What I Learned About Deeper Learning From Co-Authoring Preparing Leaders For Deeper Learning

John Dewey once wrote, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” As a teacher and counselor for the last eight years, I found that when my students took the time to reflect at the conclusion of a project, they learned more about themselves, their own strengths (and struggles) and each other through the reflection process.

I recently co-authored an interactive guide titled Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning with Tom Vander Ark and Carri Schneider from Getting Smart and Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise.

Researching and writing Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning was most certainly a sustained and robust project, one that Getting Smart began working on a year ago. This project concluded successfully with the publication of an interactive white paper, with 50 blog contributions and organizations that are leading toward deeper learning represented.

The research, writing, compiling, editing and designing we conducted over the course of the last year was in and of itself a course in deeper learning:

Mastery of academic content. I read reports from (to name a few) Getting Smart, Hewlett Foundation, Wallace Foundation, Public Impact, Digital Promise and others. I also read 50+ blogs on leadership (and wrote a few of them).

Problem solving and collaboration. I had to know how to find information, evaluate its relevance and synthesize information i.e. I figured out where the information belonged in our paper outline and then work with the co-authors on determining fit, relevance and even semantics and “what to cut/keep.”

Communication. I communicated with our co-authors and blog contributors, gave feedback to education leaders on their blogs and learned how to write a paper of this magnitude (a 50+ paper) with 3 other authors. Tom, Carri and Karen have more experience than me in writing and co-authoring, so learning from them about the process of putting together a 50+ paper was one of the most significant takeaways of the writing process.

Reflection. It was also important that I reflect on my contributions- not just at the conclusion of the project but periodically. There were a couple of times during the organizing and writing phase of the project where I actually learned from Carri that it’s best to walk away from writing, take a walk and come back to the writing with fresh eyes. Also, it’s important to know when to stop the work and think through content organization. As educators, an important skill we can model for our students is showing how we as adults navigate ambiguity and uncertainty in projects and then take those projects to a place of clarity.

Academic Mindset. When I was in high school, I don’t think I pushed myself that much academically or saw myself as a learner. As I have gotten older, and particularly after completing my Master’s Degree, I earned more confidence in my professional work. Working on this project, I was able to fall back on some past successes- knowing that hard work does pay off and persistence does “win the day.” There were a few times when I had to dig deep, think through strategies that have worked for me when writing in the past and reach out for feedback. Being able to trust myself as a learner was important in this process.

Some personal highlights of this project were:

  • Writing 5 blog articles about leadership and deeper learning
  • Interviewing leaders, including Michael Soguero and my former principal Jeff Petty for a podcast on leading towards deeper learning
  • When I was 9 months pregnant, visiting the University of Washington to see deeper learning leadership in action

All of this reminds me of what deeper learning means for students. Encouraging them to learn more by doing robust projects, working in concert with their peers and taking on big and interesting challenges is all a huge part of deeper learning.

At Getting Smart, we practice what we preach. It turns out, co-writing a paper about deeper learning was most certainly an exercise in deeper learning.

For more about our deeper learning work, see:

Bonnie Lathram

Bonnie Lathram is a student advocate and former teacher.

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