Learnings from UNLEASH
In November, I had the privilege of traveling to Shezhen, China to participate in the 2019 UNLEASH Innovation Lab. UNLEASH gathers 1,000 young people from around the world annually to collaborate on solutions to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I was selected to work on SDG4: Quality Education.
UNLEASH was an incredible experience. I learned so much about myself, about innovation, and about education. But, most important to me at this moment in my journey, UNLEASH ended up being an amazing laboratory in which to test out and elaborate on my ideas about growth culture in education.
Within our SDG track, we were divided into teams, and my team was a remarkable group of five professionals. We are from different countries (Ghana, Ecuador, India, and the United States) and industries (microbiology, filmmaking, business consulting, engineering, education), and our diversity alone made the 10-day program an extraordinary learning experience.
Our team chose to focus on the challenge of changing teacher practice in rural India. Significant progress has been made in India (and many other places around the world) on access to education (making sure kids are actually attending school). However, the quality of instruction--focused mainly on rote learning--often limits students’ access to academic and professional opportunities later in life. Efforts have been made to shift teachers to more concept-based approaches but have had little effect.
Our solution was video-based peer learning communities. I poured everything I’ve learned about growth culture over the past 18 months into the prototype of our solution. Our program included the skill-building typical of teacher professional development, but it also involved teachers identifying what would be challenging about implementing the new skills, uncovering the assumptions they were making related to those challenges, and testing their assumptions with experiments.
At the end of the 10-day program, we pitched our idea to all the other participants who had been working on SDG4 as well as to a panel of judges. Our pitch went fine, but I wanted a redo. I knew we could have done better. And this is what I told people after it was over. “It was fine, but I wish we could have another try.”
After repeating this reflection several times to several different people, something dawned on me. While what I was saying was true, it was not the headline I wanted to take away from my experience at UNLEASH. Instead, I shifted my focus to another reflection, which was also true and gave me much more energy than my “we did fine, but we could have done better” mantra.
My second reflection, the one I’m holding onto, was this: I learned so much from the process of framing our problem, developing our idea, and crafting our pitch. Here are my top three learnings about growth culture in education:
The power of peer learning communities: The concept of peer learning communities for teachers is one that resonates with people regardless of their background or context. Everyone seems to instinctively understand that connection with other people is an important component of any meaningful learning experience.
Theory is helpful in design, but not as much in sales: I love growth culture theory. I love the concepts of home, edge, and groove. I love how the Immunity to Change process helps people identify and grapple with the assumptions that might be holding them back. I could go on and on. And at UNLEASH, I did. I focused on these theories and concepts with my team and in our pitch. But other people don’t light up about all this the way I do. I learned that I need to find new entry points into this conversation that take it out of the world of abstract ideas and into the world of the very real challenges people face day-to-day.
Progress over perfection: There were a million times during the Innovation Lab that I wanted to do more “research” or find more “best practices” to inform our design. (I love building out my theoretical and conceptual frameworks--see #2 above). But we were forced to move forward even when our work wasn’t perfect. I needed that push. I needed to feel what it was like to put something out there that I knew could be better and still get valuable feedback on it. I needed that because it’s what I’m going to have to do a whole lot more of in the coming year.
I recently heard someone describe their experience with growth culture as one that shifted them from being a “knower” to a “learner.” And perhaps my most important takeaway from my time at UNLEASH is that I can make that shift, too.