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What educators don't see

It is our vision that all students live lives of their own design, supported by caring mentors and equitable opportunities to achieve their greatest potential.

We like to start off our first coordinator training with this quote — the vision of both Big Picture Learning and ImBlaze. The quote explains a lot behind the design of our platform, and why we backseat adult efficiency in places that we think we can stand up for student agency and high quality experiences.

Generally, real world learning programs a one-way (or at best 1.5-way) information system. The adult gives the student a list of what opportunities are available, or the adult pulls a student aside and says ‘I think you might really like this opportunity’, or, if a student is lucky, an adult listens to some of the interests a student has, and then finds opportunities that align with the student interests. Highly efficient, or high on adult control.

But… what about what that adult doesn’t see? What about what the student doesn’t say? Often our deepest interests are the ones held closest to our chests. How many of you, reading this, have always secretly wanted to write a book? Or play in a band? Or explore a childhood dream career? If someone asked you what you're interested in, would you say it? Or would you just name the things you currently do, the things you've been doing for years?

As humans we’re naturally curious — but some of our interests are hidden, or forgotten until a serendipitous moment brings them back up again. Given the relationship between school and student interest (historically a pretty unfriendly one), how do we account for this?

Alternately, consider this scenario: as a student, I’ve been matched with an opportunity. A few weeks later something new comes along and I would do anything to have access to it - work harder, get up earlier, stretch myself - but… I never knew it existed because the adults in my school assumed I was already occupied and didn't tell me about it.

Students need ALL the up-to-date information, they need to know they have a voice in what new partnerships their school explores (and what they can explore!). And they need time—for courage to build or for serendipity to occur. This is why we built ImBlaze.

We know what happens when students don’t have those things: they gravitate towards (as most of us do in new or uncomfortable situations) what seems easiest, safest, and most comfortable. And our world tends to message students pretty clearly about what's easy, and welcoming, for whom (81% of lawyers and 73% of engineers are white, 81% of software developers are men, etc). Is that the purpose of our real-world learning programs? To connect students to experiences and mentors that reflect their most surface-level, societally influenced ideas of themselves?

Having a shared database, and developing practices to leverage it, is one way to begin to tackle this issue. But you have to display your database in the right way. Even using ImBlaze, you can squander your potential for change. We’ll talk about that next month.

Things to do (takeaways):

  • Create a shared database (with or without ImBlaze) that students can contribute to.

  • Give students time — multiple looks, multiple conversations, activities like wish-listing 3 opportunities, then a week later wish-listing 3 more — to familiarize themselves with their options before pursuing one.

  • Let students know that they can always be looking at new opportunities that come in, and that you’ll always be open to at least talking about a change, if they feel passionate about something they see.


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