Building Community
Building Community

When educators design and create new schools, and live next gen learning themselves, they take the lead in growing next gen learning across the nation. Other educators don’t simply follow and adopt; next gen learning depends on personal and community agency—the will to own the change, fueled by the desire to learn from and with others. Networks and policy play important roles in enabling grassroots approaches to change.

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Amanda Avallone knows what it looks like when schools genuinely serve the young people in their care, and we celebrate her contributions to the NGLC community upon her retirement.

From the NGLC Team:

Members of our team were in Kentucky a week or two ago with a group of ed leaders, and a longtime NGLC school district partner came up to one of us and said, “Y’all just about made me have multiple heart attacks, you know that, don’t you??” (Or words to that effect.) She was speaking of the call she’d received from Amanda Avallone, NGLC’s learning officer, to let her know that Amanda had decided to retire this December. The thought of forging ahead with her district’s transformation initiatives without Amanda by her side was clearly not one that this district leader wanted to contemplate.

Happily, she doesn’t have to; Amanda is going to revive her own specialized consulting business after she retires from NGLC, and is planning to continue to participate in that district’s transformation efforts. Heart attacks averted.

But that story is a timely one to tell, as it reveals something about the deeply collaborative, high-trust working relationships that Amanda has developed over her years with us—both externally and internally. Amanda is the colleague and the working-partner that we all cherish, because her only agenda is to do great work on behalf of kids and the schools and communities that serve them.

We use the word “serve” deliberately. Among the many, many gifts that Amanda brought to our NGLC team, her profound respect for the voices, rights, and capabilities of young people—and her understanding of what it looks like when schools genuinely serve the young people in their care—has been paramount. In the future, whenever an NGLC team member or NGLC community member takes a step that truly centers children and honors their humanity, we’ll be channeling a bit of Amanda. What better legacy could anyone leave behind than that?

With enormous gratitude for everything you are, Amanda, and the all-in, let’s-go!, whole-self spirit you put into all of your work with us…. We place the mic in your hands for a reflection, at this milestone moment, from you.

Amanda shares her joy for the NGLC MyWays Student Success Framework with school designers in Massachusetts.

From Amanda:

As I thought about what to write in this farewell message, I realized that there wasn’t all that much I wanted to say about myself, but so much that I wanted to express about you and to you, the NGLC community. About my gratitude. My admiration. All that I’ve learned from you by hearing and telling your stories, visiting your schools, observing your challenges, and marveling at your energy, persistence, and abiding hope. All this over the course of the most difficult years for educators and schools in recent history.

Anyone who has been working in education or supporting educators these past few years doesn’t need me to list the struggles we’ve faced as a learning community. And anyone who believes in education’s promise—and mandate—to bend the arc of history toward justice doesn’t need me to tell them how important the work of educators is right now.

I’m also not going to try to acknowledge every person from whom I’ve learned—from the NGLC team, on a project, in a school or district partnership, or maybe just in a single breakout room at a virtual convening. How could I ever convey such abundance? Instead, I’m going to pluck a line from Emily Dickinson and tell the truth “but tell it slant,” expressing my appreciation the best way I know how…with a story.

When I was a teacher, my eighth graders and I used to read the Arthurian romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight together almost every year. It was a perennial favorite, but maybe not for the reasons you’d guess. Sure, it was a tale of love and adventure, and it featured an immortal giant who could have his head lopped off and live. (If you’re in middle school, what’s not to like?)

What got my students thinking and talking, however, was the moral dimension of Gawain’s quest. The tale is not about defeating a tyrant in battle or slaying a dragon in a smoky lair. In fact, most of the tale takes place in a stranger’s luxurious castle. It’s not even about good vs. evil; it’s about good vs. good. His test involves making difficult choices among conflicting visions of what’s right. Loyalty, integrity, courage—all virtues, but what if adhering to one means failing in another?

For Gawain—as with the people in this community—striving for good is a given. Without exception, the educators I have met these past five years are motivated to do what is right. Like Gawain, we are all trying to navigate among competing duties and calls to right action—on behalf of the learners in our classrooms, their communities, society, and even the earth itself.

Gawain’s moral universe—like ours—is a complex and messy one. Sometimes we fall short of our ideals. Sometimes, like Gawain before the Green Knight's axe, we flinch. Even if the goal is indisputably good—like building the excellent and equitable schools our students deserve and our world needs—we may sometimes choose the wrong priority or take the wrong action. Still, we act. We get up each day and serve our learners. We keep our eyes on the horizon where lies the shared vision for what our schools can be, even as we deal with the crises of the moment immediately before us.

The knights of legend are not generally known for their vulnerability. Gawain, however, is perhaps a better fit for our time, a hero who models the kind of courage and humility I see in the NGLC network. Not only does he reflect on his actions, he shares what he learned with his community, especially from his failure, and vows to do better. The NGLC community has taught me, by countless brave examples, that inaction is not an option and that failure is a price worth paying to learn and grow.

I don’t know for certain where my journey will take me next, but I do know that I carry with me, like good-luck talismans, your generous gifts of insight and inspiration. Thank you all for your friendship and for preparing me for the road ahead.

Photos by Paul Schnaittacher for Mass IDEAS/NGLC.

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Next Generation Learning Challenges

A dedicated team moving the mission of NGLC forward, helping to bring next gen learning to today’s students.