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A Letter to My Former Teachers: Reflections and Optimism

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This post is from Sunny Zhang. Sunny joined Envision Learning Partners this summer as a Special Projects Coordinator.

Dear Teachers,

Since day one of Kindergarten, I have been blessed with many "aha" moments while in your classrooms. For sixteen years, my only job was to be your student. My experiences in your classrooms were limited to paying attention and learning in class, doing my homework, and studying for exams. I was always on the receiving end and never thought about my education from your perspective.

This all changed recently. A few months ago, right beforeĀ starting my new role as special projects coordinator with Envision Learning Partners (ELP), I spent two days in Los Angeles at a Linked Learning conference with Justin Wells, a talented deeper learning coach and ELP's Vice President of Program. My goal was to acquaint myself with Envision and how ELP shares the Envision Portfolio Defense model with districts like Los Angeles Unified School District, and to learn from LAUSD educators who are deeply invested in improving student outcomes. And while I did learn new terms such as "linked learning," "pathways," and "portfolio defense," it wasn't completely clear to me how they all fit together or why the deeper learning pedagogy was more effective than traditional teaching practices. But as I attended more workshops and got a better understanding of the jargon, I realized I knew more about this style of teaching and learning that I initially thought I did. It turns out, thanks to you, I wasn't so far removed from these concepts. I began to recognize the similarities between linked learning, deeper learning and my own high school experience.

I always knew that my school, High Tech, wasn't a traditional high school, but it took three thousand and some miles for me to realize that it was so much more than just a STEM-focused high school. From conducting individual research projects to experimenting with codes and programs--we were deeply engaged inĀ experiential learning. We presented our work to professionals and operated industry-standard machinery. All of this was topped off with an opportunity to further develop our skills and interests through internships our senior year. Each of these distinct experiences informed the next, and together, you--my teachers--created a wonderfully connected, cohesive learning journey. From learning by doing, I was even more focused and able to see the direct application of concepts learned in your classes to real world careers. The experiences you provided helped me understand the effectiveness and value of a linked learning education--even if I didn't use that language at the time.

What I also came to appreciate, while observing LAUSD and ELP working together, is just how important this work is for all students--for students from every background and community. That experiential education that I was lucky enough to have--that is the kind of learning and growing that all students need and deserve.

That's one of the reasons I was so inspired by what I saw at the Linked Learning conference: teachers working together to integrate Linked Learning with the Envision Portfolio Defense system. It's exciting to think about the powerful combination of experiential learning and meaningful performance assessments that measure what matters most: what students know, what they can do, and how they reflect on their growth. It's even more exciting to think about how this powerful combination can positively impact students, both in terms of their experiences of school and learning as well as the long-term outcomes they will enjoy because of these integrated, responsive, rigorous classrooms.

So thank you for giving me an education that prepared me well for my future, and for setting me on a path to where I am today, with ELP. Here, I have the unique opportunity to witness the work teachers do each day to ensure student success. I am incredibly excited to support the teachers and schools working with ELP who are making an impact in the lives of students they serve, and eager to talk with others about this important work. I hope to have many opportunities to share my hope and enthusiasm with others, and to help ELP bring educators together around the common goals of spreading deeper learning and helping students achieve success--however they define it.

With gratitude,

Sunny

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