, who have suffered so much from an imperfect system that was not built with them in mind, that brings you to persevere, to carry on and to try this new way forward.
YOU ARE A MODEL TO THE NATION
You may wonder why I, from so far away, am writing this message to you today. Because of your tireless efforts in developing community-based Portraits of a Graduate and your fearless capstone designs uniquely based on addressing systemic inequities, the nation is following your progress.
This includes in the halls of Congress, where your leaders have shared your innovative work with staffers of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Appropriations Committees, who are hoping that innovative new ways of schooling will emerge that will be more wholistic in serving children and better connected to community values, which might inform the next reauthorization of the federal Education Act.
Maybe this time around the New Mexico example—your example—can help crack the code of inequities in education across the nation. As your efforts, skills, and capacities grow with the Community of Practice, the stories of your learnings and your students’ success will follow you.
Thank you, New Mexico Educators, for doing your part in a great cause. You are providing a model for all of us as you work to make your public schools increasingly relevant and rewarding for New Mexico’s children and families from all backgrounds, not just the privileged few.