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Summit tries 'lighting a fire' to 'transform learning'

by Emily Baccam | September 24, 2019 at 4:00 a.m.
Author A.J. Juliani advocates for educational engagement Monday during the opening day of the annual Education Innovation Summit at Horner Hall in the Hot Springs Convention Center. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen of The Sentinel-Record.

The fifth annual Education Innovation Summit kicked off Monday with a keynote address from blogger, speaker, author and school administrator A.J. Juliani to fit its theme of "Together We are Lighting a Fire to Transform Learning."

The two-day event at the Hot Springs Convention Center is sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Education's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's Office of Innovation for Education.

Juliani is the director of learning and innovation for the Centennial School District in Pennsylvania. His 2017 book, "Intentional Innovation: How to Guide Risk-Taking, Build Creative Capacity and Lead Change," and 2018 book, "Maverick Teachers: How Innovative Educators are Saving Public Schools," feature strategies for project-based learning and student-centered learning experiences, which he touched on during his address.

"When we look at how schools are structured and what we focus on a lot is GPA, right? And when you look at employers, they say only 2 percent of employers say GPA is something they actually care about," Juliani said.

"When you look at what the Fortune 500 CEOs and the small businesses of America, when you look at what they are looking for, it's these things: ability to work with a team, problem-solving skills, flexibility, adaptability, communication. These are the skills that they're looking for, and almost none of them can be found on a multiple-choice test."

Juliani said employers are searching for "go-getters," "dreamers," "doers," and "people that are out there creating and making," not "just someone to follow the rules."

He drew a correlation between students' disinterest in school and learning with a decline in people entering the education field.

"From 2009-2014, we had a drop of 35 percent of kids going into teacher education programs in college. In my state, Pennsylvania, that drop was 64 percent. In those years, we couldn't find a sub anywhere. So we are seeing kind of this impact," Juliani said.

In order to better prepare the students of today for employment in the future and attract future educators to the field, he said student engagement in the learning process is crucial.

"We know that the science of learning hasn't changed. In order for kids to learn, in order for staff to improve and any of that type of stuff, people have to pay attention," he said.

"We have to find ways to make learning relevant and meaningful to our students, to our staff right now."

Doing so might not be as difficult as it sounds, he said.

"A lot of times we over-complicate what the process could look like. I'll keep it really simple for you. As a leader, as a teacher, as someone in education, you start with this thing called 'choice.' It does not mean freedom. It just means options. If they just have a little bit of choice, all of a sudden they have ownership. And when you have ownership over the learning process, you start to feel empowered, because it needs something from you. It has relevance to you. And that's when deeper learning occurs," he said.

The summit continues today with a keynote address from former University of Arkansas Razorback and National Basketball Association player turned philanthropist and business entrepreneur Ronnie Brewer Jr.

Local on 09/24/2019

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