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Schools Learn Too

Nidhi Hebbar and Yusuf Ahmad

by Yusuf Ahmad

Sept. 16, 2020

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How might we make it feel less scary for schools to try new things, thoughtfully and inclusively? 

Well before the pandemic, we kept running into a common theme: although many educators experiment, improvise, and try new things, most find themselves in contexts where doing so feels scary, discouraged, or too high-stakes.  We would often hear "What if we fail?" and "How can we be sure?"—questions that can stifle the creative work that is at the heart of teaching and learning.

These fears and constraints have compounded under the pressures of the ongoing pandemic. Uncertainty, growing awareness of systemic inequities, technological barriers, and disruptions to the social fabric of schools have made teaching, planning, and supporting students much harder.

But the current crisis also offers a unique opportunity. Decision making before the pandemic wasn't always inclusive—nondominant voices were often excluded. Testing constraints and budget cycles often limited flexible change—not to mention the myriad cultural, organizational, political, and resource challenges that schools have long grappled with.

Because the uncertainty of the pandemic doesn't allow for long-term planning, it offers an opportunity to try new things—to amplify efforts for bottom-up and grassroots innovation, for agile and adaptive planning.

Introducing the Suggestion Box

The Suggestion Box offers schools a toolkit for framing decisions in two simple sentences and using these sentences to involve teachers, students, and families in iterative planning amidst the current pandemic. To build trust and increase transparency, we’ve invited schools to use social media channels where their communities are already engaged (e.g., Instagram) to share their plans and solicit feedback. 

By sowing the seeds for naming and sharing decisions as experiments, we hope to cultivate experimental cultures that might influence our education systems well beyond our current crises. And by encouraging schools to leverage social media channels used by members of their community, we hope to make planning amidst uncertainty more inclusive.

You can find the toolkit and examples of how schools are using it here.

This is an experiment

In the true spirit of experimentation, we are testing a hypothesis here. We believe that if we de-stigmatize failure and create room for schools to learn, together with their communities, we might sow the seeds for more creative, equitable learning communities.  

Join Us!

We're working with school leaders around the US to test and iterate on this toolkit. If you're interested in getting involved, send an email to schoolslearntoo@mit.edu

Who are we?

This work is led by Nidhi Hebbar and Yusuf Ahmad with generous support from the Aspen Institute and the MIT Media Lab

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