Getting Deep at Deeper Learning

Key Points

  • Conferences must center learners. 

  • That’s exactly what Deeper Learning did recently in San Diego.

Deeper Learning

Conferences must center learners.

In beautiful San Diego, at the 10th anniversary Deeper Learning Conference, attendees were welcomed with an open-air pop-up shop where student entrepreneurs sold carefully crafted goods (shoutout to Quinn’s Creations for clay earrings) and shared their varied stories of design and learning.

It was evident from the onset that this conference, hosted by High Tech High Graduate School Education, would spotlight three core elements of authentic learning: vulnerability, flexibility, community and connection.


Over the course of the conference, there were several opportunities to move to the jams and demonstrate radical vulnerability with strangers from around the world. Attendees were encouraged to embrace discomfort in sessions and to lean into ways vulnerability can teach. The Inclusive Design for More Equitable Learning Environments session led by the Henry Ford Institute named discomfort as a norm as participants labeled identities core to them such as mother, educator, Latina, husband, and how these identifiers impact the development of learning spaces for adults and young people. The identities inherently will influence decisions and will often shape who is seen and who is heard.

Throughout the sessions, young people sat shoulder-to-shoulder with adult learners establishing a space of both vulnerability and power. The conversations that took place encouraged attendees to rethink their relationship with learners and to see everyone in the space as equals with something of value to share.

Using Comics to Drive Difficult Conversations about Race and History led by Stephane Manuel of TruFikton was a great opportunity to learn from colleagues. It is not uncommon for presenters to acknowledge the brilliance in the room, aside from their own. At Deeper Learning, this went beyond a canned remark at the top of the session. These facilitators allowed for voices to be heard and experiences to be shared for an inclusive learning environment.


Deeper Learning is built in a way that truly supports flexible and variable learning experiences. For example, a conference-goer might attend Den Talks, an informal conversation led by two hosts on a particular topic like school leadership or community support. The beauty is that no two Den Talks are the same in topic or flow.

One conversation centered around school transformation led by Kaleb Rashad, the interim Chief Executive Officer at High Tech High and Eric Chagala the founding principal from Vista Innovation & Design Academy (VIDA), kicked off by gathering questions from the audience. These questions ranged from how to galvanize around school change to what to do when the school environment is reluctant to change and innovate. The hosts shared how Liberating Structures and the Thinking Collaborative shaped their leadership as a response. Listen to their podcast episode of their Den Talk on HTH UnBoxed!

Another Den Talk featured San Diego Met alumna Karla Cruz Godoy and current San Diego Met senior, Sofia Ervin where they engaged in a conversation about the relationship between advisors and students which is a core component of the Big Picture Schools learning model. Each shared how essential and impactful advisory time is to student success. “There have been times when my advisor needed to lean on us more than we needed to lean on him,” Sofia explained to the audience members.

Deeper Learning also facilitates Deep Dives, three-hour immersive blocks to delve into a range of educational topics. Peeling the layers back in sessions related to unlocking fear through art and literacy, education as a practice of freedom, and the power podcasts provide student voices, allows ample time to forge strong bonds with colleagues that last beyond the conference.

Deeper Learning creates an environment that supports learning through freedom of space and time.

Community and Connection


At Deeper Learning, relationship is key. All participants are assigned advisory groups with the sole purpose of making new connections. This advisory time occurred throughout the conference, always with the same advisory leader who facilitates activities for collaboration such as Exquisite Corpse which requires small groups to draw a body without seeing what the precious person drew. This activity drew up flexibility and vulnerability as many participants did not self-identify as “artists.” Guards were down and laughs were up when the final results were revealed and shared.

Finally, as the sun started to set the first evening, attendees sampled food truck offerings key to the west coast from Bar-B-Que to lobster rolls to vegetarian-East African food.

A key component of Deeper Learning is time to share knowledge gained and all learners were offered the opportunity during the exhibition of learning. During this time, participants were able to witness artifacts of Deep Dives from other attendees such as dance routines, art displays, and interactive exhibits.

Transformational learning occurs when these three components are used consistently in learning spaces to inspire and cultivate genuine learning opportunities. All learning experiences can contain vulnerability, flexibility, community and connection to allow rich and meaningful learning to occur.

If you are interested in growing with an innovative and international learning community, register for the Deeper Learning 2024 conference from March 26th -28th.

Victoria Andrews

Victoria is the Director of Learning Design at Getting Smart and is passionate about serving as a connector and collaborator for underrepresented communities while supporting unique learning environments.

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