As part of the Lexington Institute’s LELA Fellows program (Cohort 3), which I’m privileged to be a part of for the next six months, I attended the Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit in San Francisco May 18-20. It was a phenomenal time to get to
know my 9 cohort members but to also immerse myself into the work of “personalized learning” that is beginning to shift the very landscape of K-12 education as we know it.
One of the perks of the trip was an opportunity to visit the headquarters of Pinterest. I was excited to get to visit the tech company headquarters and learn how they do business but, more importantly, how young, talented, motivated, and fresh-thinking business professionals are challenging the way business is done today. As educators of young people, we have to be aware of what the business world is needing from our graduates but also what systems and approaches to problem solving are being used effectively to grow businesses in the very nimble and cut throat world of technology.
When one first walks into the Pinterest HQs it doesn’t take long to see that they do things a lot different than a lot of companies and certainly a lot different than how schools operate. The culture, as is the case in a lot of the tech industry, is very casual and very flexible but it is also incredibly flexible, highly collaborative, incredibly competitive, openly accountable, and focused on giving their employees the tools, culture, and climate to be their very best. Yeah, it’s easy to get caught up in the dining area that has numerous fully stocked coolers with everything from water to juices to sodas and beer (yep, that’s right). There’s also the catered breakfast and lunch items available free of charge to all employees each day. Moving beyond that there are numerous collaborative areas that include “soft seating” (aka, couches and lounge chairs), group situated alcoves, numerous private office spaces with catchy names and themes (as one sees on Pinterest), and of course there is an immense amount of technology.
But beyond the noticeably different physical arrangements in the building and the nice perks of working there, it becomes very clear after talking to their leaders why they do what they do. See, Pinterest is in a very cut throat business that can see a company like Pinterest grow from four employees in an apartment 5 years ago to what they are now and then barely existent in a couple years if they don’t constantly evolve and develop their value to the world around us. In order to avoid being the next tech-bust, they need employees that are creative, passionate, hard working, risk takers, collaborative, challenging, confrontational, and caring.
As educators, we have to be able to prepare students to enter this world and compete for these kinds of jobs. To do that, we have to begin to “do” education differently. I’m not necessarily talking about making classrooms and campuses look like Pinterest (though there are certainly some things to take away from their approach). See, our students are going to have to be able to work in cultures that might be more “free flowing” like many tech companies but they are also going to have to work in more structured industries like hospitals/clinics, service industries, the military, schools, and others just to name a few. It’s not about changing schools so that everyone wears shorts and flip flops and sit around on couches but rather dissolving the formulaic, factory styled, one-size-fits all learning model that no longer serves the needs of our students. That model doesn’t serve students, it serves teachers. That model doesn’t instill learning, it instills disconnect and apathy. Education has to change. We owe it to our young people. We owe it to our society. We owe it to ourselves as educators to teach better and to better ensure that all students do learn and develop the skills they need to pursue their deepest desires upon leaving high school. That is the power of personalized learning and that is the journey I am on and will enjoy documenting as my LELA Fellowship continues.