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What's the Learning 401?

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Guest post by Jen Hetzel Silbert

At the close of a recent education speaker series event hosted by Brown University's Annenberg Institute of School Reform, guest Michael Cohen of Achieve said the following: "The most important thing communities can do is create safe spaces for conversation where we don't talk past but with each other."

This was a timely statement, as the room at the Rhode Island Foundation was filled with persons representing many different slices of the education reform conversation - persons for and against standardized tests and the Common Core, and persons of divergent opinions on how to ensure accountability, protect teacher autonomy, and increase student and parental engagement. But as Susan Lusi, Superintendent of Providence Public Schools, pointed out in her comments to Cohen, "We shouldn't let the rhetoric outstrip the reality."

This left me wondering, what is the reality? And how might one teacher's, or administrator's, or parent's, or student's reality be different from the next?

My guess: very.

Our individual experiences shape our current reality of what's working and what needs to be improved in public education -- not just at a national level, but locally as well. We are each a treasure trove of stories that shape who we are, what we believe, and why.

I'm a mom, so you can imagine the stories I've amassed about learning -- not just from raising my own kids, but also from my own childhood. These stories, stitched together, paint a rich and illustrative picture of what powerful learning is and can be. I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge buried in other people's stories, and the clarity we might co-create if we just sat down to share them.

Why not start now? And why not start by relying on a method so simple and childlike in design we readily underestimate its power and influence as grown adults. In fact, this method is so good it's been around since humans first discovered they could talk.

Very simply, let's tell more stories.

This is the essence of #Learning401 in Rhode Island.

#Learning401 is an open-mic storytelling slam where Rhode Island residents regardless of age, background, role or title can come together to share their most powerful learning moment, regardless of when it took place, and whether it was inside or outside of school. Our goal is to help people consider what each other's stories can reveal about what powerful learning really looks like, and requires - and which roles we can each play in making our schools and organizations embody those design principles.

Building on the work of Faces of Learning and the 10-part video story series, A Year at Mission Hill, the #Learning401 movement is bringing together local students, their families, educators, administrators, policy makers, employers, community leaders, and residents - anyone and everyone who knows learning and therefore has a voice in helping to advance it.

When it comes to the complex hurdles of education reform, we will continue to have our differences. But perhaps by agreeing to hear each other's stories, and make public our own, we can contribute to the creation of a more focused environment in which to have the discussion about our nation's schools, and how they can best be improved.

There are a number of ways you can help add your voice to the effort:

• Start by asking the question, "When and where were you when you learned best?"
• Host a learning story slam in your community or area code.
• Join the #Learning401 conversation on Twitter. Or better yet, attend our learning story slam in Providence, Rhode Island Tuesday, April 9th, 5-7 pm at New Urban Arts (free admission, open to the public)

Everyone has a powerful learning story. What's yours?

Jen Hetzel Silbert is a partner at Innovation Partners of Rhode Island. Follow her on Twitter at @jhsilbert.

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