Over the last year, education innovators around the country continued to pursue expanded definitions of student success, personalized approaches, and wholly new models of school. For many, the very real challenges of change management and discovering ways to promote scale with quality dominated 2018. But for those conversations to go a level deeper, we can’t assume that these new measures and new models are fully baked or that everything deemed “new” is at it seems. Looking ahead, here are five big ideas I’ll be watching for in 2019:
1. ‘Unbundle’ what we mean by SEL.
Social-emotional learning. Soft Skills. Habits of mind. These critical but sometimes elusive ideas have gotten their fair share of love over the past year. But pulling back the curtain on the research base, the paltry supply of reliable SEL assessments can make the current energy around SEL interventions feel anemic at best, and hollow at worst. Like personalized learning, “SEL” now connotes a bundle of concepts and aspirations that may need to get unbundled in order to be useful. In that vein, in 2019 I’m most excited to watch emerging SEL point solutions targeted at specific, narrow skills or dispositions. These innovations are focused on doing a few things really well. For example, GiveThx, the brainchild of Leadership Public Schools’ teacher-entrepreneur Mike Fauteaux, plucks off one particular emotion and skill: gratitude. In a similar vein, Kind Foundation’s effort, Empatico.org, focuses on experiences that inspire empathy across classrooms. I’ll be watching models like these that offer narrower on-ramps to more rigorous measurement and targeted interventions within the exceedingly broad SEL landscape.
2. Commit to threading the coherent curriculum needle.
Speaking of the murky waters of personalized learning, rumblings (and occasional shouts) about the fragmented state of curriculum to support personalization have been building for years. One of the fundamental tensions we hear articulated is whether a coherent, evidence-based, off-the-shelf curriculum is better than a potpourri of lessons that teachers and leaders assemble—and in some cases build—themselves. Although these debates are not unique to personalized environments, personalization hinges on a commitment to tailor learning experiences to individual students. But the more varied those experiences and resources are, many worry the less rigorous and coherent curriculum becomes. Through the lens of our own Modularity theory, these tradeoffs aren’t unique to curriculum per se: across industries, a modular approach can be more affordable and flexible, while integrated solutions are pricier but better at pushing the frontier of performance. In 2019, I’ll be keeping an eye on how districts and schools manage to strike a balance between the tradeoffs of modular and flexible versus integrated and coherent approaches to curriculum.