Dreaming of Learning: ReSchool 2015

Written by RADIUS Fellow Elaine Su. Her dream school includes surfing lessons, stargazing, Bananagrams with elders, and tutelage from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. All of which may or may not be happening at her real-life dream school, Compass Community School. You can also check out how #ReSchool2015 went down on Twitter. All photos by Kristopher Schmitz.

“What is the education revolution about, and what comes after?” – Charles Tsai

There are not many things that can entice exhausted educators into voluntarily going back to school on a Saturday – but apparently the ReSchool conference this weekend was one of them. It might have been the smell of fresh coffee, it might have been all the free pipe-cleaners…but I suspect it was the permission to dream big that brought all these people out to Surrey at 8:30 on Saturday morning.
Welcome to ReSchool. On May 29 and 30, a hundred people were invited by RADIUS, Groundswell, and Ashoka Canada to SFU’s Surrey campus to ‘transform the future of learning’. No small job. But the educators, students, parents, innovators, and first-rate dreamers there were undeterred.
If you’d like to know what the school of the future will look like, I have a guess for you. If the learners and teachers at ReSchool have anything to do with it, the school of the future will be a school with no walls.
By that, I don’t just mean a physically wall-less space – although that is certainly looking likely too, if our group activities on Friday are any indication. According to those projects, in which groups were tasked with the job to design their own ‘Blue Sky’ limitless dream school, schools of the future will be outdoors, in parks, in virtual space, in yurts. As Paola Qualizza of Groundswell described, ‘Schools are invisible.’
Beyond the physical space, though, it seemed pretty clear that everyone wanted to get rid of the all the other walls trapping our existing schools. We want to see schools that act as community centres – and are open 24/7! We want to see schools that are open to everyone, no matter how young or old! We want to see schools where everyone learns together, no matter what their discipline or project!
I think Dr. David Helfand, founding president of Quest University and keynote speaker for day one of the conference, would have been happy at our wall-less dream schools. In his speech, he talked of ‘collaborating across traditional disciplinary boundaries’ and described his university, where there are no ivory towers, no tenured professors, no faculties or departments or majors. Be still, my heart.
word cloud
I think this cluster of key phrases from the first day perfectly captured what everyone in the room was dreaming of. Community is at the heart of everything we dream about for education. We aren’t interested in isolation and standardization – we want something that truly meets the needs of individual learners and whole communities.
When I look at those words, ‘hopeful’ and ‘frustrated’ are two of the first things that jump out. To me, that’s what made the ReSchool conference so great – it was full of people who were frustrated, but hopeful. Like Siv from IdEA said during his lightning pitch, ‘Why do we keep doing this? Two reasons: love and anger.’
I think we are all, at varying levels from day to day, some amount of hopeful and some amount of frustrated. We all have anger and love, because we all spend so much time fighting for the worthy cause of education. Like Charles Tsai said in his keynote speech on day two, ‘Education needs to be part of the solution, because quite frankly, it has been part of the problem.’
I thought this tension between hope and frustration was also perfectly mirrored in the conference. On the first day, we worked on hope, and designed schools that were not limited by money, politics, or reality. On the second day, we worked on frustration. More specifically, we hunkered down and worked on ten case studies to help people figure out how to overcome the frustrations that were blocking their big dreams.
As the presenter of one of the case studies, I can say with great gusto and a frightening amount of enthusiasm that the people at ReSchool know how to move from anger to love. I presented my school and the challenge of how to make an alternative school free of tuition, which is a constant concern of mine. It’s not often that you get so many like-minded brains working on a project to help you because they believe in what you are doing. I can honestly say that I’ve never had such a fun and positive time talking about money troubles and financial burdens. It’s quite a feat to start with inequality and privilege, and come out with superheroes and love.
The Vancouver Design Nerds did a fantastic job leading us all on a design sprint to attack each of our design challenges. Between deconstructing underlying mental models and storyboarding our ideas, ten teams of innovators came up with incredible ways to solve some sticky problems.
I can’t speak for the other case presenters, but I left with so much inspiration and couldn’t wait to write down all the thoughts and ideas that kept coming to me.
I heard someone say as they were leaving, ‘the optimism here is infectious!’ I have to agree. Despite all the challenges and hurdles we spent two days considering, I think everyone left with great hope for the future of education.
To quote Charles Tsai again, ‘It only takes 5% of the herd to sway the other 95%’. If the people at ReSchool were even a small portion of that 5%, I think the future of education is in good hands.